Center Stage series offers `First Look' at fresh plays


Critics Corner//Theater


Beginning Monday, Center Stage will present "First Look: Special Edition," a series of staged readings on three consecutive Mondays. The offerings include an epoch-spanning version of Arabian Nights and a dark comedy about female assassins.

The "Special Edition" subtitle was added in part to reflect a youthful aesthetic, says Otis Ramsey-Zoe, Center Stage literary manager and coordinator of the series, which features the work of playwrights in their 20s and 30s.

"The idea behind the `special editions' is that these are pieces that are challenging in form and content, somehow stretching the boundaries of what Center Stage normally would produce," he says.

This Monday's reading will be 1001, by Jason Grote. Described by Ramsey-Zoe as "very imaginative," 1001 "weaves the mythic and the literary" and the modern day as two grad students take on the roles of Scheherazade and the homicidal king. Ramsey-Zoe says writers Gustav Flaubert and Jorge Luis Borges popped up in the latest draft he received. Resident dramaturg Gavin Witt will direct.

Marisa Wegrzyn's Killing Women will be read March 27.

"I was attracted to the comedy of it ... but I was even more drawn in by the questions it raises in terms of women in society -- questions about women's work and women's jobs," Ramsey-Zoe says of this sardonic account of "lady killers." "It also seems to speak to a movement of women not only trying to define themselves but also trying to define each other." Direction will be by Rebecca Bayla Taichman, associate artistic director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington.

The series will end April 3 with a yet-to-be-chosen script. Although the selections aren't always plays Center Stage is considering producing, the theater has a strong track record of mounting subsequent full productions of First Stage scripts. No Foreigners Beyond This Point, Intimate Apparel, Permanent Collection and The Murder of Isaac (which ended its run Sunday) are all First Look alums. In addition, Lisa Kron's Well, which received a First Look reading in 2002, is currently in previews on Broadway, where it opens March 30.

The First Look readings will be held in the sixth-floor rehearsal hall at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Curtain time is 8 p.m. A discussion led by a member of the theater's dramaturgy staff follows each reading. Tickets are $5 per show or $12 for all three. Call 410-332-0033 or visit

Contemporary American lineup

Speaking of new plays, the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., has announced its four-play, 2006 season. Scheduled for July 7-30, the rotating repertory includes two plays by returning playwrights and an off-Broadway hit.

"The power of storytelling really lives in this season," says producing director Ed Herendeen. "We've selected four very contemporary stories by four remarkable storytellers."

Here's the lineup:

Augusta -- a wry examination of the struggles of two working-class women -- will be the fifth play by Richard Dresser (Below the Belt, Gun-Shy, Something in the Air, Rounding Third) produced by the festival. The dark comedy is the first in a projected trilogy on happiness in America; each play will focus on a different social class. "We're committed to doing the whole trilogy over the next three years," Herendeen says.

Jazzland will bring playwright Keith Glover (The Rose of Corazon) back to the festival. This commissioned world premiere is about a troubled trumpet player trying to make peace with his parents' lurid past. "It's a play about conflict; it's a play about redemption; it's a play about forgiveness; and it's a play about reconciliation," Herendeen says.

Mr. Marmalade, by Noah Haidle, ended an off-Broadway run in January. "It's the kind of provocative, socially conscious work that we're known for producing," Herendeen says of Haidle's account of a sophisticated but neglected 4-year-old and her over-booked imaginary friend, Mr. Marmalade.

Sex, Death, and the Beach Baby, by Kim Merrill, is another world premiere. The action concerns the mysterious background of a woman who was abandoned as an infant on a New Jersey beach. Herendeen calls it "a real yarn ... about a woman who's been trying to drown her past."

Subscriptions to the four-play series range from $90 to $110. And, this year the Sunday curtain times will be two hours earlier -- noon, 12:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. -- which should make commuting from Baltimore all the easier. Call 1-800-999-2283 or visit

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