Center Stage unveils a `juicy' partial lineup

Critic's Corner

Offerings include Stoppard, Wilson and a world premiere

Theater column

March 15, 2007|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

A world premiere drama about women painting radium watch dials in a 1920s factory, a return to Tom Stoppard after more than three decades, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and a play by August Wilson will highlight the 2007-2008 Center Stage season.

Although the complete six-show season has not yet been selected, resident dramaturg Gavin Witt called the partial lineup a "great array of juicy names and pieces - three established, known quantities and an exciting world premiere." Performance dates and the remainder of the season are expected to be announced next month.

The world premiere, These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich, received a staged reading in the theater's First Look series in December. Witt, who brought the script to Center Stage, said Marnich "did tremendous rewrites" in the three days before the reading. The result, he said, "is a wonderful piece that tells its story in a visual and theatrical way." That fact-based story examines the lives of a group of blue-collar women who went to work in what they thought were clean, healthy surroundings only "to find that that work was killing them," Witt explained.

The Stoppard play will be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), which has been on the theater's short list for 10 years, according to artistic director Irene Lewis. Focusing on a pair of expendable messengers in Shakespeare's Hamlet, the play is "one of the great, original pieces of writing," Lewis said. "Who would think to take two minor characters in Hamlet and make them the leads except Stoppard?" A 1976 production of the one-act comedy The Real Inspector Hound was the only other time Center Stage has produced a work by Stoppard.

Composer Sondheim will be represented by one of his most popular musicals, A Little Night Music (1973). Suggested by Ingmar Bergman's 1955 film, Smiles of a Summer Night, the intergenerational musical chronicles several romances in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century. Like Sweeney Todd, the Sondheim musical produced by Center Stage in 2004, A Little Night Music has a libretto by Hugh Wheeler. Comparing it to the theater's forthcoming production of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (which begins previews tomorrow), dramaturg Witt lauds Night Music for its "bittersweet maturity" and "rich understanding of the span of life."

Center Stage hasn't determined which August Wilson play it will produce. To date, the theater has mounted all but two installments of the late playwright's decade-by-decade look at 20th-century African-American life - Gem of the Ocean, which is set in 1904, and King Hedley II, which is set in 1985. But a return to - and reinterpretation of - one of Wilson's earlier works is also a possibility. "Many members of the African-American community have been after me to repeat" a Wilson work, Lewis said.

In contrast, Lewis is looking at scripts that are new to the theater for the two remaining slots in the lineup.

Unlike some years, in which shared themes emerge, next season will be characterized by diversity. For the final two offerings, Witt said the theater hopes to "enlarge that experience even more."

"Our driving impulse," he explained, "is variety, not commonality."

Subscriptions to the six-play 2007-2008 season range from $60 to $300 and are on sale now. Call 410-332-0033 or visit centerstage.org.

Easy street to `Annie'

If you're looking for the perfect show and the perfect price to introduce a youngster to musical theater, here's a suggestion: The show is Annie, and the price is free.

The 8 p.m. March 22 performance at the Hippodrome Theatre has been designated "Kids' Night on Broadway." Use the password CBKIDS online, at Ticketmaster.com; over the phone, at 410-547-SEAT; or at the box office, 12 N. Eutaw St., and you will receive a free ticket for each ticket purchased.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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