There will be no shortage of star power at Center Stage next season. The troupe's major offerings for the 2009-2010 season were designed specifically to showcase the talents of some of the audience's favorite actors, including Larry O'Dwyer, Robert Dorfman and E. Faye Butler.
O'Dwyer's comic talents will be tapped in the cross-dressing role of Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Dorfman will take time away from his busy film/television/theater career to perform David Sedaris' offbeat holiday monologue, The Santaland Diaries. And Butler will get an opportunity she has been craving - the chance to explore a serious role in a nonmusical - when she depicts the title character in August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
"We wanted to build the season around several of our associate artists who are loved by our audience," says Irene Lewis, Center Stage's artistic director. The 2009-2010 season is scheduled to be officially announced Monday.
Organization officials announced in March that they are trying out a new structure for the troupe's 48th season. Instead of mounting six evening-length plays, as Center Stage has done in the past, this year that number will be reduced to four, which will be mounted in the 541-seat Pearlstone Theatre.
In addition, the company will produce two evenings of short plays, each lasting for about an hour; three staged readings featuring well-known actors carrying scripts; and four cabarets in which performers associated with Center Stage will sing contemporary standards. The Santaland Diaries will be a separate event and offered for an additional fee. That's a total of 14 nights of theater.
"Theaters around the country are in serious economic difficulty," Lewis says. "We wanted to continue living within our means, without backing away from our mission to stage the highly literate, thought-provoking plays that Baltimore loves. The last thing I wanted to do was to take six big plays and water them down."
The 2009-2010 lineup includes:
* The Pearlstone Series:
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Oct. 7-Nov. 1. "The scathing wit of Oscar Wilde always draws me," Lewis says. "This play contains some of the wittiest wordplay ever volleyed over cucumber sandwiches."
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, Nov. 24-Dec. 30. Center Stage will mount this highly physical family production, which was adapted by Laura Eason for Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre.
Let There Be Love, by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Feb. 10-March 7. This is the American premiere of the newest drama by Kwei-Armah, a Center Stage associate artist and the author of the stunning Elmina's Kitchen, which was mounted here in 2005. His newest work is a love story that tackles issues of immigration and reverse discrimination.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson, April 7-May 9, 2010. Part of Wilson's famed century cycle chronicling the African-American experience, this play is set in 1927 at a Chicago recording studio. Butler will depict the fictitious blues legend Ma Rainey.
* The Short Plays Series :
Cyrano, Jan. 13-31. Playwright Jan Roets distilled Edmond Rostand's classic story of love, duels, panache and a world-class schnoz into an hourlong work for three actors.
Working It Out, March 3-21. Three playwrights - including Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing - have crafted 20-minute pieces about the workplace. The professions examined include hit men, proofreaders and filmmakers.
* Special Holiday Engagement :
The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, Dec. 8-20. This one-actor show about the author's experiences working in the Christmas Village at Macy's as an elf named Crumpet will feature Dorfman in tights, talking of temper tantrums and soused Santas.
Selections for the staged readings and cabaret series have not been determined.
Next season, the average ticket price for individual shows will increase by about $5.
A subscription to the four main stage shows in the Pearlstone next season will cost between $60 and $225, depending on the seats and dates selected - or an average price of $15 to $55. This year, a six-show ticket package cost $60 to $300, or an average price of $10 to $50.
But avid theatergoers who prefer the best seats in the house might actually spend less money in 2009-2010 than they did this year. They'll be able to see nine works (the four full-length plays, two evenings of short pieces and three concert readings) for a maximum outlay of $265.
"Our customers have been very loyal, and we wanted to be respectful of their pocketbooks," Lewis says.