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All new, all the time 

Theater premieres invoke the thrill of discovery at First Glance

Immigration. Imagination. Masturbation. These are merely three of the themes addressed by the theatrical presentations of First Glance Atlanta, the city-wide performing arts festival of all new, never-before-seen works taking place Oct. 18-Nov. 3.

With more than 40 theaters and dance troupes participating, no one work sets the tone of the event. Some of the spirit may be expressed by The Discovery of America (Oct. 10-26), directed by Vinnie Murphy at Theater Emory. Described by Tony-winning writer Arthur Kopit as a "work-in-progress," the play depicts a Spanish nobleman (Tim McDonough) traveling across the American continent during the 16th century, and includes such ace local actors as Carolyn Cook and Chris Kayser. First Glance Atlanta hopes to instill in Atlantans a comparable spirit of adventurousness and discovery in seeking out new works.

The festival features numerous theatrical events that cut across cultures, such as Curandera! Serpent of the Clouds (Nov. 1-3), a drama about modern medicine and folk healing from Teatro del Sol, Aurora Theatre's resident Spanish-language theater company. Curly Willow Productions offers a reading of Jean Sterrett's Willie B. Came into the Sun (Oct. 19 at Horizon Theatre), involving a Vietnamese man holding an American soldier captive for 24 years. Sterrett's play, which includes Vietnamese dialogue, won the $25,000 Alexander Onassis International Playwriting Competition of 2001.

You can't get much more polyglot than 7 Stages' Maps of Forbidden Remembrance (Oct. 17-20), Dah Teatar of Yugoslavia's theatrical adaptation of a novella by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. With a cast including 7 Stages founders Del Hamilton and Faye Allen as well as members of Dah Teatar, Maps offers a kaleidoscopic treatment of the immigration experience shown through the eyes of an Andalusian woman who falls in love with a doctor from Savannah. Dah Teatar inadvertently revealed the challenges of crossing borders when two of the troupe's four visiting members were temporarily denied U.S. visas because of minor paperwork discrepancies. After several nerve-wracking weeks, the problems were cleared up and the show, as they say, will go on.

Gateway Performance Productions takes a global look at folklore with Worlds Without End, (Oct. 18-Nov. 3 at The MASK Center). Atlanta playwright W.A. Sessions tells the tale, via elaborate masks and costumes, of three young people who enter the South Carolina swampland, and have imaginative encounters with such characters as Persephone, Merlin and other figures from Bible stories, Greek mythology and African-American folk tales.

Art Within's Song of the Bow (Oct. 18-Nov. 3 at the 14th Street Playhouse) takes place at the point where sexuality, spirituality and artistry intersect. The play by Wayne Harrel depicts two actors cast as soul mates, calling into question the religious beliefs of one and the sexual identity of the other. Art Within audiences got a first glance at Song of the Bow at its multimedia play development workshop Two by Four last March.

With its goal of showcasing new talents, First Glance was made for artists like playwright Markie Shalloe, who features two works at the festival. Onstage Atlanta presents a reading of Ariadne's Thread (Nov. 1-2), a drama inspired by the real life of historic swindler Mae Jennings Bennet. The play has been named winner of Onstage Atlanta's Hometown Playwrights Series and will receive as full production in August 2003.

Shalloe offers a much lighter work with her 30-minute comedy One Hand Clapping, which The Process Theatre stages Oct. 19-Nov. 10 at the Art Farm. A man and woman (Topher Payne and Marcie Millard), each addicted to masturbation, praise self- gratification while interacting with six characters, from a nun to Dr. Ruth, providing a chorus of different points of view. One Hand Clapping plays on a double-bill with Charles Busch's Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

Numerous local playwrights groups in addition to The Process Theatre will provide readings of works-in-progress for First Glance. Working Title Playwrights emphasizes speed with the 10-minute plays of Fast Blast Dramarama (Oct. 14-26) at PushPush Theater. At Actor's Express, Atlanta Writes presents Sex Acts (Oct. 21), Kim Brundidge's lighthearted look at male-female relationships, and Today (Oct. 28), Valetta Anderson's juxtaposition of menopause and April Fool's Day.

It's fitting for a festival dedicated to new material to put the spotlight on young artists. Out of Hand Theatre lives up to the adage "Don't trust anyone over 30" with 30 Below (Oct. 31-Nov. 3), an evening of short plays written and performed by people in their 20s, with a highlight being a sketch that employs cell phones throughout the audience, at 7 Stages. Freddie Hendricks Youth Ensemble of Atlanta presents Urban Soup (Oct. 18-29) a mix of song, dance, comedy and hip-hop, the first theatrical production at the all-ages club The Globe Theatre on Memorial Drive.

Play readings can often convey the humor and emotional heft found in full productions, and audiences can expect such professionalism in readings by several major Atlanta playwrights. Actor's Express presents Sandra Deer's mother-daughter drama The Subject Tonight is Love Oct. 19 and Steve Murray's urban satire Manna Nov. 3. Horizon Theatre draws its works from alumni of its New South for New Century Play Festival. Philip Depoy and Lee Nowell's Urban Fairy Tale (Oct. 21) looks at the anxieties of modern romance, while Janece Shaeffer's Wishful Thinking (Oct. 29) provides a magical reunion of old friends.

EstroFest Productions stages additional work by women writers in Damaged But Not Dead and Other Hilarious Survival Stories (Oct. 19-20), an evening of short plays, monologues and dance pieces at The Performance Space.

First Glance officially takes place Oct. 18-Nov. 3, although main stage works on major Atlanta theaters can start sooner or run longer, like Miklat (Oct. 3-27), a comedy about religion and foreign relations at Jewish Theatre of the South; Manny and Chicken at the BP (Oct. 11-Nov. 16), Lisa Schlesinger's play of race and sibling rivalry at PushPush Theater; and the Kennedy assassination drama Frame 312 (Oct. 18-Nov. 10) at the Alliance Theatre.

Would-be attendees intrigued by the sheer quantity of choices at First Glance may have trouble narrowing down which shows to see. Lisa Mount, producer of First Glance Atlanta, recommends checking out the suggested itineraries on the festival's website, which includes such groupings as kid-friendly "Family Fare" and the adults-only "Atlanta After Dark." All the works at the festival, however diverse, share novelty as a trait in common.

curt.holman@creativeloafing.com

See Arts Agenda (p. 68) for event listings. For more information, visit www.firstglanceatlanta.com or call the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau at 404-521-6688.

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