Discomfort zones 

New theater seasons provide variations on familiar themes

A theater's new season announcement is a statement of intent. As Atlanta playhouses roll out their lineups for 2003-04, they reveal which ones are trying to expand their creative repertoire, and which ones are staying in their subscribers' comfort zones.

The Alliance Theatre will be presenting no familiar Southern comedies like Crimes of the Heart next season. Instead, it offers three intriguing world premieres. The mainstage production A Death in the House Next to Kathleen Turner's House in Long Island promises wacky comedy as two acting students named Lucy and Desi break into the title domicile. The Alliance's Hertz Stage will host local playwright Sandra Deer's Alzheimer's play The Subject Tonight Is Love, which was excerpted last fall by Synchronicity Performance Group.

The Alliance's most unusual venture is Leap, a work on the theme of faith created by an ensemble of Atlanta artists, musicians and celebrities, including Tom Key, Carol-Mitchell Leon, Jim Grimsley, Susan Booth and Bill Nigut.

7 Stages routinely goes into territory that other playhouses fear to tread, and in January will convert its Back Stage space into a rave party for Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave-fable), which imagines the Greek tragedy at a techno-and-Ecstasy happening. The theater's most artistically compelling (and financially draining) production will be next spring's Maria Kisito, an epic work set during the Rwandan genocide.

A "safe" show at 7 Stages would be the riskiest at any other theater, like the all-African-American version of Ionesco's The Chairs in the fall. The highlight may be the revival of its 1992 Waiting for Godot -- perhaps the finest play I've ever seen there -- with Joseph Chaikin again directing Don Finney and artistic director Del Hamilton.

Waiting for Godot will be the edgiest work at Theatrical Outfit next season, although its production will emphasize comedy by casting actors from the Dad's Garage ensemble, including artistic director Sean Daniels. Some of the Outfit's choices prove predictable, including another musical revue (the girl group show Beehive) and a C.S. Lewis reading for families (The Magician's Nephew). But this summer's theatrical event may be the company's staging of Athol Fugard's The Island with Kenny Leon, produced in conjunction with the National Black Arts Festival.

Dad's Garage offers some variations on familiar themes. It begins the season with Out of the Trees, another premiere of "found" work by Graham Chapman of Monty Python. In the spring, the company hosts two shows by the visiting Neo-Futurists, the insanely great Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and the new show Drinking and Writing, which examines why authors and alcohol go together.

Dad's Garage tinkers with some of its annual traditions, offering an original puppet show, For Whom the Bell Jingles, instead of a Chick 'n' Boozy holiday special. And its program of short plays, 8 1/2 x 11, will showcase the best short scripts from around the nation instead of offering a sampler of Atlanta theaters.

Theatre in the Square will stage plays that aren't very familiar locally (except for the war-horse A Raisin in the Sun) but have crowd-friendly subject matter. Douglas Pote's Keep on the Sunny Side, about the Carter Family singers, is sure to appeal to Smoke on the Mountain fans -- but T-Square is bringing that show back again this summer, to keep on the safe side.

For a complete list of the 2003-04 theater seasons announced thus far, click here.

City Blocs

The Alliance Theatre's first City Series of re-mounts from other Atlanta playhouses is currently in progress, but the Alliance has already announced the participating playhouses for spring 2004. Down from five for 2003, the four next year are all niche-specific organizations: Jewish Theatre of the South, Irish/Celtic-themed Theatre Gael, female-centric Synchronicity Performance Group and the African-American New Jomandi.

It's especially generous for the Alliance to include the struggling Jomandi. Of the nine theaters included so far, some omissions stand out, most notably Georgia Shakespeare Festival, Theatre in the Square and, perhaps Atlanta's most distinctive troupe, the Center for Puppetry Arts.

Movin' Out

After seven years at the Floataway Building, PushPush Theater will be relocating to a new home at the end of summer. Managing director Shelby Hofer explained that space limitations and expansion plans motivate their move:

Hofer says the deal has yet to be finalized, but that the new PushPush will be in the Decatur area. The theater plans to finish out its season through August at the Floataway then inaugurate the new playhouse with a fall festival of plays by Adam Rapp, including a remount of next month's production of Rapp's Nocturne.

Any young troupe looking for a permanent home might want to grab that space before it floats away.

curt.holman@creativeloafing.com

Off Script is a biweekly column on the Atlanta theater scene.

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