Following the safety net of the tried-and-true holiday shows, playhouses often present their most risky or personal materials during the first month of the year. At the dawn of 2002, several Atlanta theaters, perhaps in the twin-visaged spirit of Janus, will be staging more shows than one, although they have different reasons for doubling up.
The month's most intriguing project is Actor's Express' world premiere of Alva Rogers' the doll plays, a poetic meditation on the life of a beloved Harlem doll collector, staged in repertory with Thomas Gibbons' Bee-luther-hatchee, a provocative tale set in the publishing world, about a mysterious manuscript set in the segregationist South.
Artistic director Wier Harman says the decision to present the plays in tandem stemmed from the response to the theater's edgy work from last January. "When we did The America Play, people seemed to feel like it was a riddle that needed solving."
"I found [the doll plays] material to be very simple and very sweet, about the moment between life and death for this woman, when her doll collection comes to life to enact that flash-flood of images that theoretically we receive when we die. But I also thought, 'People are going to have a hard time following this,' " says Harman. "I had the idea of presenting it in tandem with Bee-luther-hatchee, because Gibbons' play deals more explicitly with race and authenticity. It's a play with a more conventional vocabulary, and I'd like audiences to see it and hold it up against the more adventurous, less familiar form of doll, and have confidence in their own experience of it.
"It's kind of an experiment," he says. "I want people to see the two shows as soon as they can -- ideally, from the same chair." The doll plays opens Jan. 12, Bee-luther-hatchee on Jan. 13, and both feature Carol Mitchell-Leon.
For its fourth annual Festival of New American Theater, Essential Theatre offers a repertory of three shows that don't necessarily share thematic unity but are similar in that they're all new plays.
"I'd say we go for a well-rounded contrast rather than thematic unity," says artistic director Peter Hardy. "We do try to find a balance, three shows that complement and provide contrast with each other. Plus, we're committed to at least one world premiere by a Georgia playwright and to recent American plays in general."
This year Essential Theatre presents three disparate works, including the Southern premiere of the comedy Betty's Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang Jan. 5, the drama Book of Days by renowned veteran playwright Lanford Wilson opening Jan. 9 and the world premiere of Warts by Alpharetta's Bill Gibson, winner of the Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, Jan. 16.
Atlanta Classical Theatre's January repertory also balances a local premiere with work from a famous writer. On Jan. 24 the theater presents The Coast of Illyria, a dark comedy from the 1940s about Charles and Mary Lamb by famed wit Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans. Then the theater presents the debut of Atlantan Topher Payne's Beached Wails, a comedy about four sisters stranded by a hurricane in a hotel room, Jan. 28. Both shows will be staged at the 14th Street Playhouse.
Similarly, Theatre Gael presents Faith Healer by Irish playwright Brian Friel Jan. 18-Feb. 10, and in the midst of the production a three-day run of Dark Irish by Georgia State professor Shirlene Holmes Jan. 25-28 at the 14th Street Playhouse. In Dark Irish, Holmes recounts her 20-year friendship with Kathleen Ferguson and finds common ground between African-Americans and Irish Americans.
The Center for Puppetry Arts offers a pair of revivals Jan. 10, beginning in the morning with Jon Ludwig's informative and amusing children's show Rainforest Adventures. At night, the theater hosts a return engagement of The Baroque Opera, a piece with operatic music and Marx Brothers-style slapstick from the Forman Brothers of the Czech Republic. A hit in 1999, The Baroque Opera plays Jan. 10-20, and Rainforest Adventures runs from Jan. 10-March 17.
Dad's Garage Theatre goes for both quantity and brevity with its fourth annual short play festival 8 1/2 x 11, which offers eight-and-a-half plays of 11 minutes or less. This year's installment features contributions from PushPush Theater, Emory University, New Hope Productions, Out of Hand Theatre, Atlanta Radio Theatre, Chris Brown Production, playwright Kendra Myers and Zoetic Dance Ensemble. The highlight promises to be Theatrical Outfit's Tom Key directing John Benzinger in an 11-minute version of "The Iceman Cometh."
Artistic director Sean Daniels explains that this year the theater gives the evening a framing device to bring the plays together. "We're having some puppet characters that find themselves at the end of the world and have to perform theater to appease the gods and let Earth live. We're trying to make it more of an evening and an event than just eight-and-a-half pieces stuck next to each other."
Janus is also the god of gates and doorways, thus being an appropriate deity for New Year's resolutions and new ventures. The month features the debut of Jack in the Black Box Theatre Company with mylady/malady, opening Jan. 10 at the Art Farm. Described as a cabaret-style show, the evening features short plays from Tennessee Williams, David Ives and Jean-Claude van Italli, as well as new work from artistic directors Marty Aikens and Jon Tyler Owens. It should make an interesting complement to 8 1/2 x 11.
On Jan. 24, Jewish Theatre of the South presents the premiere of The Left Hand Singing by lauded local playwright Barbara Lebow. Directed by Frank Wittow, the play takes the case of three missing Civil Rights workers in 1964 Mississippi to explore African-American and Jewish relations. It features Elisabeth Omilami. Fans of Atlanta writers also will be interested in Bill Oberst Jr.'s one-man Tribute to Lewis Grizzard presented at ART Station Jan. 9-13.
Andrea Frye, acting artistic director for Jomandi Productions, directs Cheryl L. West's Jar the Floor, a rollicking family story about four generations of African-American women that opens Jan. 26 at the Alliance Theatre's Hertz stage. Upstairs the Alliance Children's Theatre offers Pinocchio 3.5 (opening Jan. 12), a high-tech take on the fairy tale with intriguing design that features a giant computer screen and costumes inspired by Japanese animation.
On Jan. 25, Horizon Theatre presents the Southeastern premiere of Madame Melville starring Carolyn Cook, while Jill Jane Clements plays the title role in the one-woman show Shirley Valentine at Georgia Ensemble Theatre beginning Jan. 3. Other January shows include A.R. Gurney's romantic drama Far East at Theatre in the Square; a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' Hard Times at Theatrical Outfit; Sleuth at Stage Door Players; Blithe Spirit at Aurora Theatre; and, at the New American Shakespeare Tavern, a promising script about a moody, black-clad youth called Hamlet.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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