Of course, "new" or "unknown" works aren't necessarily synonymous with "daring" or "excellent." The Alliance Theatre's season opens with Dinah Was, a musical look at the life of Dinah Washington (sung by Chandra Currelly). It may turn out to be no more substantial than the oft-produced Blues in the Night, which the Alliance presented in May of 2000. But at least the 3-year-old play will be new to Atlantans.
A few common threads run through the theaters' lineups (as announced at press time), and here are some snap judgments on some of them.
As one of his last acts as the Alliance Theatre's artistic director, Kenny Leon selected one of the most diverse seasons in memory. New artistic director Susan V. Booth directs Proof, the latest Pulitzer Prize winner, about parenthood and mathematical proofs. Other shows include the nearly 300-year-old romantic comedy The Game of Love and Chance by Marivaux, Tennessee Williams' lesser-known A Lovely Sunday for Creve Couer (directed by new associate artistic director Kent Gash) and Sleepwalkers, an in-house developed drama about a family in Havana by Jorge Ignacio Corniñas. Also on tap is The Wiz, which Leon himself will direct, a choice that's bound to be either genius or folly.
Some of the year's most intriguing shows will be opening in September. Up-and-coming company Rogue Planet offers Patrick Marber's acclaimed, dirty-talking play about sexual relationships, Closer. Dad's Garage begins its season of all-new work with the world premiere of Say You Love Satan by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, winner of the theater's "International Playwright's Bonanza." Actor's Express opens its new season with The Laramie Project, a piece of "theatrical journalism" about the killing of Matthew Shepard from Moises Kaufman, author of the compelling Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.
Actor's Express will offer two world premieres: The Wooden Breeks (a "transcontinental co-production" with Perseverance Theater of Juneau, Alaska) and The Doll Plays, the latter of which plays in repertory with Bee-Luther-Hatchee, which offer different perspectives on race relations when viewed in tandem. With the season including Stephen Sondheim's Company and a final show yet to be determined (the theatrical version of Beautiful Thing and Tennessee Williams' Boom! are in the running), artistic director Wier Harman offers a season as aesthetically edgy as any offered by his predecessor Chris Coleman, if not more so.
Beleagured Jomandi Presentation begins its new season under acting artistic director Andrea Frye with a reliable choice, the musical Ain't Misbehavin' on Sept. 1. But next year, the theater presents work from two significant African-American dramatists, The Dance on Widows' Row by Samm- Art Williams and In the Blood by Suzan Lori Parks, author of The America Play.
The major event of the fall will be October's Naomi Wallace Festival, which sees staged readings and full productions across the city, and should answer the question "Who is Naomi Wallace?" A recipient of a 1999 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grant, Wallace has for years seen more success in England than her native United States, and has tackled subjects ranging from the Persian Gulf War to 18th-century English landscape design.
Initiated by Vincent Murphy, artistic producing director of Theater Emory, the festival includes full productions of Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek (Theater Emory), One Flea Spare (Synchronicity Performance Group), and The Girl Who Fell Through a Hole in Her Jumper and In the Heart of America (PushPush Theater). Other playhouses participating include Actor's Express, Dad's Garage, Georgia Shakespeare Festival, Horizon Theatre, Soul-stice Repertory and Theatrical Outfit.
The Wallace festival demonstrates just one way that Theater Emory sends out subtle but strong currents affecting the Atlanta theater scene. Emory graduates mostly make up the new troupe Out of Hand Theatre, whose premiere production, Cocteau's Indiscretions, opens Aug. 24. And where last year Emory staged George Bernard Shaw's mammoth, seldom- produced Back to Methuseluh, next month PushPush Theater, not to be outdone, tackles another huge, seemingly unplayable classic: Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt, which will be presented in two parts, with Jim Peck directing Daniel Pettrow as the title character.
The America plays
A salient feature of 2002 will be the exploration of this country's great playwrights and again, Theater Emory sets the tone. In February, it presents Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! and scenes from nine other plays as part of "The American Family Series," a collaboration with the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL Center).
Meanwhile, other theaters will be paying attention to Arthur Miller, with Soul-stice Repertory and the Georgia Shakespeare Festival both staging Death of a Salesman, and The New American Shakespeare Tavern presenting the witch-hunt drama The Crucible. Heartening as it is to see a mini-resurgence of interest in Miller, it affirms the sad irony that although Miller remains a living, practicing playwright, the only work of his that gets staged is about 50 years old.
At 7 Stages Joseph Chaikin directs theater founders Del Hamilton and Fay Allen in A Delicate Balance, the winner of the second of Edward Albee's three Pulitzers. Soul-stice promises an untraditional staging of William Inge's Bus Stop, while Tennessee Williams is represented by the Alliance's Creve Couer and ART Station's The Glass Menagerie.
Theatre in the Square, by contrast, gets its English up, with its main stage featuring David Hare's Amy's View, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and Shaw's Pygmalion (which, opening Aug. 15, counts as the first play of the 2001-2002 season). Though the latter are two of the stage's best comedies and seem perfectly suited to T-Square's strengths, staging both in the same season seems a little too twee.
Some of Atlanta's favorite playwrights, like Steve Murray, will be MIA this year, but others have long-overdue returns to the Atlanta stage, like Barbara Lebow, whose The Left Hand Singing will be staged by Jewish Theatre of the South next year. 7 Stages gives a forum to local and regional voices with work from artists-in-residence Jo Carson, Robert Earl Price and the Freddie Hendricks Youth Ensemble.
The Center for Puppetry Arts has no premiere from Jon Ludwig this year, alas, but the wild puppeteer contributes to The Spooky Puppet Horror Show in October, while Bobby Box stays in a supernatural mood with Live Faust, Die Young! in April. Onstage Atlanta's new artistic director Scott F. Rousseau has announced a season entirely of plays by Atlantans, including a Hometown Playwright Series with a script contest next summer and Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening With the Illuminati) by Eddie Levi Lee and Larry Larson in October.
Theatre Gael's "Crossroads" series has short-run works by three Atlanta women: Wesley Usher's adaptation of Paradise Lost, Lucy Maycock's adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces and Shirlene Holmes' Dark Irish. In addition, the theater will have a full production of Farewell the Fair Country by artistic director John Stephens.
Theatre Gael boasts some of the luckiest timing of the season, having scheduled Alfred Uhry's musical adaptation of The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty, who recently died. (OK, so it's not lucky for Welty). Uhry's own Driving Miss Daisy will be presented both by Marietta's Class Act Theatre and Stone Mountain's ART Station, which also offers a tribute to Atlanta's Lewis Grizzard this year.
Tried and true
Doing a risky original or obscure work can have drawbacks, which is why they're called "risks." Theatrical Outfit will offer some fresh material that nevertheless hews close to their choices of last season, giving this year a "second verse, same as the first" kind of quality. There's another musical by the makers of Pump Boys and Dinettes (July's The People vs. Mona), another take on Charles Dickens (Hard Times) and another C.S. Lewis (The Magician's Nephew). The wild card this year looks to be the provocative courtroom drama Cherry Docs.
The New American Shakespeare Tavern offers a return engagement of last year's Hamlet, revisits of its holiday productions of A Christmas Carol and Romeo and Juliet and a new staging of the two-actor The Turn of the Screw, which Agnes Harty and Maurice Ralston performed at Actor's Express several years ago. Granted, with a lineup that includes four other Shakespeare plays, the Tavern has more leeway to overlap.
But if you thought that any Shakespeare play counts as a safe, familiar choice, consider Atlanta Classical Theatre, which next year presents Henry V -- played entirely by women. Perhaps they should call it Henrietta V.
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