Spring Arts '14 What to watch for: Theater

RUNNING START:  Wilbert L. Williams, Jr., Kimberly Webb (filling in for Renata Eastlick) and Kim Sullivan in Two Trains Running.
  • Chad Jacobs
  • RUNNING START: Wilbert L. Williams, Jr., Kimberly Webb (filling in for Renata Eastlick) and Kim Sullivan in Two Trains Running.

Don’t miss…
Two Trains Running. It’s 1969, and in Memphis Lee’s diner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, seven African-Americans gather to talk about money and death and social justice. Because it’s the late ’60s, the talk is informed by the rise of the Black Power movement; because it’s an August Wilson play, the talk is eloquent, almost musical in its rises and falls, and always conscious of the degree to which America has not followed through on its promises to its black citizens. American Stage continues its laudable project of presenting all 10 plays of Wilson’s century cycle, with Bob Devin Jones directing this time, and stars Kim Sullivan, Alan Bomar Jones and ranney joining a tiptop cast. Jan. 24-Feb. 23 at American Stage, St. Petersburg, americanstage.org.

The Normal Heart. When Larry Kramer wrote this furious play, it looked like political, medical, and journalistic America were going to stand by and do nothing while thousands of gay men died of the new AIDS epidemic. So Kramer created the character Ned Weeks (played here by freeFall artistic director Eric Davis), a temperamental writer who becomes so indignant at the country’s indifference that he starts a political group dedicated to publicizing the terrible plague destroying so many lives. Kramer’s writing goes far beyond polemic: there are rants and tirades here, yes, but there are also relationships that can bring any sentient spectator to tears. And all Kramer’s characters, no matter their differences, are treated with respect. Jan. 25-Feb. 16 at freeFall Theatre, St. Petersburg, freefalltheatre.com.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Having already brought us The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, Tampa Repertory Theatre now presents Tennessee Williams’ scorching tale of Maggie the Cat (the wonderfully talented Dahlia Legault), a woman intent on getting impregnated by the alcoholic husband who despises her, all in pursuit of her dying father-in-law’s bank accounts. If you believe humans haven't evolved very much beyond apes, this is the play for you: people, as seen here, are viciously calculating, ferociously greedy, and just moments from tearing at each other with their paws and teeth. So get a babysitter for your no-neck monsters, put mendacity behind you, and buy your filthy ticket. Grr. May 1-18 at Tampa Repertory Theatre, Tampa, tamparep.org.

Also on the radar…
Heroes. Adapted by word-intoxicated playwright Tom Stoppard from a text by Gérald Sibleyras, this Olivier Award-winning comedy follows three World War I veterans as they plot their escape from a retired soldiers’ home. Jan. 9-26, Tampa Repertory Theatre.
The Divine Sister. Charles Busch’s send-up of films in which nuns figure importantly is encyclopedic, allusive and very funny. Can the Mother Superior of St. Veronica’s ever cope with the wildly inconvenient demands of the modern world? Love or hate The Bells of St. Mary’s, Nunsense and The Flying Nun, you’ll delight in this sister. Feb. 6-23, Stageworks, Tampa, 813-727-2708, stageworkstheatre.org.
Once Winner of eight Tony Awards, the Broadway touring production about a Dublin street musician and his new love is based on the movie by the same name featuring the soulful ballads of Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard. Feb. 11-16. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. 813-229-STAR, strazcenter.org. —Julie Garisto
Around the World in 80 Days. This one’s all about the theater’s ability to represent the most daunting realities. Watch five actors convince you you’re seeing stampeding elephants, raging typhoons, and runaway trains, all while impersonating 39 characters. March 21-April 13, American Stage.
The Rainmaker. Sometimes it seems like N. Richard Nash’s play has been around as long as the theater has. But you can’t help but be charmed by this clever drama about a rainmaker who may be a charlatan, or may be just what one town — and one woman — has long needed. April 3-27, New Stage Theatre, Largo, newstagelargo.org.
Unnecessary Farce. If any contemporary comedy has a chance of rivalling Michael Frayn’s Noises Off as funniest play ever, it must be Paul Slade Smith’s play about a corrupt mayor, his female accountant, two undercover cops, and a Scottish hit man. April 10-27, Hat Trick Theatre at the Straz.
Crimes of the Heart. Beth Henley won a Pulitzer for this screwball comedy, presented by Jobsite Theater, about three Mississippi sisters who are reunited when one is accused of shooting her husband. Meg, Babe, and Lenny are the three women, and they’re searching for meaning, love, and consolation — like all of us. If you saw the movie, don’t be misled: the original play is much better. May 5-30, Jobsite at the Straz.
Chinglish. The question of what gets lost in translation — from Mandarin to English, in this case — is what this comedy by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) is about. American businessman Daniel Cavanaugh thinks he can make some money in the small Chinese city of Guiyang. What he doesn’t count on is the difficulty of bridging languages — and cultures. May 27-April 13, Stageworks.

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