What to Watch For: Theater

August Wilson, Jeffrey Hatcher, Sleuth...

Gem of the Ocean. The late August Wilson's play is about Aunt Ester, a nearly 300-year-old woman who "cleanses souls," and Citizen Barlow, a tormented man whom Ester sets out to heal by taking him on a spiritual journey to the legendary "City of Bones." Set in Pittsburgh in 1904, Gem focuses on the legacy of slavery and the possibility of redemption. And, like so many of Wilson's plays, it asks "What good is freedom if you can't do nothing with it?" Sept. 5-30, American Stage, St. Petersburg, 727-823-PLAY.

The Fantasticks. Interested in seeing the longest-running musical in Off-Broadway history (over 40 years and 17,000 performances)? Salerno Theatre Company brings Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's record-breaking love story to the Bay area, complete with fabled songs like "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain." The story's about Matt and Luisa, whose fathers pretend to feud because they want their rebellious children to marry. But love's course never does run straight, not even when a professional kidnapper is brought in to help. Will true love prevail? Sept. 6-16, Catherine Hickman Theatre, Gulfport, 813-926-9175.

Rag and Bone. Noah Haidle's play is a surreal romp concerning a brother team who specialize in black-market hearts. That's right, human hearts — which utterly change the persons who acquire them. Meanwhile characters climb ladders all the way to the moon, people return from the grave, and painless operations are performed without anesthesia. And overarching all the flights of fancy, one stubborn moral: You gotta have heart. Sept. 6-23, Gorilla Theater, Tampa, 813-879-2914.

The Pavilion. Kari and Peter were high school sweethearts, but their romance went bad when she became pregnant and he nervously skipped town. Now, 20 years later, Peter comes to their high school reunion at the Pavilion Dance Hall with one object in mind: to woo Kari away from her golf pro husband and make right what long ago went wrong. Problem is, Kari's still enraged at Peter for abandoning her. Can Peter reclaim the past? Should he even try? Hat Trick Theatre invites you to find out. Nov. 16-Dec. 2, Silver Meteor Gallery, Ybor City, 813-833-6368.

Lobby Hero. There aren't many contemporary plays that explore the difficulties of moral action, but Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero, brought to us by Stageworks, is a notable exception. Using just a few characters — a security guard, his boss and a couple of cops — Lonergan shows us a world where righteous action doesn't always lead to righteous results, and human beings are so conflicted and multi-motivated they can barely understand themselves. Lonergan's a fine writer and a cunning analyst of confused minds; his play's ultra-serious and very funny. Sept. 7-23, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 229-STAR.

Twelve Angry Men. Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb starred in the intense 1957 film, but Reginald Rose's theater version, first performed in 1964, is a thrilling exercise in civic duty and claustrophobia. A 16-year-old boy is accused of his father's murder. A jury votes 11-to-1 for conviction; but the one holdout takes it upon himself to persuade the majority to rethink its logic and — maybe — its prejudices. There's eloquent speechifying, suspenseful personal conflict and a deep, if troubled, faith in the American system. Expect an emotional roller coaster. Oct. 9-14, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 229-STAR.

Jewtopia. After cabarets devoted to a Catholic nun, menopausal women and Jose Gaspar, it was inevitable that someone would decide the time had come for Jewish jokes — lots of them. The premise of this raucous comedy — with sizeable runs in New York and Los Angeles — is that Irish Catholic Chris O'Donnell wants to marry a Jewish woman (so that he'll never have to think for himself again). His Jewish buddy Adam Lipschitz offers to help; then look out for every archetypal yiddishe mother from Eve to Barbra. Oy! Oct. 24-Nov. 11, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

La Bohème. So there are these starving artists, and one of them, Rodolfo, falls in love with tubercular Mimi of the freezing hands. Meanwhile, painter Marcello is trying to make a go of his relationship with the beautiful but difficult Musetta. What results is one of the most gorgeous operas ever written (by Giacomo Puccini), an experience as musically luxurious as any in the whole operatic repertoire. Want to know where Rent got its inspiration? Want to know why opera fanatics are so intoxicated? Sell your coat and buy some tickets. Nov. 16-18, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

Sleuth. Anthony Shaffer's thriller is about rich mystery writer Andrew, who discovers that his wife is having an affair with not-so-wealthy Milo. In a meeting with Milo, Andrew cooks up a plan that's sure to make Milo some needed cash and promises to save the cuckolded husband from an excessive alimony outlay. But nothing is quite what it seems in this constantly surprising mind game, and once the police show up, the stakes are life-and-death. Oct. 31-Dec. 2, American Stage, St. Petersburg, 727-823-PLAY.

A Picasso. It's Paris, 1941, the Nazis are occupying France, and Pablo Picasso is waiting out their eventual defeat. Then the artist is called to a basement vault where Miss Fischer, a German official, asks him to authenticate three paintings that are said to be his work. What follows is a complicated dialogue between two wily art lovers, one who's conscious that he's a figure of world importance, the other who can't forget that she once had a life as an art historian. A Stageworks and Gorilla Theatre coproduction of a Jeffrey Hatcher play. Jan. 17-Feb. 3, Gorilla Theatre, Tampa, 813-879-2914.

Eleemosynary. Yes, it's a real word: It means "relating to charity." And Lee Blessing's play, presented by Jobsite Theater, is about three generations of women — grandmother Dorothea, mother Artemis, and daughter Echo — and their efforts to find some sort of modus vivendi. When the play begins, strong-willed and eccentric Dorothea has suffered a stroke, and Echo, who was brought up by her grandmother, has just reopened communications with Artie. But nothing is simple where these three idiosyncratic women are concerned, and love particularly requires genius. Jan. 3-20, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

Fall Arts '07 Main

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