Spring Arts 2006

What to Watch For

click to enlarge Topdog/Underdog, TBPAC - David Jenkins
David Jenkins
Topdog/Underdog, TBPAC

The Boys in the Band: Mart Crowley's groundbreaking play put a group of gay men at a birthday party in front of a mainstream theater audience, and the revolution was on. The year was 1968, and the play's bitterness, corrosive humor and vicious party games held the Off Broadway stage for a thousand performances, before moving on to London and the Continent. "The power of the play is the way in which it remorselessly peels away the pretensions of its characters," said the New York Times. Prepare for a bumpy ride. Through Feb. 5. Suncoast Theatre, St. Petersburg, 727-456-0500.

Wicked: The Broadway blockbuster musical is about what happened in the Land of Oz before Dorothy dropped in from Kansas. It seems there were two girls: one with emerald-green skin, smart, fiery and misunderstood; and one who was beautiful, ambitious and exceedingly popular. Eventually they met in Oz — and went on to become the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch. Just how it all unfolded is the subject of Steven Schwartz and Winnie Holzman's Tony award-winning extravaganza. Through Jan. 30. Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

Topdog/Underdog: Suzan-Lori Parks' 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is about two African-American brothers, Lincoln and Booth, who, abandoned by their parents, have depended upon each other for survival since they were teenagers. Now in their 30s, the brothers struggle to find a way out of poverty. Lincoln has a respectable job impersonating Abraham Lincoln at an arcade, while Booth earns his living as a petty thief. Their world is chaotic, filled with dangers and illusions and swift shifts of power. A Jobsite Theater production. Jan. 26-Feb. 12. Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change: What's so impressive about this surprising musical is its honesty about love and its discontents. In sketch after sketch, lovers are beset by anxiety, impatience, wishful thinking, ennui, egotism, neediness, indecision, skepticism and panic — and that's just Act One. Joe Dipietro's book and lyrics are witty; Jimmy Roberts' music is catchy; and the outlook is decidedly modern and knowing. This isn't love out of a Disney movie — this is the real thing with all its vicissitudes. Feb. 17-May 7, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

Christopher Durang One-Acts: Durang is one of the few writers of satire who actually matter in American theater, and his views on religion, psychology, human relations and human pretensions are often scorching. In this Hat Trick Theatre outing, you'll see the controversial Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, 'dentity Crisis, Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room and two five-minute plays. The anger in Sister Mary Ignatius is particularly notable: Durang is incensed, it would seem, at his religious upbringing, and he's not gonna take it anymore. March 3-19, Silver Meteor Gallery, Ybor City, 813-833-6368.

The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? So there's this architect, Martin Gray, and he's a normal enough guy until he meets this goat Sylvia and falls in love and does the deed. And then his best friend finds out, and his wife and his son, and no, they don't understand, no, they're not the least bit tolerant, but he tries to explain anyway. Behind it all is moral gadfly Edward Albee, challenging our assumptions, testing our beliefs and daring to suggest that the intolerable is merely unfamiliar. Or is it? March 23-April 9, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

Crowns: American Stage's Shakespeare in the Park is moving indoors, while moving out to Demens Landing is the first of many modern musicals to come. This one is by Regina Taylor, and celebrates African-American women and their church hats. It tells the story of Yolanda, a streetwise kid from Brooklyn sent to live with her grandmother in South Carolina. Through gospel music and storytelling, Yolanda learns about inner strength — and how to find her own voice. Will it play as well as Hamlet? Come see. April 5-May 7, Demens Landing, St. Petersburg, 727-823-PLAY.

The Memory of Water: Stageworks presents Shelagh Stephenson's dark comedy about three sisters who reunite in Northern England for their mother's funeral. They play dress-up, they bicker, they discuss their unsatisfactory men and they argue over memories of ultra-feminine Mom. What interests Stephenson is how different persons remember and interpret the past differently, and how some shared memories form a kind of collective mythology. Don't be put off by the funeral setting — the play is ultimately joyful and life-affirming. April 20-May 7, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, 813-229-STAR.

When You Comin' Back Red Ryder? At an all-night diner in a sleepy Southwestern town, Stephen "Red" Ryder is just finishing up his turn at the night shift when Teddy, a drug runner whose car has broken down, arrives to stir up events. Teddy taunts and bullies the other diners, and utilizing black, sardonic humor, gets at each one in turn, stripping away their pretensions and exposing their innermost secrets and fears. But has he hurt them or helped them? Another nearly forgotten American play presented by Hat Trick Theatre. April 28-May 14, Silver Meteor Gallery, Ybor City, 813-833-6368.