Artsmash Critic Tim Smith covers classical music, theater and visual arts in Baltimore and beyond

Center Stage to explore faith, love and comedy in 2017-2018 season

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

For its 2017-2018 season, the first full one in the company's freshly renovated home on North Calvert Street, Baltimore Center Stage will offer a mix of light, dark and in-between.

And the not-yet-known — the finale to the Mainstage Season will be a new work, to be announced later, written and directed by company artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah.

"What I tried to do with this season is to pick multifaceted works for the diverse audiences we have," Kwei-Armah said, "and try to give each of those audiences one or two they can call their own."

The lineup opens with Lucas Hnath's "The Christians," which set off favorable buzz a couple of years ago in New York. It's set in a mega-church that faces an unexpected crisis.

"I wanted to touch on the big things that touch all our lives, and one of the things I did was seek out plays that revolve around faith," Kwei-Armah said. "This is a brilliant play. I hope it will be a catalyst for debate about leadership and faith."

"The Christians," directed by Hana S. Sharif, will run in the Pearlstone Theater Sept. 7 to Oct. 8.

Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from the 1998 movie hit of the same name, "Shakespeare in Love" is scheduled for the Head Theater from Oct. 19 to Nov. 26. Blake Robison will direct the play, which had its first production in London in 2014.

"It's great big fun," Kwei-Armah said. "We all need a good belly laugh."

For the holiday season, Nov. 30 to Dec. 31 in the Pearlstone Theater, Center Stage will slip down the rabbit hole with "Lookingglass Alice," a work introduced about a decade ago at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre. This adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic is by David Catlin. Jeremy B. Cohen directs.

"Each year I try to program something specifically for the family, a play that speaks to young people but also speaks to adults," Kwei-Armah said. "This will not be the Lookingglass Theatre production. We'll be doing our own, something particular to our audiences and our sensibilities."

Center Stage, which did a stellar job with Dominique Morisseau's "Detroit '67" recently, will turn to the third work in her Detroit trilogy, "Skeleton Crew," from Feb. 1 to March 11, 2018, in the Head Theater. This play, directed by Nicole A. Watson and presented as part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival, centers on four autoworkers in the last plant standing.

"In Britain, we're fond of what we call our state-of-the-union plays," said Kwei-Armah, who directed the 2014 workshop production of "Skeleton Crew" in New York. "This is one of those. It looks at the cost of post-industrialization."

Another adaptation of a literary classic will be next on the season. Ian Woolridge's stage version of George Orwell's ever-relevant allegory "Animal Farm" is scheduled March 1 to April 1, 2018, in the Pearlstone Theater, directed by May Adrales.

The to-be-announced work by Kwei-Armah will be staged in the
Pearlstone from May 10 to June 17, 2018. His musical "Marley," about reggae star Bob Marley, was a ticket sale record breaker for Center Stage a couple years ago and recently had its first production in England.

Asked for a clue about the new piece, Kwei-Armah gave a little laugh and said, "It might have some music."

For more information on the 2017-2018 Mainstage Season, call 410-332-0033 or go to centerstage.org.

Details of other programming, including for Third Space (the company's new black-box theater) and Mobile Unit productions, will be announced later.

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