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Trio of events helping Bay Theatre emerge as creative force

After sold-out fundraiser, troupe planning Wine and Words and 'Bad Dates'

By Mary Johnson, For The Baltimore Sun

1:04 PM EST, November 3, 2013

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Janet Luby, co-founder of Bay Theatre Company, and Belinda Fraley Huesman, executive director of Chesapeake Arts Center, recently met to discuss the status of their organizations' partnership.

A three-stage revival plan for Bay Theatre was put into place, starting with an Oct. 30 fundraiser at Loews Annapolis Hotel and continuing with the Wine and Words play reading at Chesapeake Arts Center at 7 p.m. Nov. 4, where professional actors will read "Love, Loss, and What I Wore."

In January, Luby will perform the one-woman comedy show "Bad Dates" at CAC's Black Box Studio 194 theater in nine performances over three weekends.

More than a week before the Oct. 30 fundraiser, the event was sold out, helping to fund Bay's two coming shows at Chesapeake.

It seems a natural flow for Bay Theatre to join Chesapeake Arts Center in this type of artist-venue merger. Huesman and Luby agreed that Bay Theatre has a healthy prognosis, and through the partnership, Chesapeake is gaining recognition while broadening its audience base. Both said they are committed to bringing professional theater to a convenient location for residents of north and west Anne Arundel — and to the entire county and beyond — while introducing the Chesapeake facility to Bay's Annapolis supporters.

Acknowledging the support as "central to Bay's success," Luby reflected on the group's history in Annapolis, where it was the city's first professional theater. In Bay's ninth season, it garnered its first-ever Helen Hayes Award Committee recommendation for an opening production of Terrence McNally's "Lips Together, Teeth Apart." In the same 2010-2011 season, the theater received a Helen Hayes best actor nomination for Bill Largess in Larry Shue's "The Foreigner."

Bay's 2011-2012 season opened with "Wit," for which Rena Cherry-Brown won the Helen Hayes award for best lead actress. The season ended with "Belle of Amherst," for which Kathryn Kelley was also nominated for Helen Hayes best actress.

Bay Theatre was forced to close its 2012-2013 season at the West Garrett Building on West Street, with one weekend remaining of Arthur Miller's "The Price." Luby, who has served as artistic director since July 2010, said she regrets the abrupt closing.

"Nothing was wrong with Bay Theatre that couldn't have been fixed by money," she said. "I dealt with such conflicting advice as 'Don't let anyone know you are having financial difficulty' to 'Why didn't you let anyone know you were having funding trouble?' "

Luby said all that advice was well intentioned and reflected the support the theater has enjoyed.

"Now," she said, "I ask that Bay's Annapolis friends — so essential in building this miracle — continue supporting us in Brooklyn Park."

Luby said all 120 seats of the Chesapeake Arts Center's Studio 194 theatre were being "maxed out" for the Wine and Words event.

Always popular in Annapolis, this traditional Bay Theatre event welcomes audiences to mingle over wine before enjoying a play reading by Equity actors. This offering of Nora and Delia Ephron's enduring comedy is now sold out, although it is assumed that a few who have reserved seats will not attend, so Huesman and Luby continue to welcome reservations and are contemplating adding seats if needed.

Expecting a capacity crowd, Luby promises, "We'll keep the wine flowing for all and hope to welcome everyone who contacts us for reservations."

The "Bad Dates" production will visit one woman's experiences on re-entering the dating scene while trying to raise a teen and run a business. Luby's character, Haley Walker, is confident, competent, humorous and introspective while battling insecurity, incompetence, black moods, impulses and a strange plot twist. The show features the character conversing with the audience as if all are trusted friends.

Early on in the planning stages, two of Luby's favorite directors, Richard Pilcher and Jim Chance, suggested she play the role — as did friends who remembered her stories of harrowing blind dates. Patrons should find a rare treat in this adventurous dating excursion.

The show will run Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Jan. 10-26. Tickets, priced at $24 plus $4 surcharge, are available online at chesapeakearts.org and baytheatre.org.

Luby notes that if the third show does as well as the two earlier events, Bay Theatre will begin planning a season offering plays appealing to those who expect entertainment and thought-provoking drama.

For more details or for ticket information, go to baytheatre.org or chesapeakearts.org. To inquire about availability to Wine and Words, email bayatchesaperakearts@gmail.com.