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Brave new world taking shape on Colonial Players' stage

As Colonial Players Inc. opens its 65th season, the all-volunteer Annapolis-based theater group is planning a season that celebrates the past and seems to foretell a bright future.

The Players' humble beginning was launched when a group of Annapolitans, dedicated to bringing high-quality theater to their community, opened a series of plays at Annapolis Recreation Center near City Dock.

Six years later, a car repair shop on East Street was purchased, and this space expanded through the years into the 180-seat performance arena enjoyed today.

Success can be measured, in part, by peer and industry honors. Colonial Players has won first place in state one-act play festivals and has been honored 18 times in the Ruby Griffith Award competition, conducted by the D.C.-based British Players. In July 2013, the Ruby Griffith Award went to "Shipwrecked" for outstanding achievement in a play.

Last season, the Players won the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors award for best production, best director and best leading actress for its 2012 production of "Going to St. Ives." Lead actress Lolita-Marie won, and fellow "St. Ives" lead actress Heather Quinn was nominated.

The Players' 65th season is a coming of age — a bold season of discoveries for players and audience members, who may discover unknown playwrights and works that will create new memories.

The season opens Sept. 20 with Alan Ayckbourn's "Communicating Doors," a comic mystery in which action takes place in the same suite of hotel rooms in 2014, 1994 and 1974. An old man delivers his confession of past deeds to a young woman who witnesses him murdering his first and second wives. The unwilling witness finds herself in the same suite 20 years before, time-traveling back to witness another flawed honeymoon.

Charles Strouse's musical "Annie," a perennial audience favorite, opens Nov. 8 and runs through Dec. 7. It's the story of an optimistic orphan coping with life in Miss Hannigan's municipal orphanage in Depression-era New York City, and follows her dreams of finding parents and her rescue by billionaire Oliver Warbucks. "Annie" is a show guaranteed to enchant audiences of all ages.

The Players will present "Coyote on a Fence" by Bruce Graham, Jan. 10-25. This is designated an "arc" show — designated because it's considered more challenging than usual offerings and likely to appeal to a smaller "arc" in Colonial Players' circle of subscribers and patrons.

Officials with the Players say such "arc" plays are designed to challenge actors, directors and designers and broaden the scope of the audience. "Coyote on a Fence" may well do that; it's about men on death row in a maximum-security prison. Three characters — a man to be executed for committing a hate crime, the editor of the prison newspaper and another prisoner who writes obituaries, along with a female guard — introduce us to their world.

From Feb. 14 to March 8, Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts" takes the Players' stage with a story of family doughnut shop owner Arthur Przybyszewski, coping with the recent death of his ex-wife and a new Starbucks across the street from his Chicago shop. Employee Franco Wicks urges Arthur to revitalize the store by extending evening hours and encouraging writers to feel at home. Described as "uplifting and funny," the play offers insight to workers struggling to create rewarding lives.

A second musical, "Bat Boy," arrives March 28 and runs through April 19. This off-beat musical by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe, is told with a pop rock score. The story is about a half-human, half-bat mutant captured in a cave and put in the care of the family of town veterinarian, Dr. Parker.

Scheduled May 9-31 is Melanie Marnich's "These Shining Lives," a poetic telling of a true story of four women who worked in the Westclox Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Ill., in 1922. For 11 years the company employed more than a thousand women to paint numbers in radium powder on clock faces and watches. Catherine Donohue and her co-workers confront serious illnesses caused by radium.

Colonial Players closes its 65th season with a second "arc' offering, the 2007 Helen Hayes award-winner for best new play, "Dead Man's Cell Phone," by Sarah Ruhl. Scheduled June 13-28, this comedy about human isolation in a connected world tells of a woman in a cafe who picks up the ringing cell phone of a man who just died at the next table.

The Colonial Players is located at 108 East St,. Annapolis. Go to the Players' website, thecolonialplayers.org, for season subscription information or purchasing single tickets.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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