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Center Stage announces 50th anniversary season, Kwame Kwei-Armah's first

When Kwame Kwei-Armah started on the job of artistic director at Center Stage last fall, he summed up his attitude with a simple message: Welcome to the conversation. That philosophy runs throughout the company's 50th anniversary season, 2012-2013, the first to be totally planned under Kwei-Armah's watch.

Plays, old and new, were chosen not just for the value of the lines spoken onstage, but also for their potential to generate a broader dialogue on various issues. By the end of next season, it may seem as if the plays themselves are conversing with each other.

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"It's a reflection of the kind of world I want Center Stage to be, a very significant civic partner in the community," Kwei-Armah said. "If you leave my theater saying only, 'That was a nice evening,' I've failed. I want people to be talking about the work on the way home and, I hope, the next day as well."

Here's a snapshot of the '12-'13 lineup: 

An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Arthur Miller; Sept. 19 to Oct. 21.

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This revival is timed for the election season. The plot revolves around a form of whistle-blowing that puts brothers into conflict with each other, amid challenging issues of politics, finance and science.

"The play asks what the responsibility of the individual is, and what we owe society," said Kwei-Armah, who will direct the production. "The brothers will be played by two actors who will alternate the roles, so that will change their conversation onstage. This work is also a conversation between the adapter of the play and the originator."

The Completely Fictional — Utterly True — Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe, by Stephen Thorne; Oct. 17 to Nov. 25

This work, which originated last year at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, examines the pathetic last days of Poe. "It's kind of profound and deeply felt, but with zany hilarity, including some vaudeville and burlesque," said Gavin Witt, associate artistic director and director of dramaturgy at Center Stage.

The play fits the conversation theme by giving Baltimore audiences a fresh opportunity to consider a local icon. It also adds to the dialogue about Baltimore's theater companies. Kwei-Armah is breaking with Center Stage's longtime tendency to overlook local talent in favor of New York performers by hiring ...

Center Stage announces 50th anniversary season, Kwame Kwei-Armah's first

Bruce Nelson, a popular resident artist at Everyman Theatre, to portray Poe.

A Delicate Balance, by Edward Albee; Nov. 21 to Dec. 23

The 1966 Pulitzer Prize-winning work opens a window into an unsettled upper-middle class household of middle-aged suburbanites. "It speaks to the fear we all secretly have, especially when the economy is uncertain, and when we don't know what our roles are," said Kwei-Armah.

The play, which will be directed by Mark Lamos (his staging of "Into the Woods" is currently at Center Stage), was also chosen "to make sure that Center Stage members know that the classics, from Shakespeare on, will be well looked after during my tenure," Kwei-Armah said. "But only classics that I think speak to something here and now."

The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall; Jan. 9 to Feb. 24

This work, a 2009 hit in London that received a more muted response in New York last fall, is set in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. On the night before he is assassinated, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. engages in a conversation with a maid.

"It is both fantastical and spiritual, but not a political play in any form," said Kwei-Armah, who will direct the production. "It is a wonderful exploration of an icon. This is a play that deserves to be seen by Baltimore audiences. I like the work very much. I have ambitions [as director] to make it particularly mine."

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Mud Blue Sky, by Marisa Wegrzyn (world premiere); March 6 to April 14

The award-winning young American playwright has “a deliciously wicked, wry sense of humor,” said Witt. Wegrzyn’s new work centers around three female flight attendants in their 40s who take stock of their lives while in a hotel room outside O’Hare Airport.

"They're asking quintessential questions," Kwei-Armah said. "When we did a reading of the play, all the women over 30 at the table had tears in their eyes at the end. The men were more like, oh really? But I want women's voices to be a huge part of the conversation next season. And this is a beautiful story beautifully written."

The Raisin Cycle: Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris; Beneatha's Place, by Kwame Kwei-Armah (world premiere); May 8 to June 9

The Norris work, which received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, is related in theme and place to the 1959 Lorraine Hansberry classic "A Raisin in the Sun," about a black family in Chicago moving to a white neighborhood.

"'Clybourne Park' certainly speaks to Baltimore, as to any urban area, and to gentrification and political correctness — and the desire for freedom from it," the British-born Kwei-Armah said. "My play is a response to both 'Clybourne Park' and 'Raisin in the Sun.' As a newbie [in this country], I found I have a take on race in America."

In effect, the cycle will set up "a conversation between two plays," Kwei-Armah said. And, added Witt, "these two plays will be in a discussion over a third."

The 1961 film version of "A Raisin in the Sun" will be shown at Center Stage during the run.

50 Monologues: My America

Having freshly located to the States for the Center Stage job, Kwei-Armah wanted to learn more about the country. "Instead of going to Google, I went to 50 artists, some of the best writers in America, and asked them to write three-minute monologues about 'This is My America,'" he said.

Those writers include Paula Vogel, Pulitzer Prize-winner playwright of "How I Learned to Drive." Actors will be engaged to deliver the monologues on film, which will be shown during the run of "Enemy of the People."

For more information, call 410-332-0033 or go to the Center Stage Web site.

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