Center Stage is arming itself for the battle of the sexes. This age-old conflict will be a central theme in the theater's 1995-96 season, which will include plays by William Shakespeare, Noel Coward and George C. Wolfe, as well as a world premiere.
The war-between-the-sexes theme emerged "more in retrospect than in the actual planning," artistic director Irene Lewis said in announcing the six-production season. "I'm interested in offering a wide variety of plays -- that's my particular taste. I don't want the theater to stand for one kind of offering."
In looking back over the selections, however, she realized, "Oh my goodness -- the people who love each other are beating each other up."
The world premiere is Elizabeth Egloff's "The Lover," which Lewis describes as a "free adaptation" of Ivan Turgenev's "On the Eve," a novel about a privileged, sheltered Russian girl who falls in love with a Bulgarian revolutionary during the Crimean War. Calling it "a magnetic love story," Lewis added that it "seems very connected to the upheaval in that Slavic area [today]."
Egloff is a young, award-winning playwright whose most widely produced play is "The Swan." "I'm delighted that we're the first people to do 'The Lover,' " said Lewis, who plans to direct the production in the Head Theater.
Wolfe, another of America's most prominent contemporary playwrights, will be represented by "Spunk," his 1989 adaptation of three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, the late Harlem Renaissance writer who attended Morgan State University and whose works are currently experiencing a resurgence of popularity.
Wolfe, who heads the New York Shakespeare Festival, is the author of "Jelly's Last Jam" and "The Colored Museum," which Center Stage produced in the 1987-88 season. "Spunk" will be staged in the Pearlstone Theater.
Although the conflict between men and women figures into both these selections, the theme's most overt manifestation will be in Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" and Coward's "Private Lives," both slated for the Pearlstone.
"The Taming of the Shrew," in which Petruchio takes on acid-tongued Kate, "can be quite wild in the concept of it," Lewis said. At the same time, she explained, it's "a play I think we can do with a small number of actors because we can't afford one of the larger Shakespeares."
"Private Lives," a comedy about a divorced couple occupying adjoining honeymoon suites (with new spouses), is one of the most classic examples of male-female warfare. Describing it as "a delicious piece," Lewis said it will be her first experience directing Coward.
The most significant departure from the season's theme will be a double bill of one-acts in the Head Theater -- Douglas Turner Ward's "Day of Absence" and Shirley Lauro's "Open Admissions."
"Day of Absence," which Lewis hopes will be directed by Center Stage associate artist Marion Isaac McClinton, takes place in a small Southern town where all the blacks disappear, leaving the whites to cope for themselves. Written by one of the founders of the Negro Ensemble Company, it is the play that changed the life of Baltimore-born actor Charles S. Dutton, who read it in solitary confinement at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Hagerstown.
"Open Admissions," about a confrontation between a white college professor and a black student, will have 10 additional student "Encounter" matinees as part of Theater for a New Generation, Center Stage's ongoing program to attract younger patrons.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 students -- the largest number in Center Stage's history -- are expected to attend the matinees, which will serve as "a springboard for in-depth discussions," Lewis said.
In addition, Lewis said she would like to produce Moliere's "Don Juan" in the forthcoming season. But recognizing that it is "a very ambitious undertaking," particularly in view of threatened decreases in arts funding, she is also considering several less costly titles. These include George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession," and three Pulitzer Prize winners -- Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night," Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" and David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross."
Lewis' concern about funds reflects an attitude of increased caution adopted by the theater, though it continues to operate on a firm financial footing.
"The face of non-profit over the next five years is going to undergo some drastic changes. This theater is gearing up for them in the sense that we've put together a brain trust from the board looking very closely at how one survives -- not only survives, but flourishes -- with cutbacks on so many levels," she explained. "This theater has some of the lowest ticket prices in the country for a large theater, and we wish to keep it that way."
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