As it starts its 16th year, Rep Stage is like many teenagers: trying some new things, working to establish its identity and hoping to attract more attention.
In its new season, which begins next month, the professional theater company in residence at Howard Community College will offer a world premiere and two regional premieres among its six productions.
It also plans to take a new approach to its holiday show, return to the freshly renovated Smith Theatre for two productions and throw its first gala fundraiser.
The 2008-2009 season starts Aug. 27 with Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted, directed by Steven Carpenter.
Playwright Christopher Trumbo wrote the true story of his father, Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, using letters written during the time the elder Trumbo was blacklisted and imprisoned during Congress' hunt for communists in the 1940s.
"It examines his life when his identity is taken from him," said artistic director and producer of Rep Stage, Michael Stebbins.
In October, REP Stage will present the world premiere of Intelligence by Kenneth M. Cameron. It is set in a command post in 1985, where an idealistic young writer challenges the head of U.S. national security while the fate of a popular leftist leader hangs in the balance.
Stebbins said the production, led by New York director Walt Witcover, will be one of the most naturalistic plays the company has done in a long time, with realistic sets and performances.
Rep Stage's first show in the renovated Smith Theatre will also be its first large, family-friendly holiday show: The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree, by William Gibson.
For the past two years, Rep Stage has presented David Sedaris' humorous one-man show, The Santaland Diaries, about a disgruntled department store elf. Actor Bruce Nelson will instead reprise that popular role in staged readings on Dec. 6 and 13 to benefit an HCC arts scholarship.
The Butterfingers Angel will involve a cast of 14, traditional music, contemporary language, children, animals and a cherry tree to creatively retell the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph. It will be directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner.
"I think it is a great way to celebrate not only the holidays, but the Smith Theatre," Stebbins said.
A Lie of the Mind, by Sam Shepard, the best-known offering in the season, uses dark comedy to tell the story of two families linked by marriage and torn by jealousy and distrust. Xerxes Mehta directs.
The final two shows of the season are regional premieres.
God's Ear, written by Jenny Schwartz and directed by Kasi Campbell, is humorous and tragic, following a couple who cope with the death of their son with help from a variety of odd characters, including the Tooth Fairy, G.I. Joe and a transvestite airline stewardess.
Hysteria, by Terry Johnson, is the intellectual, farcical and fun telling of the story of a cancer-stricken Sigmund Freud in 1938 London and his encounter with artist Slavador Dali, among other visitors. Steven Carpenter will direct.
Like The Butterfingers Angel, Hysteria will be performed in the Smith Theatre. All other shows will be in the Studio Theater (formerly called the black box theatre) in the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts at HCC.
"Not every single play is going to appeal to every single person, but every play is going to promote discussion," Stebbins said. "The stories should stay with people after the curtain closes at the end of the night."
Stebbins said subscribers are "getting more comfortable going to see work that doesn't have name recognition. People are starting to recognize we're offering a unique theatergoing opportunity."
REP Stage will offer free opening night receptions, two Friday night post-show discussions and a Saturday afternoon preshow lecture for each play. It will also expand its pay-what-you-can program to every Wednesday performance.
Other outreach efforts are under way, now that an advisory committee has been formed to focus on increasing the company's audience and revenue.
This year, the committee will throw its first gala fundraiser, called REPartee. The evening of dinner and entertainment, scheduled for Nov. 15, will be a tribute to REP Stage founder Valerie Lash and an opportunity to highlight the group's activities.
"It has been too long a time REP Stage has been a huge community secret," said Steven A. Gershman, one of the committee advisors. "We have a fantastic professional theater right here in our town that is not highly attended."
Information and tickets: www.repstage.org or 410-772-4900.