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'A Lesson Before Dying' opens Friday at Straz Center in Tampa

B. Dexter Lewis and Tia Jemison in A Lesson Before Dying. The play runs Friday through April 24 at the Straz Center in Tampa.

Photo by Midge Mamatas

B. Dexter Lewis and Tia Jemison in A Lesson Before Dying. The play runs Friday through April 24 at the Straz Center in Tampa.

Romulus Linney, who died in January at 80, was called "one of the best-kept secrets of the American theatre, a playwright of true literacy, a writer in the grand tradition'' by critic Martin Gottfried. Though Linney wrote more than 30 plays, many of them set in the rural South, he is probably best known now as the father of actor Laura Linney.

Stageworks is performing Linney's A Lesson Before Dying, adapted from a 1992 novel by Ernest J. Gaines about an African-American on death row, wrongly convicted of a murder he did not commit, and the schoolteacher who helps him come to terms with his fate. It's 1948 in backwoods Louisiana, and racism is the theme.

Directed by Anna Brennen, the cast includes B. Dexter Lewis, Tia Jemison and Gloria Bailey.

The play opens Friday and runs through April 24 at the Shimberg Playhouse of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. $10, $24.50. Preview tonight. (813) 229-7827; strazcenter.org.

John Fleming, Times performing arts critic

'A Lesson Before Dying' opens Friday at Straz Center in Tampa 04/06/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 5:30am]
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