ST. PETERSBURG — Red was supposed to be a highlight of American Stage's 2011-12 season. John Logan's play about painter Mark Rothko won the 2010 Tony Award for best play. And because the cast has only two actors, it would be a relatively affordable production, no small consideration for a theater company in these penny-pinching times.
"When a play like Red closes on Broadway, everyone in the world lines up to do it," said Todd Olson, producing artistic director of American Stage.
Olson thought he had the rights to perform Logan's play from publisher Dramatists Play Service, and it was included in the announcement of the new season in February and the marketing brochure.
But then came some bad news from Sarasota. In July, the Asolo Repertory Theatre and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art announced that they were going to do a co-production of Red this season. What that meant was that the St. Petersburg theater would not be able to perform the play because staging rights from the publisher include exclusivity within 50 miles. The distance between American Stage and the Asolo and adjacent Ringling is about 44 miles.
"Once the Asolo lays claim to it, we just can't have it," Olson said. "They're the biggest theater in (the region), and they kind of scooped it up away from us."
The mixup over rights to Red stemmed from the Asolo and Ringling originally announcing in March that they were going to premiere a play called Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollack? But that plan fell through, and several months later they switched to Logan's play, which will be performed from March 30 through April 22 in the museum's Historic Asolo Theater.
"Dramatists will always wait for the theater that they're going to get more income from," Olson said. "We're kind of third behind Asolo and Florida Studio Theatre (also in Sarasota). So we pester, and they try to give us clues about where we are in line. We thought we got from them the go-ahead, so we gambled and put it on our season."
Last week, American Stage announced that Red was being replaced on its schedule by 2.5 Minute Ride, a one-woman play by Lisa Kron, scheduled from March 16 through May 6. This is the second straight season the company has switched plays at a late date. Barefoot in the Park, the Neil Simon comedy now playing, replaced the previously announced A Steady Rain, a gritty police drama by Keith Huff.
The loss of Red added insult to injury for American Stage. Olson had his eyes on God of Carnage, the 2009 Tony winner for best play by Yasmina Reza (Art). "I think God of Carnage would work well for us, but Asolo snatched it up, too," he said.
American Stage will be able to do Red and God of Carnage in future seasons, but regional theaters strive to be first to produce hot new works. Indeed, Red is being performed not only in Sarasota but also in Fort Myers and Orlando.
"Orlando Shakespeare has no problem getting Red," Olson said. "Florida Rep in Fort Myers has no problem getting Red. But Sarasota and St. Pete are just close enough so it's always tricky."
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.