What has happened to Steven Dietz? Not too many years ago, he was a playwright worth paying attention to. I was especially taken by Dietz's Private Eyes, a smart psychological thriller that I saw at American Stage (featuring the late, lamented Jeff Norton) in 1997. His AIDS play, Lonely Planet, was also good.
Dietz is prolific, and I'm not familiar with all his work, but what I have seen lately has been disappointing, including two different productions of his literary drama Fiction. The worst yet is Becky's New Car, which opened the Banyan Theater summer season last week in Sarasota.
Geraldine Librandi stars as Becky, a kind of everywoman suffering the midlife blahs. She is married to a roofer and works for a car dealership in Dietz's play, described in a program note by director Gil Lazier as similar to "those great movie comedies of the '30s and '40s." And it does have some amusing banter, but when Becky draws audience members into the action again and again, culminating with her hauling three women onstage to vote on whether she should go to a dinner party thrown by a loopy widower and billboard magnate named Walter (Peter Thomasson), things become totally tiresome. If not for my professional obligation, I would have been tempted to leave after the first act.
Much of the audience seemed to be enjoying the play, but that's not surprising, since Dietz has fallen into the habit of writing to please the comfortable theatergoers likely to be found at a venue such as Banyan. They're flattered to be in on all the little jokes about the trials and tribulations of suburban life.
Becky's New Car runs through July 17 at Cook Theatre of the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Sarasota. 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission. $28.50. (941) 351-2808; banyantheatercompany.com.
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Iain Webb renewed his contract as artistic director of Sarasota Ballet through the 2016-17 season. Webb, a former principal dancer with England's Royal Ballet, has distinguished the company by staging dances by English choreographers such as Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, Antony Tudor and Matthew Bourne. The ballet's precarious finances have stabilized, though managing director Michael Shelton, in the job for about two years, left in June.
Sarasota Ballet, along with dancers from Washington-based Suzanne Farrell Ballet, perform Ashton's The Two Pigeons and George Balanchine's Diamonds at Ruth Eckerd Hall Nov. 19.
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Tarpon Springs has the knack for landing grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. For the third straight year, the city's department of cultural services won an award from the federal agency, $40,000 to establish the Gulf Coast Folklife Center, curated by Tina Bucuvalas. Events include an exhibit of Haitian arts in Florida in November.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.