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West Coast Players' 'The Constant Wife' a departure from the theater norm

Sam Priest, as John Middleton, and Samantha Parisi, as Constance Middleton, run through a dress rehearsal of the West Coast Players production of The Constant Wife on Monday. The play opens on Friday.

KENNETH L. HAWKINS JR. | Times

Sam Priest, as John Middleton, and Samantha Parisi, as Constance Middleton, run through a dress rehearsal of the West Coast Players production of The Constant Wife on Monday. The play opens on Friday.

The Constant Wife is not what you expect to see at a community theater — or at any theater these days. W. Somerset Maugham's novels have remained popular among readers, but the plays he wrote are another matter. His 1926 drawing room comedy about an Englishwoman's problematic marriage to a surgeon is rarely staged.

But that hasn't stopped West Coast Players from opening its season with The Constant Wife, and it is not the only play on the Clearwater company's schedule that strays from the beaten track of musicals and comedies at most community theaters. Next up at the 96-seat theater is one of Tennessee Williams' more obscure works, Small Craft Warnings.

"I see an opportunity for West Coast to carve out a niche of providing audience members a chance to see things they haven't seen a bunch of times before," artistic director Janice Creneti said. "We have a space that lends itself to an intimate experience."

Community theater, which features unpaid actors, is in transition because its audience is aging. "Frankly, a lot of the people that were season subscribers just aren't with us anymore," Creneti said. "I think of people of my generation — I'm in my 40s — as not being theatergoers. They do TV, they do movies, but they don't think of theater as entertainment. So we need to reach out to them and say, 'Hey, come see a play instead of a movie.' "

The Constant Wife, directed by Crystal Solana Bryan, has Samantha Parisi in the title role. "This is a play where the heroine wrestles with what it means to be an independent woman at a time when that was not standard operating procedure," Creneti said. "It's her journey to be who she really is despite the constraints that marriage is supposed to mean for somebody of her class."

The play opens Friday and runs through Aug. 28 at West Coast Players, 21905 U.S. Highway 19 N (behind Toyota dealership), Clearwater. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $15, $18. (727) 437-2363; wcplayers.org.

• • •

St. Petersburg Little Theatre is planning some changes, starting with its name. The board of the venerable community theater voted to change its name to St. Petersburg City Theatre. And with the name change, the theater, which has bounced back from a financial crisis that almost forced it to shut down in 2008-09, is freshening up its programming.

"We have also sought to raise the bar on our main stage productions," executive director Deborah Kelley said in an e-mail. "We will open our season with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in October — not what you might expect from Little Theatre, but City Theatre has big plans. We also will have Hairspray in January."

• • •

Change is afoot at American Stage. Andy Orrell has left after eight years as marketing director of the St. Petersburg theater, and Jamie Cataldo is no longer development director, having stepped down after a year in the job. Steve Mountan, whose experience with the theater goes back to the 1970s, has returned as box office manager.

Producing artistic director Todd Olson e-mailed that there is likely more change to come. "The board and I are actively discussing the creation of a managing director position to begin at some point this season. We have collected dozens of applications and are weighing options."

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

West Coast Players' 'The Constant Wife' a departure from the theater norm 08/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 11:01pm]

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