American Stage will be lightening up its play list in 2013-14.
"We've been hearing pretty consistently that people want some lighter stuff, so I just think that for this next season, they are going to find plays that they know a little bit more," artistic director Todd Olson said in announcing the lineup, released today. "If we take a year and we laugh a little bit more, I can live with that."
So the mainstage season at the St. Petersburg theater will include a generous share of feel-good shows, such as Steel Magnolias, the durable beauty shop comedy; a revue of Noel Coward songs and scenes called A Marvelous Party!; and a rollicking entertainment inspired by Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days.
These are meant as a counterbalance to the past few seasons in which the company has programmed some plays from the darker side, such as Edward Albee's corrosive portrait of a marriage, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and A Steady Rain, a gritty cop drama by Keith Huff. Still to come this season are a number of relative unknowns, such as The Amish Project, Jessica Dickey's one-woman play about the Amish community's humane response to a schoolhouse shooting in Pennsylvania, and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, an offbeat comedy by Madeleine George.
Plays that missed with its audience have taken a toll on American Stage, which is the Tampa Bay area's largest professional theater, with a budget of $2 million. Last summer, the company issued an appeal for donations to help it close out the fiscal year in the black.
Next season opens with The Birds, an adaptation by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (The Seafarer) of the short story by Daphne du Maurier that inspired the Hitchcock movie. Two Trains Running will continue the theater's production of August Wilson's 10-play Century Cycle. God of Carnage, a Tony Award winner by Yasmina Reza about feuding pairs of parents, is billed as a "comedy of manners without manners." The Wiz, the African-American take on The Wizard of Oz that starred Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow in the movie version, will be the springtime show on the waterfront.
Not only does the 2013-14 season feature lighter fare, but, with seven mainstage and park productions, it also is smaller than the current season, which has 10 productions. There won't be a production at the Palladium Theater, where the company has staged a pair of Pulitzer Prize winners, August: Osage County by Tracy Letts and Wit by Margaret Edson. August: Osage County drew strong attendance in 2011, while Wit this past fall did not.
"I think we want to stick closer to home this season," Olson said.
Mime Bill Bowers performs Beyond Words, the latest installment in "New Stages: Narrative in Motion," cutting-edge works at the Historic Asolo Theater in the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Bowers "explores what it means to be a boy and the messages we receive on our way to becoming men" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. $15-$25. (941) 360-7399; ringling.org.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.