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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 1 year ago

Theater: Critic's Picks for 2019-2020

Sarasota is full of must-see live theater in the upcoming season.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Live theater can be an escape from reality. (We all need it.) It can also grab you by the scruff of the neck and make you face reality. (We all need that too.) My top selections for the area’s upcoming live theater season offer a mix of both. Some plays are gloriously silly; others are a shot of undiluted truth. Take your medicine, or have a laugh. The choice is yours.


The Players Backstage: 'The Underpants'

The Players Centre for Performing Arts

“Underpants”: The word alone can send children into giggling fits. Their laughter is rooted in the fear of embarrassment. Polite, bourgeoisie civilization depends on unmentionables, after all. One simply doesn’t mention them. Actually exposing your knickers could shame you for life. 

So what’s the big deal? In 1911, German playwright Carl Sternheim pulled off a Kafka-esque clerk’s trousers to answer that question. His farce never found a decent English translator — until 2002 when Steve Martin took a stab at it. 

That wild and crazy guy was just the man for the job. You’ll be rolling in the aisles in this edgy, backstage production. (Be sure to bring a fresh change of underwear, just in case.)

When: Oct. 10-20

Where: The Players Centre for Performing Arts, 838 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $21.50

Info: Call 365-2494, or visit


Michael Newton-Brown directs "The Fantasticks," which will be at The Players Centre for Performing Arts starting Oct. 23.

'The Fantasticks'

The Players Centre for Performing Arts

In 1894, Edmond Rostand wrote a play about two fathers who fake a feud to trick their kids (Luisa and Matt) into falling in love. In 1960, composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones loved the idea so much that they stole it — and retooled it as a hit Broadway musical, “The Fantasticks.” (No harm, no foul; Rostand’s original was out of copyright.) Boasting weepers “Try to Remember” and “Soon it’s Going to Rain,” this heartstring-plucking perennial soaked untold handkerchiefs in the years that followed. And it still does. Melodramatic? You’d better believe it. But under Michael Newton-Brown’s direction, this reverse “Romeo and Juliet” is sure to be fantastic.

When: Oct. 23-Nov. 10

Where: The Players Centre for Performing Arts, 838 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $29-$34

Info: Call 365-2494, or visit



Asolo Conservatory

Once upon a time in ancient Thebes, Antigone’s brother died, disgraced as a traitor. Antigone’s uncle, King Creon, commanded his subjects to leave his corpse to rot without the sacred rites of burial. Antigone defied him, buried her brother and paid the price. What does it mean to do the right thing? Are law and morality two different things? Sophocles’ tragedy explores these questions and doesn’t flinch from the brutal, bloody answers. Expect a hard-hitting, uncompromising take from Director Greg Leaming.

When: Oct. 30-Nov. 17

Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $30

Info: Call 351-8000, or visit


'Good People'

Venice Theatre

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire turns his eye on Boston’s unforgiving Southie district, his old hometown. It’s not Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, and most folks live paycheck-to-paycheck. When Margie Walsh gets fired from a dollar store, she reaches out to Mike, an old boyfriend who left Boston’s mean streets a long time ago and is now a successful physician. Margie asks Mike for a job — then realizes she has some dirt on him from the bad old days. Should Margie threaten to expose Mike’s secrets to get what she wants? Or be a good neighbor?

When: Nov. 1-17

Where: Venice Theatre, 140 Tampa Ave. W., Venice

Tickets: $15-$28

Info: Call 488-1115, or visit


"Bright Star" will be at Florida Studio Theatre starting Nov. 8.

'Bright Star'

Florida Studio Theatre

“Bright Star” boasts banjo and bluegrass by Edie Brickell (sans New Bohemians) and Steve Martin (who also wrote the script). The action unfolds in the Blue Ridge Mountains right after World War II. Just back from the battlefields, a young writer named Billy pitches his stories to the prestigious Asheville Southern Journal. Alice, the editor, rejects his writing but feels an inexplicable connection with the writer. A tangle of lies, love, loss, unplanned pregnancy and heartbreak follows. The good news is that Billy finally gets published. Martin’s bittersweet musical comedy brilliantly traces the fault lines dividing love, family and creativity. Under Kate Alexander’s direction, “Bright Star” should be stellar.

When: Nov. 8-Jan. 3

Tickets: $29-$49

Where: FST Gompertz Theatre, 1265 First St.

Info: Call 366-9000, or visit


"The Thanksgiving Play" will be at Urbanite Theatre starting Nov. 8.

'The Thanksgiving Play'

Urbanite Theatre

Larissa FastHorse’s “The Thanksgiving Play” has lots of turkeys and plenty of white meat. The Lakota playwright knocks the stuffing out of the happy image of Pilgrims and Native Americans breaking bread together. It’s an easy target but not her prime target. FastHorse also takes aim at the woke, culturally aware, ethnically inclusive, all-white theater talents who bend over backward to launch the most politically correct Thanksgiving pageant ever. Sink your teeth into her savvy satire, but leave room for just desserts.

When: Nov. 8-Dec. 15

Tickets: $31

Where: Urbanite Theatre, 1487 Second St.

Info: Call 321-1397, or visit


'Caroline or Change'

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

Race is the third-rail of American culture. Lyricist and playwright Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori fearlessly dance around it. In the spirit of James Joyce’s “Dubliners,” their musical tells the story of a life in paralysis. Caroline Thibodeaux, an African American maid, is trapped in a dead-end job in a wealthy Southern household in the 1960s. Caroline is confined to a limbo of laundry work, her days are a blur of drudgery, and change seems impossible. But the year is 1963, and a change will surely come. With direction by Jim Weaver and Jannie Jones in the lead role, you’re in for a powerful performance.

When: Jan. 8-Feb. 16

Where: Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way

Tickets: $20-$45

Info: Call 366-1505, or visit


"Into the Breeches" will be at Asolo Repertory Theatre starting Feb. 12.

'Into The Breeches!'

Asolo Repertory Theatre

In Shakespeare’s day, men were men, and male actors dressed in drag to play all the female roles. In 1942 at the Oberon Play House, the women wear the pants. Blame the war effort. 

After the company’s male thespians got drafted, the director’s wife persuades the female cohort to, well, man up and stage the upcoming play — a production of Shakespeare’s testosterone-fueled “Henry V,” no less. So once more into the breeches they go! And thanks to these happy few, the show does goes on. That might sound like a cute high-concept, but George Brant’s comedy doesn’t stoop to formulaic gender-bending. The playwright smartly evokes wartime solidarity. Against all odds, these plucky women put the victory of Agincourt on stage. That’s a victory in its own right.

When: Feb. 12-March 21

Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $28-$93

Info: Call 351-8000, or


'Damn Yankees'

Manatee Players

Talk about a Faustian bargain. Back in the 1950s, Joe Boyd, a middle-aged Washington Senators fan, says he would sell his soul to see his favorite team beat the damned New York Yankees for a change. The mysterious Applegate appears and takes Boyd up on his offer. Thanks to Applegate’s devilish magic, Boyd transforms into a young heavy-hitter, joins the Senators and turns them into winners. It’s the youthful career the aging, wannabe athlete never had, and Boyd loves every minute of it. But when he starts to miss his wife, it doesn’t seem like such a good deal. Applegate dispatches the tempting Lola to make sure Boyd doesn’t break the contract. With a script by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, this Tony Award-winning musical always hits it out of the park.

When: Feb. 20-March 8

Where: Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 3rd Ave. West, Bradenton

Tickets: $27-$37

Info: Call 748-5875, or visit

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