Digital theater was a forced experiment for area theater companies last year. This year’s return to reality is a choice. But it’s just as experimental.
The plays the thing, but what kind of thing?
The pandemic stretched the definition to include digital reality, whether virtual, augmented or remote. (And quite possibly the robot cast of Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents.) As a hard-core science fiction fan, I applauded this evolutionary leap. But who am I kidding? Squinting at flickering images on a screen can be futuristic fun, but it’s no substitute for parking your posterior in a nondigital theater seat and watching real human actors do their thing on a physical stage with your own two eyes. A risk, some whisper.
Reports of a return to pre-pandemic normal might be highly exaggerated. But area theaters are going full speed ahead anyway. As proof, here’s a sample of the risky, edgy, scary, funny shows they’ll be staging in what’s left of this weird year. Enjoy them while you can, folks. The future is coming. And 2021 will be history before you know it.
The Players Centre for Performing Arts: '[title of show]'
No, gentle reader. Our eagle-eyed proofreader didn’t let a typo slip by. “[title of show]” is actually this show’s title. Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s musical comedy puts a post-modern spin on the ancient “Let’s Put on a Show” genre.
The story itself is a wacky farce about painful artistic struggle. An unpublished playwright and an unsung composer/lyricist try to hack out a script to submit to a musical theater festival. It’s their chance to make it big — the clock is ticking; the deadline looms. With that gun to their heads, these two talented unknowns fight to put winning words on paper. They get a little help from their friends: three talented (and equally unknown) theater people.
Does the fictional show-within-the-show go on? That would be telling. But in the real world, the show is comedy gold.
Oct. 7-17; Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 365-2494; ThePlayers.org.
Florida Studio Theatre: 'Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story'
Buddy Holly played from his heart. Alan Janes’ musical biography goes straight to the heart of the man and his music. The playwright doesn’t love Holly’s music because it’s old; Janes loves it because it’s good.
His portrait of the artist as a young rocker digs deeper than the cute, cuddly cliche. Holly was a nice guy with a big smile, but he was also a musical revolutionary. In his short happy life, Holly reinvented his art form and refused to let the music industry big shots put him in a “country music” box. Janes’ musical delivers familiar Holly hits like “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday” — and a few cool tunes you’ve probably never heard of. And don’t expect to hear an overblown orchestra. An eight-man band rocks the house in this FST production. Director Jason Cannon keeps it simple. He figures Holly would’ve wanted it that way.
Nov. 5 - Jan. 2; FST Gompertz Theatre, 1265 First St., Sarasota; 366-9000; FloridaStudioTheatre.org.
Venice Theatre: 'The Great American Trailer Park Musical'
Listen up, y’all. David Nehls and Betsy Kelso’s sloppy love note to Southern-fried trailer park culture (or lack of same) is rolling into Venice Theatre later this month. Yessir. The folks from Armadillo Acres mobile home park (in Florida, duh) are at it again!
Their redneck rampage includes: catfights; the ashes of an electrified Florida cracker stuffed in a tiny urn (his loving widow’s favorite jewelry accessory); a stripper on the run; creative cussing; and plenty of belly laughs, wicked tunes, and rude puppets. Aside from a few jerks, the trailer park’s residents are all good-hearted. In terms of brainpower, they range from worldly wise to sure-fire winners of The Darwin Award. You’ll laugh with them and at ’em. They’re funny either way.
Oct. 29 to Nov. 28; Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice; 488-1115; VeniceStage.com.
Asolo Repertory Theatre: 'Hair'
A tsunami of rock musicals flooded Broadway in the late 1960s. “Hair” was, perhaps, the hairiest.
This literally revolutionary show sang the praises of a tribe of long-haired hippies dodging landlords (and the draft) in snowy New York City. These unwashed bohemians turn on, tune in, dig the counterculture scene, make love (not war) and sing. Sounds groovy, man. But these noble savages could also inflict savage power trips on each other. This musical paints a warts-and-all portrait of these lost boys and girls. Songs like “Hair,” “The Age of Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” evoke the beautiful, peaceful, loving utopia they envisioned.
Josh Rhodes will direct and choreograph this ambitious Asolo Rep production. The expanded minds of Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado dreamed the original dream.
Nov. 20 to Jan. 1; FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 351-8000; AsoloRep.org.
Theatre Odyssey: 2021 One-Act Play Festival
Small is beautiful. Creatively, it’s wicked hard. Sonnets, short stories and one-act plays demand a laserlike focus. The rare gift of speaking your mind — and knowing when to shut your mouth. The taciturn talents behind these micro-mini plays have that gift. This annual festival is their chance to prove it.
To be clear, it’s a friendly/fierce competition, with no awards for merely showing up. Scripts pour in from award-winning playwrights across America. Only four one-act submissions make the cut. That’s what you’ll see staged here. After the final curtain drop, you might see a few playwrights in the lobby.
Last year’s one-act festival was canceled due to the pandemic, but it’s coming back strong this year — live and in person. See it for yourself. And try not to blink.
Oct. 14-17; Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton; 799-7224; TheatreOdyssey.org.
SaraSolo: FallFest 2021
After a two-year exile in the digital deserts of YouTube, the talents of SaraSolo Productions have returned to mundane, earthly reality.
In Shakespearean terms, the troupe’s 2021 FallFest will have a local habitation and a name. In plain English, it’ll happen at Crossings at Siesta Key on a “Pop-Up” stage. (Kudos to Steve Patmagrian for construction and design.)
Clara Francesca, Sylvia Day, Dennis McSorley, Paula Broadwater and other solitary savants will dance, sing, perform skits and mini-plays, tell jokes and stories, and occasionally fool around. This year’s anthology of one-person shows is as real as it gets.
Oct. 12-17; 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 356-5674; SaraSolo.org/2021-fallfest.
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