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Observer critic’s picks for Sarasota live theater in 2024

From gut-wrenching drama to reimaginings of Shakespeare, there's something for everybody on Sarasota stages in 2024.

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The area live theater scene is a mixed box of chocolates in the new year. Gut-wrenching reality-based drama; two alternate-history Shakespeares; a photographer’s remembrances of things past; star-crossed lovers; the crossroads of artistic destiny — whatever your favorite flavor, you’ll probably find it on a stage near you. 

Here’s a sampler of my top choices.


Through Feb. 18, Urbanite Theatre, 1487 Second St. $5-$42. Visit

Livy Scanlon stars in "Judith."
Image courtesy of Sorcha Augustine

Katie Bender’s “Judith” imagines that Shakespeare had a sister (namely “Judith”) in this farcical Urbanite Theatre production. In a not-so-simple twist of fate, Judith disguises herself as the Bard when he’s forced to get out of town. William’s in hiding; Judith’s in drag; comedy ensues. Turns out, she’s the better writer in the family. Once Londoners think she’s an important man, Judith gets a stratospheric bump in status. She enjoys the new respect — and starts to think the patriarchal power structure is a drag. This world-premiere production is presented in partnership with the Hanover Theatre Repertory and is directed by Brendon Fox. 

'Pictures from Home' 

Through Feb. 18. FST's Gompertz Theatre, 1265 First St. $25-$42. Visit

Gil Brady, Jean Tafler and Kraig Swartz star in "Pictures From Home," playing through Feb. 18 at FST's Keating Theatre.
Image courtesy of John Jones

Directed by Kate Alexander, Sharr White’s bittersweet family comedy is an adaptation of Larry Sultan’s photo memoir of the same name. Sultan was a photographer who wanted to capture his parents’ moments before they were lost in time. Larry printed thousands of frames from his father’s home movies, and also shot scores of posed and candid photos of his parents. His father, Irving, thought Larry’s arty photos made him look like a decrepit has-been. But he put up with his son’s decade-long “project” anyway. Irving was an all-American success story — a mid-tier executive at Schick, until they downsized him. He feared his son was doomed to be an all-American failure. His mother, Jean, was a multi-million-dollar real estate agent who didn’t tout her success story. She quietly supported her husband's self-image and her son’s project. In the end, Larry's artistic endeavor was a success. If you’ve read Sultan’s book, seeing his characters come to life on stage is a revelation. If you haven’t, you’ll still be captivated. 

‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’

Jan. 10-28. The Sarasota Players, 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Suite 1130. $30. Visit

The Sarasota Players presents "Tick, Tick...Boom."
Courtesy image

The late Jonathan Larson was a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning composer, lyricist and playwright. “Rent” (1996) is his chief claim to fame. But Larson was a struggling artist long before that. Larson’s “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (2001) shows you exactly how that feels in this Sarasota Players production directed by Sunny Smith. “Jon” is the musical’s central character — a fictionalized version of the musical’s creator. He’s a playwright/composer with no fame at all, yet. Jon’s starting to think marketing would’ve been a better career choice. He’s still paying the rent by waiting tables. The clock is ticking on his creative ambitions, and he feels like a bomb about to explode. What if Jon never makes it big on Broadway? (Spoiler alert: the real Jonathan Larson did.)  

‘The Amish Project’

Jan. 12 to Feb. 11. Tree Fort Productions, 3501 S. Tamiami Trail. $40. Visit

Katherine Michelle Tanner in "The Amish Project."
Image courtesy of Maria Lyle

In 2006, a non-Amish neighbor shot 10 girls and killed five at an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The gunman committed suicide — his motives were never explained. Rage or unfathomable grief would be the typical survivors’ response. But the Amish community chose to forgive what they couldn’t understand — and even comforted the killer’s widow. Their radical compassion had a ripple effect in the surrounding communities — and ultimately the entire nation. While Jessica Dickey’s play is fiction, she based it on this miraculous turn of events following a tragedy. Her heart-touching story unfolds in Katherine Michelle Tanner’s one-woman show directed by Todd Olson.


'A Soldier’s Play'

Jan. 18 to Feb. 18. Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1012 N. Orange Ave. $20-$38. Visit

"A Soldier's Play" runs Jan. 18 through Feb. 18 at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
Image courtesy of Sorcha Augustine

Charles Fuller’s gut-punch drama talks about African-American issues most people don’t like to talk about. White racism is no secret. But the playwright investigates how it’s infected the self-image of many Black people. He uses a murder investigation on an Army base as the pretext. The year is 1944; the place is Louisiana, deep in the segregated South. A Black sergeant is shot to death. Capt. Richard Davenport arrives to find out who did it and why. It turns out to be a hate crime in more ways than one. Davenport refuses to quit — and relentlessly interrogates anyone remotely involved. The white officers on the base try to make him drop the case. They can’t handle the truth. Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama puts the truth on stage. Directed by Chuck Smith. 


'Born with Teeth' 

Feb. 7 to March 29. FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. $45-$75. Visit

Courtesy image

Shakespeare and Marlowe. Sounds like a detective agency, doesn’t it? In the world of Liz Duffy Adams’ play, directed by Rob Melrose at Asolo Repertory Theatre, that’s not far from the truth. Spycraft, dark philosophical speculations bordering on heresy, duels, betrayals and revenge weren’t limited to the playwrights’ imaginations. These Elizabethan dramatists wrote what they knew, and that’s why their words ring true. Their society was a soul-crushing police state. In Adams’ improbable history, Marlowe and Shakespeare aim to misbehave. And change their society, not just obliquely write about it. Adams’ counterfactual conceit seems far-fetched at first. On second thought? Shakespeare and Marlowe were obsessed with the chess moves of power. Many of their plays were about the game of thrones. They seemed to be good at it. Why wouldn’t they try to play it? 

'Romeo and Juliet'

April 5-28. FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. $22-$32. Visit

Courtesy image

The real Shakespeare paints a portrait of two star-crossed lovers in 12th-century Verona, Italy. Their love is as good as it gets — but their feuding families make it all go bad. The result is a thrill ride of life, passion, laughter, tears, swordplay and timeless love poetry. At the end of the ride, there’s no happy ending. After the story ends, the lovers’ deaths might end their families’ blood feud — but it’s a cold comfort. On a happier note: This imaginative production from FSU/Asolo Conservatory, directed by Jonathan Epstein, unfolds in a set evoking The Globe Theatre. It’s the next best thing to having a time machine in the garage. 



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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