Looking forward to the 2011-12 theater season

By Milan Paurich


The 2011-12 community- theater season is about to commence, and you already can feel the anticipation in the air.

Will the Youngstown Playhouse be able to continue its Lazarus-like return from the ashes begun two seasons ago under the tutelage of new Executive Director Mary Ruth Lynn? Is the Oakland Center for the Arts going to bounce back from a season in which several promised shows failed to materialize? Can the Victorian Players segue from underdog to top-dog status? And will this fall’s “Hairspray” cement Top Hat’s growing reputation as Youngstown’s most exciting purveyor of new musicals?

The New Castle Playhouse mixes the tried and true (Michael Cavalier’s latest iteration of perennial cash-cow “The Wizard of Oz”) with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll (Paula Ferguson’s audacious Annex theater production of “Rent”). Besides serving up Halloween mainstay “The Rocky Horror Show,” Robert Dennick Joki’s Rust Belt Theater Company will try its hand at classic young-adult literature (William Golding’s high-school English class staple, “Lord of the Flies”) and even porno parody (a tongue-in-cheek musicalization of “Debbie Does Dallas”).

The YP is offering up a groaning board of titles — both on the main stage (including eagerly awaited season-opener “Gypsy”), and in the black box-y milieu of the downstairs Moyer Room (Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” among many other promising for-adults- only dramas).

The Oakland’s schedule presents its usual grab bag of cutting-edge contemporary fare. Only time will tell if November’s “Kimberly Akimbo” by David Lindsay-Abaire will be a worthy successor to the Pulitzer-winning playwright’s searing “Rabbit Hole” (a previous Oakland hit), or whether “Evil Dead: The Musical” can deliver the same sugar rush as the Oakland’s 2009 blockbuster, “Reefer Madness.” And there’s always Yuletide favorite “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” for the young and young at heart.

The happiest news at the Vic is a sequel to its 2010 smash, “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.” Directed once again by Sam Luptak Jr. and starring Dave Wolford who made the title role uniquely his own in the earlier production, “Sherlock Holmes and the West End Horror” promises more kitschy Victorian-era fun.

Luptak — who’s fast becoming the Vic’s in-house director — also shepherds a June mounting of James Goldman’s historical chestnut, “The Lion in Winter,” which should prove challenging, particularly on the venue’s diminutive stage. A contemporary farce such as “The Foreigner” seems as unlikely a Vic selection as this spring’s “Agnes of God,” but Players’ matriarch Marilyn Higgins surely has her reasons for picking such an atypical show.

Yet community theater is as much about taking chances and going out on the proverbial limb as it is about playing it safe to appease season-ticket holders. For those of us who believe “edgy” and “cozy” need to coexist for the continued vitality — and commercial viability — of American regional theater, it’s as exciting a time as any to be a drama critic.

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