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| Theater |

Season Preview: Actors Theatre Gears Up for 2011-12

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When we crave a home-town taste of the kind of theater that makes us miss New York, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco -- more thoughtful (though often still gaspingly funny), less spectacle-driven works that audiences elsewhere have enjoyed relatively recently -- Actors Theatre is the place to go. 


The company's staked a clear claim on its production niche, and you can rely on being moved and/or intrigued by their play selections and the top-notch craft of everyone involved.

So it's with joy that I share AT's 2011-12 season schedule -- a cool and diverse menu that includes newer (and older) works from good writers whose plays have been presented by the troupe before, a chic tour de force with Arizona bloodlines, and a topical dramedy from a spanking new actor-turned-writer.

A Conversation with Edith Head stars Tucson-based performer/director/activist Susan Claassen, who created the show with Paddy Calistro, co-autobiographer of Edith Head, the workaholic costume designer who won eight Oscars dressing the greatest divas of the silver screen.

Opening September 16, the dishy, film-lore-packed play was actually first presented in the Valley in 2009, when we hosted the 35th Annual Symposium of the Costume Society of America (which might not have been on your radar), and was also a big hit at 2007's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Next Fall, which opens October 28, didn't have the momentum for a lengthy Broadway run last summer, but it was extended multiple times off-Broadway and received a Tony nomination for Best Play. Actor Geoffrey Nauffts' first script follows an NYC couple and their friends and family through the consequences of a car accident that adds complications to an already stressed relationship: The injured man is a devout Christian who has not yet come out as gay.

Though audience opinions about whether the play is truly contemporary or groundbreaking appear to be mixed, Next Fall's been lauded for its mix of humor and pain and its respectful treatment of all shades of faith and orientation.

The next four productions on AT's schedule mark the return of playwrights we're happy to see again. Not only could these writers not be much more different from one another, their works are departures from what we've seen from them at Actors Theatre before, demonstrating their continuing growth as working artists.

Hunter Gatherers is a work from 2006 by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, the author of Boom. The play begins with an urban couple slaughtering a lamb in their condo for a small, informal dinner and goes on to examine the ridiculous extremes privileged folk go to in their quest to find the perfect, "natural" way not just to eat but to live in general. I'm not a big fan of what human beings have done to themselves (and each other) in the name of civilization, even while I'm an inextricable part of it, so I'm looking ever so forward to this one, which opens December 30.

The still-sizzling Sarah Ruhl's contribution to 2012 is called Dead Man's Cell Phone, and it's another kind of visit to our own century and what archetypical needs we're trying to fulfill in it. The title's refreshingly descriptive, and though the play explores memory, human connection, and mortality in Ruhl's trademark quirky, dramatic-unity-busting fashion, it sounds like a purely fun depiction of a common, mundane fantasy, as well. Dead Man's Cell Phone opens February 24.

Annie Baker, the author of the somewhat touchy-feely, actor-centric Circle Mirror Transformation, is also the author of Body Awareness, which Actors Theatre will present beginning March 30, 2012. An earlier work, Body Awareness also takes place in the small academic town of Shirley, Vermont, where a lesbian couple, one of whom is in charge of Body Awareness Week at the local university, hosts a male photographer of female nudes who fits uneasily into their household.

Finally, AT will close next season with Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still. Though the play's characters are journalists covering the war in Iraq, its themes will hold up no matter who we're shooting at by next spring.

A photographer recovering from injuries received in a bombing is not ready to hang up her camera, though her longtime personal and professional partner would prefer to settle down. That's not the only conflict, though -- years of documenting suffering without the means to relieve it are taking their toll, as well.

Margulies won a Pulitzer Prize for Dinner with Friends, and his epic Shipwrecked! An Entertainment. The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself) shows that he can successfully employ styles, settings, and subject matter from all over the map. Time Stands Still sounds like a solid, fascinating drama and a showcase for local actors, and it opens May 11, 1012.

Actors Theatre performs at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. You can check into season tickets here, or call 602-253-6701 x108. Starting August 1, call 602-252-8497 or click here for tickets to individual shows in the upcoming season.

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