Friday, November 17, 2017
Stage

Freefall, American Stage and Jobsite wrap up seasons with sex and satire

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Turn out the lights, the party's over. Almost.

For three theaters, the season draws to a close this weekend, and the variety of subjects covered should make local fans feel pretty good about our scene. They transport audiences from the French Revolution to the digital age, offering glimpses of the past and some unsettling implications about our collective future. The artistic directors of American Stage, Freefall and Jobsite theaters have managed to stay afloat with content that always says something about the way we live. They won't please all of the people all of the time, and thankfully, don't aim to.

The plays opening this weekend explore shifting landscapes of intimacy, our fickle relationship with celebrity and the arbitrary ways we divvy up power and prestige. Here's a closer look with some key players.

Sex With Strangers

Opens Friday and runs through Aug. 6 at American Stage, 163 Third St. N, St. Petersburg. $39-$59. (727) 823-7529. For showtimes, visit americanstage.org.

The snowbound bed and breakfast in rural Michigan would seem an ideal location for close encounters. And so it is, albeit not in the way either party in this two-character play intended. Sex With Strangers was written by House of Cards writer Laura Eason, and as with episodes of that show, there's always something darker lurking under the surface.

Olivia, a professor still nursing wounds from critics of her debut novel in the 1990s, is still working on her craft. In comes Ethan, a blogger with 500,000 followers. At 28, he is 11 years her junior. His blunt, abrasive style also contrasts with her reticence. Opposites attract. Quickly. There's more to come and some of it isn't going to be pretty.

Ethan made a name for himself and then a small fortune bragging about sexual conquests initiated online. What he never got was literary prestige, a commodity he respects in Olivia despite her obscurity. He thinks his savvy gained through hookup culture can help her and the evidence is on his side.

"The play is very much about the conflict that we have in our private lives as we have always known them and what the social media and digital age is doing to infiltrate and insert itself into privacy," said Janis Stevens, the show's director. "The conflict between private and public. And I think it is changing intimacy."

The production will replicate some sights and sounds of Internet activity and viral threads jumping across platforms, from Ethan's controversial blog to gossip television. This is particularly true in the second act, set two years later in Chicago, where Olivia exposes her work to strangers on the Internet and reaps the consequences.

"We were talking about actually creating some soundscape that is telling us the progression of their story," Stevens said. "Because it does move from a private story into a public story. And how does the intimacy aid that publicity, and how does publicity damage that intimacy?"


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Marie Antoinette

Opens Saturday and runs through Aug. 13 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $25 and up. (727) 498-5205. For showtimes, visit freefalltheatre.com.

Since the French Revolution, the former queen who was supposedly fine with the starving masses eating cake instead of meat and potatoes has become a symbol of greed and narcissism. That she may be — but is she also one of history's most misunderstood figures? For starters, that famous quote was wrongly attributed to Marie Antoinette.

A play by David Adjmi explores the inner life of one of history's great divas.

"When I read the play, it definitely was about one of the themes we're exploring this season, which is celebrity," said Freefall producing artistic director Eric Davis, who is also directing this show. "It's interesting, the way in which it looks at who we choose as our celebrities and how we lift them up to great heights, but also the satisfaction we take in their demise."

Megan Therese Rippey, who plays Marie, said she finds the play striking for its "empathy for both sides of the divide."

"It doesn't ignore the plight that was behind the French Revolution," Rippey said. "And those ideals are pretty clearly spelled out in the play as being morally right. It also to a large degree empathizes with Marie in particular, and the people around her."

The audience watches as the queen loses rank and reputation, then her life.

"It's not that everything she stands for is forgivable, per se," she said. "It becomes a different question that gets answered — and that is, where does our empathy lie? And what does that say about ourselves?"

Cloud Nine

Opens Friday and runs through Aug. 6 at Jobsite Theater, David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Shimberg Playhouse, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $28. (813) 229-7827. For showtimes, visit jobsitetheater.org.

This farce by British playwright Caryl Churchill turns every stereotype on its head, and has been getting laughs and kudos for its inventive send-up of colonial society for nearly 40 years.

After a first act in a British-occupied part of Africa, the play resumes in the second act a century later, with every major role inverted somehow. Women play men's roles and vice versa, only to reemerge in the second act in a different role. The story plays similar tricks with race and sexual identity, all while narrating romance and repression, class structure and gender definitions.

The show was a big hit when Jobsite did it in 2003. When asked by Jobsite's producing artistic director David M. Jenkins to direct the show, Gavin Hawk didn't say yes right away.

"There are a lot of moving parts to it," Hawk said. "I had to think about it for a day or two. This is a challenge I want to take on."

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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