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THEATER: Universities Deliver the Spice

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So if you want variety, you may have to look to the college programs, where the profit motive is diminished and the genre-shifting can be striking. Take Randolph-Macon College, where the season opener — Ionesco's wacky absurdist comedy, "The Bald Soprano" (Sept. 28-Oct. 1) — is followed by the gold standard in romantic musicals, "The Fantasticks" (Nov. 16-20). That's the kind of right turn that can give you whiplash. But the academic environment can foster some "logical illogical choices," according to the college's drama department chair, Joe Mattys. "The purpose of theater is both education and entertainment," Mattys says. "We have a responsibility to show the variety available within the theatrical experience."

Walter Schoen, new theater department chair at the University of Richmond, points out that disparate plays can actually have an underlying theme that is not immediately apparent. The University Players' first show this fall — Tennessee Williams' heartbreaking "The Glass Menagerie" (Oct. 6-9) — seems dramatically different from the second, Samm-Art Williams' "Home" (Nov. 17-20), a triumphant comedy about a black Southern farmer.

The playwrights for both shows translated success on the stage into gigs rubbing shoulders with celebrities in Hollywood. Tennessee became a screenwriter; Samm-Art became a television writer/producer ("Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.") These UR shows share a celebrity theme with an on-campus art exhibit featuring celebrity photographs by Jack Mitchell (Oct. 21-Feb. 19) and the spring production of "Amadeus" (April 18-22) — Mozart being the ultimate pre-Hollywood celebrity.

Even when a company's plays seem more uniform, there's still plenty of variety to be found. The Richmond Triangle Players will produce variations on subjects not discussed in polite company, first tackling politics with the satirical "Lips" (through Oct. 15), about the first female president, then moving into religion Nov. 16-Dec. 10 with "Matt & Ben," a wicked parody suggesting that actors Damon and Affleck received career assistance from on high.

Questions about romance and love will be asked in the Firehouse Theatre Project's fall productions: "Where's My Money?" (Sept. 8-Oct. 1), in which two marriages are cynically dissected, and "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" (Oct. 27-Nov.19), in which an unusual relationship is uncovered.

Even Theatre IV will offer a somewhat offbeat show in its 30th season, starting with "Bunnicula" (Sept. 30-Nov. 6), the tale of a suspected vampire bunny. A play about blood-sucking rodents? It seems like this fall will definitely have something for everyone. — David Timberline



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