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Word on the Street

Is there room on Richmond's stage for another theater company?


When I heard that someone was planning to start a new theater company in Richmond, I groaned. The Richmond theater community is all too familiar with this scenario: Bright-eyed dreamer with little business acumen tries and fails to have a successful theater company.

But then I met Alex Previtera, the president and artistic director of the new Henley Street Theatre Company. Previtera's a serious-minded 27-year-old with a well-defined creative vision and a solid business plan. Sigh of relief.

Previtera, who came here from Chicago via Los Angeles (where he worked as an actor) last year, immediately saw a void in Richmond theater that he was excited to fill. Henley Street (named for the street on which Shakespeare was born) is out to prove what many Richmond theatergoers have believed for a long time — that there is an audience here for edgier theater.

"The Firehouse Theatre Project is an excellent example of how 'different' theater can be successful in Richmond," Previtera says. "We want to produce daring stuff like Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller as well as classics — at least one Shakespeare play a season."

The first play of Henley Street's maiden season is "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, opening in September. First produced during the Vietnam War, the play uses Thoreau's real-life incarceration (which inspired "Civil Disobedience") to speak out against that war. Henley Street intends to connect the dots of war with this production.

Previtera is starting out slowly. Henley Street will perform its first season at Pine Camp Arts & Community Center rather than hyperextend the company's finances to purchase its own performing space. On a recent Saturday, Previtera and Henley Street artistic associates Laurie Follmer and Esther Williamson watched, poker-faced, as actors did their best to impress them with ensemble exercises and monologues. Auditions and callbacks follow, then the joys of set design and rehearsal before we get a good look at what this company has to offer.

Other shows scheduled for the season are Thomas Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy," Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" and Henley Street urchin Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." S

See the Henley Street Theatre season on its Web site:

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