Murder, perfectionism, family stress and sometimes— in the midst of it all — triumph over struggles, are what Venus Theatre's productions are made of for the upcoming 2013 season.
After going through mounds of scripts, Venus Theatre founder Deb Randall unveiled her picks this month for a season she's dubbed Lucky 13.
"I'm calling it that because I started Venus in 2000 and I'm looking forward to a great season," said Randall, whose productions highlight women's issues and showcase female playwrights. The theater is located off Main Street on C Street, in Laurel's Arts and Entertainment District.
Baltimore plays prominently in the scheduled productions in terms of some of the settings and playwrights. The season's first production, "Following Sarah," which opens April 4, was written by Rich Espey, a science teacher at the Park School of Baltimore. Espey also teaches writing at Center Stage in Baltimore. He is a three-time winner of the Carol Weinberg Award for best play at the Baltimore Playwrights festival and a two-time winner of the Maryland State Arts Council's Individual Artist Award in Playwriting.
"I did a reading of one of his works in 2003 and it's great to see how his style of writing has grown," Randall said.
"Following Sarah" focuses on four high school girls at a private academy who are all affected by a devastating decision one of them makes. There's also the element of the girls trying to be perfect to meet the standards of the group's leader, coupled with a bit of surrealism.
In casting two of the female characters in the play, Randall was looking to Laurel High in her search to fill the roles.
"I have a great relationship with the drama teacher there and he knows what I'm looking for to fill the roles of an Asian and African-American, 17- and 18-year-old," she said. "I usually get my cast from D.C. and Baltimore. In 2004, with the 'Ugly Duckling' production, I went to the Duke Ellington (School of the Arts in Washington), but I thought that since I'm here in Laurel, I'd see what's here locally."
The second production, "Grieving for Genevieve," opens June 6 and is set in a Baltimore working class neighborhood. The play revolves around three sisters and their mother, Genevieve, who Randall describes as a chain-smoking, retired nurse.
In this work, the family comes together for the wedding of one of the sisters. Fireworks are sure to explode in this production as the bride-to-be, an erotic apparel designer who also works for a rock band, takes a third walk down the aisle, surrounded by her sisters — an anxiety-riddled nun and a guitar repairer returning home from New York City.
The play was written by Kathleen Warnock, who is based in New York City and has had her works performed on stage in New York and at the Emerging Artists Theater at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.
Although Randall said "Grieving for Genevieve" is "one of the funniest scripts ever written," it happens to be rife with "f bombs." She rates this one for adults only.
On Sept. 5, Fengar Gael's "Gift of Forgotten Tongues" will open at Venus Theatre.
Gael's plays have been produced in theaters around the country and last season, her play "Devil Dog Six" was in Venus Theatre's lineup. In this season's show, a brilliant young linguist works to translate the fading language of two patients, who are the victims of a genetic experiment. Her work results in a conflict with her father, who believes the patients hold the key to the future of the human race.
Also returning to Venus this season is Middle Tennessee State University professor and playwright Claudia Barnett. Her plays "Feather" and "Another Manhattan" had runs in previous seasons at Venus Theatre.
This year Barnett's play "No. 731 Degraw-Street, Brooklyn, or Emily Dickinson's Sister," will debut Nov. 7 at the C Street theater. The plot centers around the true story of noted author Dickinson's sister, Kate Stoddard, who murdered her husband in 1873 after he threw her out of their home in the middle of a blizzard.
"This play has an Edgar Allen Poe flair to it because the writer captures her (Stoddard) madness in a dark and very poetic way," Randall said. "I'm drawn to pieces that take place in the turn of the 19th century before women had the right to vote and were seen as objects in society. It informs us how far we have come and that we still see some of those issues today."
In past seasons, Randall has staged productions that have received Helen Hayes Recommended recognition, and after premiering at Venus Theatre, "Zelda at the Oasis" had a recent run off Broadway.
However, the theater's turnout has not grown over the years and is sparse at many performances. Randall said she does not currently have a marketing budget because the majority of the theater's funding goes to pay the salaries of the professional actors in the company's productions.
"Theater attendance is a difficult issue for all theaters of every size. When it comes to women's work and new work, the level of difficulty increases tremendously," Randall said. "But development is coming to C Street and I hope the city puts up signage pointing people to C Street. … I am committed to doing all I can to put the professional arts as the center of economic development on C Street."