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Graham: Theater season turns up heat in Tucson

“The Kite Runner” among offerings

Lynn Redgrave soon will bring her one-woman show to town.

Lynn Redgrave soon will bring her one-woman show to town.

Now is the time to prove that old saying, in difficult times people spend more money on entertainment. We have to hope the old saying doesn’t just apply to movies.

Some of the local theater company seasons announced for 2009-2010 are packing real beef. Unlike the collapse of imagination that neutered most of the city’s stages after 9/11, this time around there is good stuff going up on the marquee.

Let’s begin with Tucson’s big boy, Arizona Theatre Company. A pair of comedies and a musical are the heart of the season – scarcely risky fare – but one of the comedies is “George is Dead,” written and directed by Elaine May. Her droll sense of what’s funny will be a much appreciated antidote to the adolescent humor so popular in movies and television these days.

More importantly, ATC is opening its season with a stage adaptation of “The Kite Runner.” If the play is as good as the movie adaptation of the novel by Khaled Hosseini, we are all in for a thoughtful treat.

Down the block at Beowulf Alley Theatre Company, mental stimulation is pretty much the standard. David Hare brings modern Middle Eastern influences into metaphorical issues that involve the conflicted personal lives of three friends.

David Lindsey-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rabbit Hole” is also there. So are the surreal Jane Martin comedy, “Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage”; echoes of the Vietnam War in “Last of the Boys” by Steven Dietz; and Sam Shepard’s modern classic, “Fool for Love.”

That is quite a lineup.

The Rogue Theater is moving into new digs near the Historic Y and also pitching a wider choice of plays. By Rogue’s lofty standards, this is a very accessible season.

Imagine Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Samuel Beckett (“Krapp’s Last Tape”) in the same room with William Shakespeare (“Othello”). But here’s the kicker – Rogue’s season opens with Andrew Periale’s stage version of “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. Wow.

Heading uptown to Invisible Theatre, everybody lightens up a bit. There is often substance mixed in with the laughter, however. “Iron Kisses” from James Still looks the best on paper. It’s a domestic tale of one family where mom and dad struggle to love their two children equally – even though the son is gay and the daughter packs some personal baggage of her own.

In the celebrity game, IT is bringing in Lynn Redgrave to perform her one-woman show “Rachel and Juliet.” Former NFL defensive back Bo Eason plays on a different stage now, performing his semi-autobiographical one-man show “Runt of the Litter.”

Both productions will be presented at the Berger Performing Arts Center.

Much further east at Live Theatre Workshop, where comedy is always king, some fiber has been added to the season. Most noteworthy, LTW has chosen Sarah Ruhle’s introspective comedy “The Clean House” which received such a delightful production at ATC last year.

We are reminded the courageous little East Side storefront theater turned out an excellent production of “A Perfect Ganesh” even though ATC had given that play its big ticket treatment a few years earlier.

Having proved real art is possible on a shoestring budget, LTW wants to do it again.

Also exciting will be seeing the company do “Picnic” by William Inge. The power of intimacy in this theater space could be explosive.

Supplying the angst and nudity is LTW’s Late Night support of ETCETERA, now led with enthusiasm by Christopher Johnson. In fact, the season’s real gut-wrencher could very well come from Johnson himself in the world première of his blatantly autobiographical memory play “Knuckle Sandwich” with stage roles for his own family and friends.

So if you are going away for the summer, be sure to come back. The upcoming theater season will be a whopper.

You want an aisle seat for that?

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