I’m not crazy about splitting theater into the safe, mainstream stuff on one side and plays for “adventuresome” audiences on the other as the Omaha Community Playhouse is doing with its new “Find Your Stage” theme for its 88th season.
But if that’s the latest and best way to bring the likes of August: Osage County to Omaha, more power to them. That triumph also requires applause for the wise earlier decision to create the 21 & Over series “for a 21st century audience.”
It provided a non-controversial foot-in-the-door for staged readings of plays that might offend some loyal patrons of the Playhouse, offerings including August and the next Howard Drew drama Boom. Resident director Amy Lane directed both then and now, which surely played a part in that magnificent opening last week.
And that free series resumes at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27, with Louder than a Bomb, followed on Sept. 10 by Martin McDonough‘s A Behanding in Spokane.
Be clear on one more point: the “Find Your Stage” solution tackles a problem present through all nine decades of the history of America’s top community theater. When the Playhouse began in the 1920s, it presented Eugene O’Neill and other heavyweight and controversial plays, but dissidents complained about two omissions:
They weren’t doing Shakespeare and they weren’t doing local playwrights. Down through the years, arguments kept popping up, most often revolving around the absence of the most avant-garde drama, the less “commercial” plays.
A half century or so ago that led to the Studio Theater, home for the more far-out stuff. And then in the 1980s it fostered the Fonda-McGuire series in the space now known as the Howard Drew, a stage expected to house Rocky Horror and others seen as a little unseemly.
That worked to some extent but always faced the danger of dollar signs tugging the way back to safer selections. So enjoy the “adventuresome” choices while you may. Later they’ll give way to the less adventuresome but absolutely delightful Recommended Reading for Girls by the remarkable Omaha playwright Ellen Struve.
Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to cold email@example.com.