By all measures, the theater program at Delray Beach’s Art Garage had a very good season, the first one guided by Keith Garsson and his resident director, Genie Croft. Their edgy slate of plays was critically well received, two of the four productions had extended runs and overall the season turned a profit. The question now is can they continue their success or will they fall victim to the sophomore jinx?
On paper, the new season looks similar to the previous one. A year ago, Garsson and company opened with the twisty Sex with Strangers. This season kicks off with Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery of Love & Sex (now through Oct. 30), with a cast that includes Wayne LeGette and Connie Fernandez.
While conceding that “sex” sells, Garsson insists the title is not why he selected the script.
“No, it was chosen because it’s a great play,” he claims. “Some friends of mine saw it and said, ‘This is the kind of theme you like and it’s totally different from anything you’ve ever done.’ It’s the kind of play that you think it’s about one thing and then it shifts into something entirely different.”
Described as a multi-generational tale about shifting sexual mores, it concerns the parents of a female college student who visit her and her male childhood friend, now living together. As Croft, who is directing the production, puts it, “He’s black, she’s white. He’s very Baptist, she’s Jewish. So you have all those dynamics in play and the parents are thrust into trying to figure out what to do with the kids, and all of a sudden everyone’s identity starts to switch around.
“And because the father is a detective-writer of mystery stories, the script is modeled after that,” adds Croft. “It’s definitely structured like a detective story.”
“I think because we’re a jazz and blues house, we have a responsibility to touch on race more than we have,” says Garsson. Another element of the play’s appeal, he says, is that “it’s cross-generational.” The hope is that it will attract the much sought younger demographic without losing Arts Garage’s core older audience.
Speaking of sex, playwright Doran is a writer for the popular television series Masters of Sex. Born in England, she has migrated to New York, where several of her plays have been produced. “She says the play’s not autobiographical, but she’s a gay woman who has a child with her partner and there’s a lot of that in the play,” notes Croft. “So I think she’s in denial about how autobiographical it is.”
Next up at Arts Garage is Joseph Wilde’s Cuddles (Nov. 13-Dec. 11), a gothic thriller described as being about two sisters who share a dark secret. But Garsson seems willing to give the secret away by saying, “People are going to call it ‘The Vampire Play,’ but it’s really not. It’s a satire on consumerism and materialism. A very subtle one. It’s got elements of Edgar Allen Poe, elements of ‘True Blood.’”
On a literal level, the play is about the older sister breaking away from her sibling, but worried how the younger one will adapt to the change. “The vampire is strictly a vehicle to tell the story,” explains Garsson. “The danger is of it upstaging the crux of the story.”
The success of last season’s The Devil’s Music with Avery Sommers sent Garsson and Croft hunting for another music-based show for the West Palm Beach native. They found it in Blues in the Night (Jan. 21-Feb. 19), a revue of songs from the late 1930s, written by Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Vernon Duke.
“What a beautiful, interesting piece that is, because all those songs are all story songs,” says Croft. “There’s not a lot of dialogue. The characters all have such interesting backgrounds and the three women,” played by Sommers, the ubiquitous Laura Hodos and newcomer Sandi Stock, “are so diversely different in their life stories and their approach to love.”
The season ends with another offbeat show, Breadcrumbs (March 11-April 9) by Jennifer Haley, a psychological tale about a reclusive fiction writer and the social worker assigned to her. Area favorite Angie Radosh makes her Arts Garage debut opposite Jacqueline Laggy.Garsson already had a full plate overseeing the Arts Garage’s theater side, but since his first season went so well, he has been promoted to co-executive director of the entire operation. “We said let’s see if we can get the theme of the theater more coincident with the concerts,” he notes. “I associate jazz with the dark corners of life. The plays that we’re doing – particularly in the black box – are very dark. Music comes from the heart, plays come from the same place. We see them all congealing into one.”
Looking ahead, Garsson says, “We’d like to do more shows per season. And we’d like to do more experimental work, knowing that the audience will follow us because we’ve earned their trust.”
He is already planning an active summer season of plays in the black box theater on historical themes. “James Sherman, who wrote ‘Beau Jest,’ is coming here to do his one-man show about (playwright-screenwriter) Ben Hecht,” says Garsson. “That’s Hollywood history and then we’ll have ‘Having Our Say,’ about the Delaney sisters (about two 100-year-old African-American sisters). The concern is that we built this nice space, why aren’t we using it more?”
THE MYSTERY OF LOVE & SEX, Arts Garage, 94 NE 2nd Ave., Delray Beach. Continuing through Sunday, Oct. 30. $30-$45. Call: 561-450-6357 or visit artsgarage.org.