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A look at the first half of the 2014-15 theater season

Colorado Springs performers this fall will have a great deal of momentum behind them, having put on many successful productions already in 2014. Exciting artistic challenges and hurdles lay ahead, but if recent work is any indication, audiences have a lot to look forward to and should reserve their seats early.

Area directors speak enthusiastically of their casts, and a full-steam-ahead outlook prevails. Adjustments have been made to ticket pricing as well, with season-ticket plans making attendance affordable for many. Plays known and unknown fill the schedules: the sturdy and reliable like Dracula at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and experimental ventures such as Ludlow, 1914 at TheatreWorks running simultaneously. Big things are expected in lighting, special effects and set design, too — I'm talking about Mary Poppins at the FAC in December — so these shows will be fun and engrossing to watch.

Here's some of what I'm looking forward to:

Fine Arts Center

"Sensual, suspenseful, scary, and bloody," says producing artistic director Scott RC Levy of his production of Bram Stoker's Dracula, adapted by Stephen Dietz (Oct. 9 through Nov. 2). Matt Radcliffe, Katie Consamus and Jason Lythgoe lead an outstanding cast. Expect high energy and polished performances and sharp direction, as well as a spine-tingling, gothic atmosphere from FAC set designer Christopher Sheley.

Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss and What I Wore (Sept. 18-28) is a "wise and witty" (Variety) off-Broadway hit that New York Times critic Charles Isherwood describes as "a scrapbook of stories about unfortunate prom dresses, the traumatic lighting in fitting rooms, high heels, short skirts, and the existential state of having nothing to wear." The season opener for upstairs' Second Stage, it features a five-woman cast using clothing to inspire memories and reflections: "Any American woman under 40 who says she's never dressed like Madonna is either lying or Amish." Springs Ensemble Theatre's excellent Amy Brooks and Millibo Art Theatre's Birgitta DePree are cast. Eve Tilley directs.

TheatreWorks

"A tragic vaudeville," says Murray Ross of his production of Ludlow, 1914 (Sept. 11-28) which "speaks directly to our mission to educate and ground ourselves in our own territory." For this stage event, Ross invited Brian Freeland of Denver's LIDA Project to revisit the ferocious Ludlow mining strike of a century ago, in which more than a dozen people, including women and children, were killed. In the play, John D. Rockefeller, the principal shareholder of the Ludlow mine, donates a dance pavilion in Cameron in a bizarre attempt to atone.

"The issues raised, inequality of wealth, exploitation of natural resources, the divisions between labor and capital are all just as relevant today," says Ross, while also highly praising Freeland, who has had noteworthy success in Denver experimental theater. "The result," Ross concludes, "promises to be a whirlwind of theatrical invention, as history, tragedy, vaudeville, and modern technology converge in the theater's flexible space."

Ross leaps about as far as imaginable from his "our own territory" mission in his follow-up, Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party (Oct. 23 through Nov. 9). Busch is our contemporary kingpin of female impersonators, and interestingly, in presence and delivery he's more Bob Hope in drag than Harvey Fierstein. A sober and meticulous stage craftsman, Busch is a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Speech. His Tale of the Allergist's Wife ran on Broadway for more than 700 performances.

Psycho Beach Party, which Ross calls a "hilarious shotgun marriage between Gidget and Hitchcock," will be complemented by a visit from Busch himself in late October to lecture on drag, perform and take a few bows as part of TheatreWorks' Prologue Series.

Springs Ensemble Theatre

Following two solid outings — Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? and Art by Yasmina Reza — SET's production of Rattlesnakes (Oct. 9-26) has exciting prospects. The "intense and brutal" play will make its western U.S. premiere on SET's stage. Graham Farrow, considered "one of the most exciting voices working in Great Britain today," brings three husbands together in a motel to take their revenge on an unsuspecting gigolo.

"Lies will be told, truths will be revealed, and blood will be spilled," warns SET literature. Like Ross and Levy, when directors at SET make such claims they mean business. Cast and directors are unannounced at this time.

THEATREdART

All things going well, look in October for TdA's long-awaited production of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment at The Underground. Earlier this year, director Michael Lee used the unconventional space to great advantage with an adaptation of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Though an opening date has not been set, October is perfect for this Russian classic of murder and redemption in St. Petersburg.

Brick walls, elevated walkways, and cloistered dens at the Underground will give just the right balance of roominess and claustrophobia to hero Raskolnikov's fevered, guilt-ridden perambulations. Some of the Springs' best young actors can sink their teeth into this global favorite that catapulted Dostoyevsky in 1866 to lasting literary fame.

Millibo Art Theatre

Director Jim Jackson has peppered his fall schedule with a variety of shows through November, so it's best to keep an eye on the MAT via its mailing list and website. He begins on Sept. 12-13 with two 7:30 p.m. performances of Stephen Ochsner's The Maxims of Peter Pocket, based on Ivan Vyrypaev's original play.

In what's described as a "driving and rhythmic theatrical performance," Ochsner and Moscow director Zara Antonyan have collaborated to Americanize the story of a young boy traveling through life and facing "difficult questions about his existence." The show arrives "direct from Moscow," with Ochsner performing solo alongside video projections.

tgibson@csindy.com

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