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University theater

Nöel Coward's "Blithe Spirit;" "Johnny Johnson," with book and lyrics by Paul Green and music by Kurt Weill; and John O'Keeffe's "Wild Oats" will highlight the Southern Oregon University Department of Performing Arts' shows to be held in the Center Stage Theatre.

"We've got interesting material this season," says Chris Sackett, chairman of the department.

"Blithe Spirit" will open the season. The classic 20th-century comedy will be directed by theater arts professor Dale Luciano and will mark Luciano's retirement at the end of the academic year.

"It is an elegant satire with adept wordplay, and Coward's incisive wit at its height," Sackett says. "I would say that Dale's proven ability with comedy will shine. Anytime you have an example of a wife and the spirit of an ex-wife complicating a gentlemen's life, you're bound to have the opportunity for many laughs."

"Blithe Spirit" playfully mocks the traditions of love and marriage when socialite Charles Condomine unintentionally calls up the ghost of his first wife through a medium, Madame Arcati. As the ghost, Elvira, meddles in the lives of Condomine and his second wife Ruth, he wonders how things could get more vexing. "Blithe Spirit" will run Nov. 12-22.

SOU will present the 1933 musical "Johnny Johnson" Feb. 11-28. It's a rarely performed work by Weill and Pulitzer Prize-winner Green, and tells the story of an idealist and pacifist who enlists in the military during World War I. His efforts to end the war provide satire, melodrama and farce.

"The 'Johnny Johnson' musical is a piece that was funded by the New Works Progress Administration in the 1930s," Sackett says. "As part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, jobs were created. Some of them were in the arts, theater specifically. This production will have aspects of U.S. theater history as well as entertainment value, and it will be a dynamic presentation of material relevant to today's economic and political situations."

"Johnny Johnson" will be directed by Randall Stuart, who directs theater productions up and down the West Coast.

"Stuart brings an infectious enthusiasm to his work, an eye for bringing the maxiumum potential out of any piece he's working on and he's extremely adept at communicating with our students. The production will be something dynamic for our audiences."

Jennifer Schloming, a Rogue Valley pianist and educator, will direct music for SOU's "Johnny Johnson," and Jim Giancarlo of Oregon Cabaret Theatre will choreograph.

In the spring, theater arts professor Dennis Smith will direct O'Keeffe's "Wild Oats."

"This will be Dennis' swan song also," Sackett says. "He will retire along with Dale at the end of the school year."

O'Keeffe's a romp through 18th-century England lampoons prominent Restoration plays and makes use of Shakespearean quotations and allusions as its characters work each other with cross purposes. The upshot of the action is the triumph of kindness, optimism and decency.

Bernard Levin wrote in London's Sunday Times that "anybody who does not enjoy himself at (this play) must be dead, and indeed to a considerable extent decomposed."

"Dennis is looking at including period music and dance — and taking full liberties with the satire of the comedies that O'Keeffe is pointing up."

"Wild Oats" will run May 13-23.

In SOU's Center Square Theatre, Jane Martin's "Anton in Show Business" will run Nov. 5-15. Scott Kaiser of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will direct Martin's backstage skewer of the archetypes in American theater while affirming that the genre is indelible. The play received the American Theatre Critics' Steinberg New Play Award in 2001.

SOU will offer children's theater Feb. 12-28 with "The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart" by Gale Childs Daly. The play is based on the actual childhood diary of naturalist Opal Whiteley and tells a magical story of a young girl in the Cascade woodlands in early 20th century Oregon. Surrounded by singing creeks, talking trees and invisible fairies that leave gifts, the story charms and educates.

"Eurydice" by Sarah Ruhl will run May 13-23 in the Center Square Theatre. Ruhl sets the tragic Greek love story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the present day and tells the mythological tale from the perspective of Eurydice. Young and newly married, Eurydice dies suddenly and joins her father, Hades, in his Underworld. When the waters of Lethe wash away her memories, she does not recognize her father or remember her husband. Ruhl poetically explores the variety of choices involving loss and risk that face the two lovers. The production will be directed by senior theater arts student Curtis Goodman.

Subscriptions for a discounted price on tickets to three or more plays are available. Regular subscribers pay $16 per ticket and senior subscribers pay $14. For single plays, the price is $20 regular, $17 senior, and $5 student. For information, call 541-552-6348 or visit www.sou.edu/theatre/calendar.

Deborah Jensen and Josh Bowen in the 2009 SOU Theatre Arts production of “Love’s Labor’s Lost” by William Shakespeare. - Photo by Brian Prechtel