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Asolo Rep producing artistic director Michael Donald Edwards announced the company’s 2017-18 season in an event welcoming subscribers and press to the Mertz Theatre Monday afternoon, but not before looking back a bit to the current season—which he says may be the theater’s top selling one ever—and the five-year “American Character” project that has been the focus of many recent Asolo productions.

That project may be coming to an end, but in the coming season, Edwards said, “We are staging our world,” continuing to explore American voices while at the same time sharing stories through a global lens.

Edwards explained how “the theater is at the heart of building empathy” while also making an impassioned plea for support of organizations whose existence may be threatened by the Trump administration and Congress, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “I take that very personally,” Edwards said. “America is a great country, and we deserve great art.”

But now, on to the season’s productions.

The season will open with a production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Evita, which will be directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, who also helmed this season’s Guys and Dolls.  A new staging at the Asolo will, Edwards said, provide a “gorgeous spectacle of a show, but also be able to share the intimacy” of this story about Eva Peron’s rise to power in Argentina. Evita will run Nov. 18 through Dec. 30.

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That show is followed by a stage adaptation of the award-winning film Shakespeare in Love; the Asolo will be only the third theater in the country to stage the show, in a collaboration with Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The piece, which will be directed by Rachel Rockwell, centers on young playwright Will Shakespeare, who’s tormented by writer’s block until he meets the beautiful Viola. That’s onstage Jan. 13-March 28, kicking off the company’s rotating rep portion of the season.

A new comedy, The Morning After Grace, by Carey Crim, will be directed by Peter Amster and takes the Jan. 19-March 4 slot. The play is set in a Florida retirement community and tackles “love, loss and coming to terms with growing old”—certainly topics a Sarasota audience can identify with.

Tony Award-winning director Frank Galati will be in charge of the next production, absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco’s seldom-seen Rhinoceros, written just after World War II. Rhinoceros, is, according to Edwards, “a farce, a tragedy and a magical experiment for the mind.” It will run Feb. 9 through April 14.

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Another new play, which the Asolo will be the fourth theater in the United States to produce, is Lisa Loomer’s Roe, directed by Lavina Jadhwani. “We may need this play, and it’s up to us to encourage conversation,” said Edwards of Roe, which revisits the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. That’s onstage March 16-April 14.

The Tony-winning musical Ragtime will be up next, an in a newly imagined production that will be “highly theatrical.” A collaboration with Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, this adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel set in the early 1900s runs May 4-27.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Gloria will bow in the Cook Theatre, April 6-29, directed by FSU/Asolo Conservatory head Greg Leaming. A New York Times Best Theater Pick of 2015, this Pulitzer Prize finalist centers on a group of twenty-something editorial assistants in New York; Edwards said the Asolo “had to fight to get the rights” to this “new, exciting play.”

A summer family production, set for June 8-30, is still to be announced.

Also announced Monday were the Asolo Rep/FSU/Asolo Conservatory tour of Julius Caesar, a 45-minute version of the classic that will be presented in schools and other venues throughout the state; and the full Conservatory season, which begins with Sophocles’ Oedipus in November and continues with the twisted comedy The Motherf***er with the Hat in January; Jean Anouilh’s The Rehearsal, Feb. 21-March 11; and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, April 18-May 6, which will be presented at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

Season subscriptions are on sale now at the Asolo Rep box office, by calling (941) 351-8000 or (800) 361-8388, or online at asolorep.org. Single tickets will go on sale in September.

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