Devotees of the intimate, new, often edgy plays that downtown’s Urbanite Theatre presents may find it hard to believe that the company’s fifth season is upon us. Urbanite, once the new kid on the block, has found a solid niche among theater lovers seeking something a bit less mainstream, a bit more offbeat in their fare.
That remains true of the coming season, which opens June 8 with a play by Nick Payne (Constellations) called Incognito. Four actors play dozens of characters in three stories, including one in which a pathologist steals Albert Einstein’s brain. That’s onstage through July 8.
Brendan Ragan, co-artistic director of Urbanite with Summer Dawn Wallace, says, “Our goal to produce thrilling new plays in a variety of theatrical styles and themes has not changed [with season 5]. But the collective energy for this season of works will be different for audiences. We realized many of our favorite plays were incredibly smart, highly intellectually stimulating works. While in some cases we’ve focused on provocative or challenging content, season five is more of a study of fascinating language and robust, complex ideas.”
As usual, though, all the plays in the season will be at least regional premieres. “We continue to focus on bringing in work that Sarasota hasn’t had the pleasure of experiencing yet,” says Ragan. “Often, we’ll hear from patrons that they ‘never know what to expect’ when they’re walking into Urbanite, and we want to continue to provide those surprises.”
Following Incognito onstage will be Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey, Aug. 3 through Sept. 10. Ragan will direct this piece by the Obie-winning playwright about a man ruminating on life and humanity in the face of death, with guest artist James FitzGerald starring in the mostly one-person show.
Up next is a bit of a change: a Modern Works Festival that explores new plays by female writers, Oct. 2-14. “As young theater professionals, we believe it’s our duty to level the playing field and shine a light on underproduced demographics as much as we can,” says Ragan of the festival, a new play contest open exclusively to female and non-binary playwrights. The overall winning play will win a $5,000 honorarium. Audience members who see all finalist plays will be invited to participate in the fan voting.
A regional premiere of a new work by a female writer, to be announced, fills the season’s next slot, Nov. 9 through Dec. 16. According to Wallace, “A theater season should never accidentally have a season of plays without any female playwrights or equal acting opportunities for women within the season, but often in the theater industry this is the norm. By taking an active role in changing this standard, Urbanite is part of changing the theatrical landscape for women in the industry as a whole.”
A play by Henry Naylor, whose Echoes was staged at Urbanite this past season, takes the stage next, Jan. 11 through Feb. 24. Angel is part of Naylor’s Arabian Nightmares series (as is Echoes) and focuses on Rehana, a girl who just wants to go to school. But when ISIS threatens her northern Syria town, this pacifist teenager is transformed into a sniper known as the deadly Angel of Kabane. It’s inspired by a true story. (By the way, Urbanite plans to become the first American theater to produce Naylor’s quartet of Arabian Nightmares works, with The Collector and Borders in coming seasons.)
Finally, the theater brings Lauren Yee’s In a Word to town, March 8 through April 21. Wallace will play the lead role, Fiona, in this play, as she delves into her memories of the fateful day when her son disappeared. Grief and comedy collide in this look at the past.
For more information on tickets for the upcoming season, call 321-1397 or visit urbanitetheatre.com.