What’s in a name? In the case of Sarasota’s new Dog Days Theatre, it’s clear: It’s out to provide theater-hungry audiences new shows in the dog days of summer.
That niche was filled for more than a decade by the late, lamented Banyan Theater Company, which presented three shows every summer in the Cook Theatre featuring professional actors, designers and directors. When the Banyan closed following the death of its founder, Jerry Finn, FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training head Greg Leaming decided to fill the void at the Cook, which the conservatory had rented to the Banyan.
“The Banyan had established a footprint here,” says Leaming. “They also hired our students. So there was always in the back of my mind, that, if the Banyan closed, we have our own theater—what do we do?”
Because of the conservatory’s educational schedule, at least for this inaugural year there will only be two, not three, shows presented. That could change in the future, depending on production demands and audience response.
While the conservatory season is “partly pedagogical,” says Leaming, the Dog Days productions give students a true professional opportunity. “The artists are hired on a salaried basis, and we are bringing back conservatory grads along with other professionals from around the country,” he says.
That mix allows Dog Days to present shows featuring characters of varied ages—something harder to do during the regular season, when 20-something students would have to be charged with portraying characters in their 50s or 60s.
The first production, Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy of errors Relatively Speaking, closes July 30. “Ayckbourn is one of my favorite playwrights,” says Leaming, “and this is one of the simplest of his stories, but it plays so beautifully.”
August’s show strikes a different tone. It’s a stage adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic Double Indemnity. While the Fred MacMurray-Barbara Stanwyck film noir version of the story may be what most audience members will have in their heads, this play by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright—a first-time production in Sarasota—follows the book more faithfully, with a different ending from the movie. Leaming is co-directing the show with Jesse Jou, and the cast includes Conservatory grad Katie Cunningham as the seductive Phyllis, local veterans Don Walker and Doug Jones as her endangered husband and the canny investigator Keyes, respectively, and current Conservatory student Erik Meixelsperger as Huff, the insurance agent snared by Phyllis’ murderous plan. Running dates are Aug. 10-27, with previews Aug. 8 and 9.
Leaming says he expects audiences will fit the profile of the Banyan’s but will welcome some newcomers, too. “We really expanded our single ticket sales with our production at Selby Gardens of A Midsummer Night’s Dream [this past spring],” he says. Dog Days hopes to continue broadening that audience base.
For tickets to Double Indemnity, call the Asolo Rep box office at (941) 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.