Sarasota's Banyan Theater Company opens its season

Strong dramas highlight the company's 13th season

mclear@bradenton.comJune 22, 2014 

Conrad Feininger as Gregory in "The Price." STAN BAROUGH/PUBLICITY PHOTO

When Jerry Finn founded Banyan Theater Company, summer was a sleepy time for theater in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. With students, seasonal residents and tourists largely absent, most local theater companies took a respite.

But there were still plenty of people in town, and not much theater for them to see.

"I looked around and said, 'This isn't a ghost town, there have to be people who want to see theater in the summer,'" Finn said. "And I was right."

Finn is the founder and artistic director of the Banyan Theater Company, a professional company that stages shows only in the summer.

It has become an essential and respected part of the local theater scene. Its 13th season starts this week.

The three-show season features works from two of America's most respected playwrights, plus a lesser-known play that Finn has been wanting to stage ever since he and his wife, Terri, first saw it in New York in 1971.

Here's a look at the 2014 Banyan Theater season.

"The Price," by Arthur Miller, June 26-July 13

Banyan produced "The Price" in its second season, 2003. People have nev

er stopped telling Finn that they wanted his company to reprise it.

"We got so many inquiries about this show," Finn said. "Some people weren't here but they heard about it, and some saw it and liked it and want us to do it again."

"The Price," is the story of two estranged brother who reunite after 16 years to take care of their deceased father's furniture. They meet with an antiques dealer. The situation is highly desired by the aging antiques dealer, whose presence leads the brothers to confront their feelings about each other, their father, the family and their own lives.

It's directed by area theater stalwart Don Walker.

"The Sty of the Blind Pig," by Phillip Hayes Dean, July 17-Aug. 3

Finn and his wife discovered this play when a New York theater group called the Negro Ensemble Company staged it in the early '70s. The company was devoted to creating plays that would give African-American actors more substantial roles than the maids and butlers they usually portrayed at that time, Finn said.

"The Sty of the Blind Pig" is about a blind musician who enters the life of an adult woman who lives with her mother. It's set in South Chicago in the late '50s, just before the Civil Rights movement burgeoned. Time magazine called it "eloquent, powerful, moving and beautiful."

Mark Clayton Southers, the founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, directs.

"Collected Stories," by Donald Margulies, Aug. 7-24

"Collected Stories" is perhaps the best-known work by Margulies. He's the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of "Dinner With Friends," "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment" and "Time Stands Still," which Banyan produced last year.

"Collected Stories" revolves around a writer who succeeded at a young age but never repeated her success, and her protégée who is coming into her own. The protegee writes a novel about her mentor's real-life affair with a famous poet.

It's an engrossing and compelling play of ideas. It's directed by Howard Millman, who has directed some of Sarasota's most respected productions over the past few decades.

All shows are in the Cook Theater at FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets are $28.50. Call 941-351-2808 or go to banyantheatercompany.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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