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YOU DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE SARASOTA OR MANATEE Counties for a summer full of arts experiences, especially in theater. Banyan Theater Company has a smash hit with “ART” awaiting you through July 12. Director Julian Olf, area newcomer, gets more laughter out of the script than I’ve ever experienced seeing this play here and abroad. The character Yvan, in particular, could well have been inspired by Woody Allen but he’s even funnier spouting author Yasmina Reza’s words in a monologue that brought down the house on opening night. The show ends on July 12, so hurry for a ticket if you haven’t seen it yet.

COMEDY REIGNS in the offerings of debuting The Starlite Players at 1001 Cocoanut Ave. in Sarasota, in the delightfully cozy, informal The Starlight Room. Newly founded by Jo Morello and Starlite owner Tyler Yurckonis, the group will open with five comic short plays and sketches, on July 15 to 18, under the rubric THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. They include scripts by Philip W. Hall, Larry Parr, Marvin Albert and Jack Gilhooley, directed in turn by Preston Boyd, Mark Woodland, and Gilhooley. That they’re all local is the point of The Starlite Players group, including experienced board, writers, directors, and staff from the Tampa Bay area down to the Southern border of Sarasota County. According to Jo Morello, The Starlight Players is a response to the abuse of playwrights and production people nationally and locally. There are no fees to submit a play, no prejudices for or against authors (as scripts are “blind-judged” by readers), and equitable sharing of any profits. All involved in staging constitute board, committees, and members of The Starlite Players, with Morello and Yurckonis at the production helm. Jo also has a play being produced in THIS ISN’T WHAT I EXPECTED, a second program of plays to be presented August 13-14-15-16. Writers include Heather Jones, Gilhooley, and Betty Robinson; directors are Daniel Greene, Gilhooley, Tim Guerrieri. A third long weekend program of plays has yet to be finalized for September 10 through 13. Audience members ordering food at The Starlite before or after each show will be offered a 15% discount. Drinks can be had at all times, including from the theater bar and imbibed during the performances. Reserve tickets with credit card at Or you can reserve or make credit card or cash purchases at 942-587-8290, newly set up by Jo, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily throughout summer.

THEATRE ODYSSEY’S TEN-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL, mostly of comedies, sold out when it played The Cook. Did you miss it or do you want again to see “The Best” of Theatre Odyssey’s program? You’re in luck because Venice Theatre will bring it to you July 28, 29 and August 11, 12 as part of VT’s stupendous SUMMER CABARET FESTIVAL. There’s hardly a night or matinee without a musical or dramatic performance at VT. Random Acts will be available once again for its fans. Check the schedule at Tourists, note: there’s something for everyone at VT when the beach darkens, and you may want to catch typical comedy by Joey Panek (a favorite on the whole Gulf Coast) doing a SNL-like show on July 24 and 25.

WESTCOAST BLACK THEATRE TROUPE harks back to its beginnings with its musical COTTON CLUB. Seeing this will bring back memories or create new ones. Nate Jacobs, WBTT founder, meanwhile is garnering honors here and nationwide. I was a bit shocked earlier this year when a history of the group was published in our local daily and it left out the name and contributions of Eva Slane. She was behind Nate and the other mainstay of WBTT for seasons before it had a huge audience and a home of its own. Now it’s not unusual for WBTT shows to be sold out before they open. With COTTON CLUB CABARET this summer, however, there will be seats for summer residents and tourists who want to see the prime African-American theater company on the Suncoast. See you there?

SPEAKING OF TOURIST ATTRACTIONS, can anyone beat Florida Studio Theatre’s many? Just the troupes attending THE 7th ANNUAL SARASOTA IMPROV FESTIVAL who bring along fans from nine cities and even Spain along with locals have got to represent a grand tourist draw. New and old improv troupes will be providing non-stop comedy from July 9 at 7p.m. until a late night wrap-up on July 11. Once again, I will be covering the whole Festival—or at least, as much as can be scheduled for the several stages FST must use, and I hope to see you there. It’s always nice to meet with readers of this column and my reviews, mostly on, many of whom are from out of town. I’ve made new acquaintances at each past FST Improv event and received a lot of help forming critical opinions! We will all be anxious to see what new Improv head Will Luera is bringing to our local improvisers.

FUNNY GAL CHRISTINE ALEXANDER is now dividing her time among improvising with her group The Hub, being a stalwart member of Lazy Fairy that often improvises at FST, and now doing summertime teaching for McCurdy’s. For the first time I formally met her recently and asked about her experiences with Will Luera. That brought on her excitement about so many things he’s teaching and she’s learning. I bet that’s all being absorbed in Christine’s own unique way. Don’t worry, she’ll still be doing her “translations for the non-hearing” schtick.

ALL IS NOT COMEDY on area stages this summer, however. For serious drama, besides The Banyan’s second offering, do try COPENHAGEN at Manatee Players. It’s on only from July 9 to 19, and it has been little advertised and publicized. So let me do the latter. I saw this play on Broadway and will gladly see it again. Same goes for THE AMISH PROJECT by The Banyan Theater Company from July 16 to August 2, though the scene is light and bright. I can say Katherine Michelle Turner does a smashing job of playing all the characters because it is she whom I saw in the play in St. Petersburg.

A SERIOUS PROJECT at Urbanite Theatre is not only its plays but its commitment to introducing young people to the theater and drama. Urbanite can use your help, of whatever amount, to subsidize its $5 tickets for students. Contact Summer Dawn Wallace at or see any of the staff at the downtown Sarasota theater. Also, if you dine before an Urbanite show and finish only half your bottle of wine, bring it down to the theater so it can sell the wine. Of course, a corked bottle makes an even better donation!

OUT OF TOWN BUT CONNECTED TO OURS: 1.)Mary Testa, whom we liked so much in her first appearance for Asolo Rep that the Rep called her back for a solo performance a few years ago, is winning applause for her role as Aunt Eller in a new performance of OKLAHOMA! It’s being staged through July 19 at the SummerScape Festival of Bard College’s Fisher Center at Annandale-on-Hudson in NY. What makes it unusual is it being done as Emersive Theater. This new method is becoming an international rage, and it’s said that the OKLAHOMA mentioned may get to Manhattan. 2.) Two paintings from The Ringling collection by Nicolas Poussin are on display in Paris at the Louvre! The exhibition of which they are a part stresses his religious paintings, an unusual theme there. Of course, his depiction of St. Paul transcends secularism and is a favorite of Ringling visitors. 3.)Sarasota’s own Frank Galati’s adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s work constitutes the book and lyrics for the musical LOVING REPEATING that’s playing in Chicago July 18 through August 30. A revival, it’s being staged at Theater Wit on Belmont Avenue. After summer, the 40th year anniversary of Steppenwolf Theatre Company will begin its celebration with the world premiere of Frank Galati’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN. Frank seems to have been turning out an adaptation every year or two, but I think this one will be special. He will definitely be in Sarasota next season, preparing to direct GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER for Asolo Rep. Maybe he’ll be around to see his contribution to RAGTIME achieved at Venice Theatre. 4)If you are going to be in Boulder, CO, in September, look up and try to get to THE MIRACLE OF LONG JOHNS by and starring my publisher David Lefkowitz. For exact days and times, see the website The play’s about a critic’s very difficult night. As you might guess, I thoroughly understand David’s concern. He plans to bring the shows to NYC and the Solo festival in October. I hope he’ll get to meet Annie Morrison and Blake Walton there and that they all win prizes.

MARIETTA MUSEUM OF ART AND WHIMSY may be closed until October but you can still enjoy its gardens from outside the main museum. Work will be going on all summer on new buildings, one of which will hold a cafe and a gift shop. Another good thing for the North Trail. BTW, Good for All, and indoor flea market there, has begun offering fresh fruit and veggies. I am fond of the watch repairers and sellers. They’re in a rear booth and they put in watch batteries for only $4.

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