The pursuit of excellence, pure and simple, keeps many playwrights, actors, directors and designers pushing the creative envelope. The results of their labors should please audiences who seek out their offerings this season.

Southern Repertory Theater has packaged a diverse dramatic season that Artistic Director Aimée Hayes says is filled with “bold stories and really strong central characters” she believes audiences will find irresistible.

“The whole season is about risk, whether for love, political power or your soul,” Hayes says.

After wrapping up its season opener, “33 Variations,” Southern Rep will next plunge into the Jane Austen classic story of romance and morality, “Pride and Prejudice,” starring Ashley Ricord as Elizabeth Bennet.

Then, Southern Rep takes a giant and hilarious leap into the contemporary world of political spin and manipulation, presenting “The Totalitarians” by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Originally commissioned by the National New Play Network and New Dramatists Full Stage USA program, and developed with help from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the play tells the story of Penelope Easter and her first run for political office.

Hayes says the world premiere at Southern Rep is sure to entertain. “Peter is one of the funniest writers writing today,” she says.

Judith Hawking will star as Penelope in “The Totalitarians,” backed by local actors Jessica Podewell, Leon Contavesprie and Benjamin Carbo.

Meanwhile, Mid-City Theatre, led by Fred Nuccio, will tackle a complicated story of stamp collecting or so it seems. “Mauritius” is a play by award-winning television writer-producer Theresa Rebeck, whose credits include “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” on top of a string of stage credentials. Her history helps explain how she transformed the subject of rare stamp collecting into gripping, entertaining theater.  
                  
Harold Gervais will direct “Mauritius,” with starring roles filled by Leslie Boles, James Howard Wright and Joe Seibert.

Several local companies known for producing plays with a purpose look to be up to their best this season with productions that reflect a social conscience and taste for relevant issues.

The NOLA Project, for instance, launched the season with “A Truckload of Ink,” an original work by local playwright Jim Fitzmorris about a newspaper attempting to evolve and hold on in the Internet age.

The company follows that show with “Oregon Trail,” an irreverent comic romp with a computer game mentality, written and directed by NOLA Project founding member A.J. Allegra. And next up is a darkly comic examination of the teachings of the Church of Scientology told through a cast of children performing a nativity play. (See www.nolaproject.com for details.)
Theater Pros Keep their Message Fresh
Cripple Creek Theatre Company (->), too, has laid out a season as intellectually demanding as befits its history. “Possum Kingdom,” by company founder Andrew Vaught, mixes politics, physicality, music and machines, and asks the question: What do people dependent upon a destructive occupation do when that occupation vanishes?

Slated to run Oct. 18-Nov. 17, the play will be precede Cripple Creek’s productions of “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas and “The Cradle Will Rock” by Marc Blitzstein. (See www.cripplecreekplayers.org for more.)
Two other veteran theater ensembles have teamed up to shine a spotlight on the crucial issue of the region’s shrinking coastline. “Cry You One”, a presentation of ArtSpot Productions and Mondo Bizarro, will be an outdoor performance about the impact of a vanishing coast on the people who live and work there. The play will run Oct. 26-Nov. 24 at Los Isleños Heritage & Cultural Society in St. Bernard.  (See www.CryYouOne.com for more information.)

Finally, Four Humours Theater unsurprisingly offers the unexpected with Shawn Reddy’s “The Art of Unbearable Sensations,” Nov. 1-18 at Michael’s on the Park.
The winner of Chicago’s Orgie Award for Original Playwriting and a “sleeper hit” of the New York International Fringe Festival, the work has received critical praise as  a smart and “artfully eccentric” psychological exploration. Directed by Michael Martin with Margeaux Fanning, the production will feature troupe members Vatican Lokey, Stacie LeJeune, Daniel Schubert-Skelly and Aura Bishop. (See www.fourhumourstheater.org for details.)