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Release: Aug. 27, 1999

University Theatres season at UI presents timeless theater for the millennium's turn

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University Theatres Mainstage season at the University of Iowa will greet the new millennium with a reminder of the timelessness of great theater. A free brochure, "Looking Back, Looking Forward," which includes series-subscription order forms, is now available from the Hancher Auditorium box office or the UI department of theatre arts at 319-335-2700.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284.

Season subscriptions, which offer discounts of 20 percent, are now on sale, and individual-play tickets will go on sale Sept. 7. University Theatres Mainstage season subscriptions are available in discounted three-play or five-play packages.

The season will begin with an intriguing combination of plays -- one that looks back at the comic genius of Oscar Wilde and a companion play that examines Wilde's "trial of the century," which led to his public disgrace and imprisonment.

Next, UI alumnus Rinde Eckert -- this year's Partnership in the Arts guest playwright/director -- will draw inspiration from an ancient Japanese tale as he sweeps audiences into the postnuclear future with the world premiere of "A Tale We Told The Queen on the Evening of the Fourth Day of our Journey to the East."

During the winter, University Theatres will produce "The Firebugs," a theatrical fable created from the ashes of World War II, revealing the consequences of neglecting social and moral responsibilities; and "Orestes 2.0," in which Greek myths color a surreal portrait of contemporary America.

Finally, in the final spring Mainstage production, the past is prologue in Shakespeare's classic fantasy "The Tempest," a story about magic, romance, deception and forgiveness.

Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" (Oct. 7-20) has been acknowledged to be one of the funniest plays ever written -- the quintessential comedy of manners that challenges assumptions about identity, artifice and the search for happiness.

The provocative companion play "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde"
(Oct. 14-24) is taken from original transcripts and letters. This gripping courtroom drama follows the most celebrated and notorious wit of Victorian England from the height of his success through one of the most scandalous sex trials in history. Featuring a cast of characters ranging from Queen Victoria to George Bernard Shaw, the play sends us traveling back and forth in time to comment on Wilde and grapple with issues of sexual prejudice, censorship, and the role of the artist in society.

With the purchase of a "Wilde Card" theatergoers can attend both of the season-opening plays, and get the second for half price.

Eckert, who grew up in Iowa City and graduated from the UI School of Music, has become one of America's most adventurous playwrights, composers, actors and recording artists. Several of his previous solo works and collaborations with the Paul Dresher Ensemble have been commissioned by the UI Hancher Auditorium. For his University Theatres partnership in the arts project, he imagines this: As dusk settles on civilization as we know it, a queen and her entourage are making their way home after a long journey. When they stop to camp for the evening the attendants entertain the queen with an old story that changes her forever. "A Tale We Told the Queen" will run Nov. 11-20.

In the modern parable "The Firebugs" (Feb. 3-13) Max Frisch interweaves hilarious antics with social commentary in a scathing political satire on the inability of the common man to take responsibility for his inaction. Gottlieb Biedermann is a hair-tonic magnate who will go to great lengths to lead a quiet life. But the burg in which he lives is plagued by arsonists who seem hell-bent to destroy everything. Certain that he can outsmart them, Biedermann befriends the firebugs and invites them into his home. It seems that nothing gets by Biedermann -- except, perhaps, those barrels of gasoline in his attic.

In "Orestes 2.0" (Feb. 17-27) Charles Mee draws from Euripides, Vogue magazine, the transcripts of the Menendez brothers' trial, and a half-dozen other sources. Based on the myth of Orestes, who killed his mother to avenge the murder of his father, the computer-age play ponders whether a god will again descend from Mount Olympus to save us from our own traumatic times.

The timelessness of "The Tempest" was attested when Hollywood adapted Shakespeare's tale into the classic sci-fi adventure "Forbidden Planet." After twelve years shipwrecked on a desert island, Prospero finds his enemies are in his control. Seeking revenge, he discovers forgiveness and freedom -- but the journey is not easy. The fantastical Ariel and the murderous Caliban are never far away, and magic and music are everywhere. Spiritual and mysterious yet comic and romantic, "The Tempest" (April 6-16) draws together the stories and concerns that animated the English language's greatest playwright.

Five-play packages are $60 ($28 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). Three-play packages are $36 ($18 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). A Wilde Card for the two season-opening productions is $22.50 ($10.50 for UI students, senior citizens and youth).

Individual-play ticket prices are $15 ($8 for UI students, senior citizens and youth).