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100 feast on Stage West's new theater

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2000


After years of planning, adjusting, agonizing over details, soliciting funds and negotiating financing, Stage West Community Playhouse finally opened The Forum on May 5. It's a charming, 159-seat boutique theater that will be home to children's plays and offbeat, serious and classic grown-up productions and a fitting adjunct for the existing 391-seat theater.

"Everybody is so enthusiastic about the new wing," said Madeline Child, president of the theater's board of directors.

About 100 people who made significant donations or "bought" seats for the new theater at $200 apiece were invited for the special night. Later, another special night will be held for Stage West members, Ms. Child said.

Word is that the theater was slightly upstaged by some terrific food prepared by Jan Lavin, Toni Best and Evelyn Stock.

The first show will be Clowns, a children's production in June, and a full schedule probably will be announced shortly after the board elections that month. So far, only one person has accepted the nomination for each of the top board slots, those ever-so-fun positions where others demand 150 percent of your time, 175 percent of your effort and 200 percent of your hide if anything should happen to go even slightly awry.

Maybe it was all that good cooking they did for opening night at The Forum, but Jan Lavin has been nominated for president and Toni Best for vice president. Of course, other masochists could come forward begging for these jobs sometime before June, but I'm wagering Jan and Toni are safe in writing their acceptance speeches now.

* * *

At long last, a local theater is doing what I have hoped one would do for years -- taking its show on the road.

The really terrific Avenue Players of Tarpon Springs have booked their production of Amadeus at Stage West on Feb. 2, 3 and 4.

"This is the most exciting thing in the whole world for us," said Diana Forgione, director and godmother of Avenue Players.

Stage West's president, Madeline Child, is just as thrilled.

"I think it's time we start reaching out to other groups and other theaters and sharing our work," she said. The two theater groups will share the proceeds.

Casts and crews work for months putting together a production for local audiences, but many times people who would like to see a particular show don't want to drive a long distance to see it. The perfect answer is to take the show to the people.

"We'll probably be going down to Tarpon Springs with our shows sometime soon," Ms. Child said.

The timing couldn't have been better. Stage West will just have completed its run of A Secret Garden, a serious, thought-provoking show that will be an appropriate lead-in for such a serious and thought-provoking play as Amadeus, the story of the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.

* * *

My favorite place in the world is my screened-in back porch. I installed a ceiling fan over my softest outdoor recliner, so I can spend long, cool, happy hours in the dark listening to the crickets during dry spells and little green frogs after a nice rain as I contemplate the universe.

Lately, though, my reveries have been interrupted around 11 p.m. by the high squeal of water pumps clicking on in some back yards near me. The waterers are breaking the water restriction rules, of course, but they know the Water Patrol isn't out at midnight, so they water anyway.

It's easy to spot the scofflaws as you drive through the streets; they're the ones whose lawns are bright emerald green oases in the brown and browning squares of the rule-keepers' dying grass.

In early morning, you can also tell by the telltale semicircles of water stain on the streets in front of lawns on days in which watering is not allowed. They're as obvious a sign of wrongdoing as the lipstick stain on a wandering husband's shirt collar.

I wonder if we all think about the consequences of having a green lawn at the expense of a diminished aquifer. If too much water is sucked out of the aquifer, the water level falls, leaving nothing to support the protective limestone shell that covers it. Once the rains start (and they will), the heavy, rain-soaked, sandy ground above the aquifer will shift and crush the aquifer's fragile, unsupported shell and create a big sinkhole.

As I watch my own once-green lawn turning toasty beige, I like to think the houses that fall into the abyss will be the ones with the bright green grass, along with their yard-proud owners.

But things being what they are, I suspect I already know who the first victim will be.

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