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Black Box shows 'reintroduce' Playhouse 70 years after founding

Configured for theater in the round, the Playhouse stage can accommodate 160 patrons. Configured for theater in the round, the Playhouse stage can accommodate 160 patrons.

When the Flat Rock Playhouse debuts its daring new Black Box series this week, the 70-year-old theater is hoping to “make a first impression again,” the theater’s director says.

“Normally, you walk into the theater and you walk down the aisle and you sit in your seat and you look up at the stage and you watch the show,” says Lisa K. Bryant, artistic director of the Playhouse. “This time, you’re going to come into the theater and you’re going to walk down the aisle and you’re going to keep walking down the aisle” and onto the stage, “where there will be another stage sitting on top of it and then the seating is all around that platform.”

The stage can be figured to accommodate 150 to 160 patrons taking in a theater-in-the-round show.

“We’ve been using the word intimate and immersive and we’ve gotten some feedback that people are afraid that maybe that means — ‘interactive,’ like they’re going to get called on or they’re going to have to participate,” Bryant says. “And no they don’t. They can just sit there and watch and enjoy the same way that they do when they come to a show normally at the Playhouse. We’re not going to put anybody on the spot.”

For the subset of fans that is always going to pass on “Mama Mia!” and other iconic musicals, black box theater offers that intimate set and an opportunity to explore through art social, cultural and emotional conflict and resolution.

“One cannot replace the other but how can we make this coexist?” Bryant says of musical theater and intimate drama. “And also it’s an opportunity for our artists and designers and all the people that do this theater to sink their teeth into a different kind of experience.

“You know, we were closed for two years and we had a lot of time think about what we’re doing and in all those conversations as we realized, OK,” the theater is turning 70 years. “How do we want to reintroduce ourselves to our community and make a first impression again. Who gets to do that? That’s a luxury.”


Meeting deteriorates as rum flows

The black box series stages two shows in repertory — a comedy and a drama. Directed by Lisa K. Bryant, “God of Carnage” stars Brendan Powers, Marcy McGuigan, Rachel Powers and Scott Treadway.

After a playground altercation between 11-year-old boys, two Brooklyn couples get together to resolve the matter in a meeting in which diplomatic niceties fall away, tensions emerge and the gloves come off as the rum flows.

“It’s a dark humor,” Bryant says. “It is definitely a voyeuristic look at some really bad human tendencies, human behavioral tendencies that we all have either done ourselves, have thought about doing ourselves or probably know a lot more folks who have behaved in such ways,” she said. “And it’s in a funny, interesting, thoughtful sort of dissection of a moment in time between two couples and how they sort of fall apart as human beings.”

“Blood Knot” is about the relationship between two biracial half-brothers as they grapple with crippling poverty and lonely isolation—living a strained existence in a one-room shack in apartheid South Africa. Directed by Vickie Washington, the play stars Arusi Santi and Odera Adimorah.

“They were the last two actors actually that I hired in the season,” Bryant says. “It took us the longest to find them. But I do want to say all six actors in ‘God of Carnage’ and the two in ‘Blood Night’ were critical, because there’s nowhere to hide.”

Capping a strong box office season

The fall programming comes near the end of what has been a very successful box office year.

“It’s been an amazing season,” Bryant says. “We’ve been super thrilled, super relieved. We didn’t know what was going to happen after being closed for two years. But we’re hitting all of our goals and exceeding our goals.”

Bryant hopes this broadening of the Playhouse’s artistic range will appeal to the loyal patron base and maybe attract some first-timers.

“I hope that these folks will allow their curiosity to lead them in to this whole brand new experience, a different kind of content, a different sort of story to tell and because I have every faith and trust and absolute knowledge that the material is fabulous,” she says. “And as ever, my team of artists are fabulous, and they’re going to deliver an experience. So I think it’s going to be super memorable for everybody and I think hopefully invite ongoing participation now season after season.”

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The Black Box Series will be performed on the Leiman Mainstage starting this week. “God of Carnage” opens Thursday, Sept. 15, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 8. “Blood Knot” is on stage from Friday, Sept. 16, through Sunday, Oct. 9. Tickets are $55. Student prices are available for ages 18 and under. For tickets, call the box office at 828-693-0731 or visit