DORSET -- Talk about inside baseball. What better way is there to launch a new season at the Dorset Theater Festival than to produce a play about actors and the often conflicting cross currents of show business and personal relationships?
Actually, Theresa Rebeck's play, "The Scene" deals with age-old dilemmas and desires hardly limited to the world of stage craft. It will certainly get this year's festival off to a running start with some genuine star power to pump up the work of a playwright who brings the oomph already and crafts some witty, intelligent theatrical interplay to start with.
Actor Tim Daly, best known by many for his role in the NBC sitcom "Wings," will help get the 2013 summer theater festival off to a flying start in his role of a down on his luck actor who finds his life getting a bit more complicated when a young and fetchingly attractive refugee from the American hinterlands enters the picture.
Unfortunately for him, it's not all gain and no pain.
It is rich with comedy to go with the "dark hued morality tale" described in a 2007 review in the New York Times.
Is it such a dark hued morality tale, really?
Well yes, up to a point, said Rebeck in a recent interview.
"But I think it's a very funny play at the same time," she said. "It's very specific to actors; it's about an actor (played by Tim Daly) and the challenges faced by someone who is an artist in a field that's very commercial, and constantly has commercial pressure put on his spirit that wear him down to a place where he's .... lost a sense of himself as a man in a culture and his power has been taken away from him."
The play has been reworked a bit since its original version was performed in 2006, and later on an off-Broadway stage. The version that will be performed in Dorset has never been seen before and it's one that she is very happy with, Rebeck said.
"The Scene," and the 2013 summer season at the Dorset Theater Festival, will start on June 21. Performances of "The Scene" will continue through July 7.
Karma kicked in and through a fortuitous combination of circumstances, Daly was available and interested in working at the Dorset Theater. He has legitimate Vermont roots, having attended school both in Putney and at Bennington College, and this will be his first appearance on the Dorset stage, he said.
"I was asked to do a reading of the play in New York and immediately fell in love with it," he said. "I think it's profound, its a fantastic part, and I think it really speaks to where we are as a culture in America."
It's a challenging role as well, he added. His character undergoes a journey through the play, and making that a believable one is "a lot of hard work," he said.
Daly, much like last year's appearance by Judd Hirsch in "The Whore and Mrs. Moore," brings an impressive resumé to Dorset. Aside from
"Wings," he had a role in the HBO series "The Sopranos" as well, in addition to several live stage productions, including one, "Coastal Disturbances," that he earned a Theatre World Award for in 1987.
This will be Rebeck's third play produced at Dorset since 2010 following earlier successful productions of "Mauritius" and "The Novelist." Having this be a revised version of a play that has already earned some buzz fits a script for a regional theater such as Dorset that artistic director Dina Janis is developing as she enters her fourth year at the helm of the summer festival.
"For us that new play development is something we've tried to support with writers we've built relationships with," she said. "What I try to do is a combination of finding plays that I think are about something important that are from the American canon of plays."
The season's finale fits that schematic as well. "Clybourne Park," a play by Bruce Norris, will be performed from Aug. 15 - 31, and is a regional premier of a play, first performed in 2010, about racial and housing issues set in late 1950s Chicago. It won a Tony Award for Best Play last year. It's also noteworthy for being a production they will be co-producing with the Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, Mass.
The production will travel there after its run in Dorset, with the same cast, sets and costumes for both venues.
"It made sense and I thought we should give it a try," Janis said. "We've talked a lot about how that model is something our two organizations can do in the future-- it's good for both parties and you can do a larger scale version of a play that you couldn't do on your own."
In between "The Scene" and "Clyburne Park" will come a well known comedy by Neil Simon, "Barefoot in the Park," which will run from July 25 - Aug. 10. The romantic comedy, one of Simon's biggest Broadway hits, originally opened in 1963 and starred the young up-and-coming actor Robert Redford. The summery-flavored comedy will be preceded by something different -- "The Whipping Man," by Matthew Lopez, a new play about the Jewish experience in the American Civil War. It will run from July 11-20.
This play ties into a partnership the theater festival has established with the Northshire Bookstore and the Bennington Museum to observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The story told in the play involves the fates of three men; a Jewish Confederate soldier returned from battle, and two former slaves, raised as Jews.
It's a different twist on a familiar narrative. Other special events will mark this season at the theater festival.
"Hills Alive," a five week-long summer arts festival designed to draw attention to several arts venues in Bennington, Manchester, Dorset and Weston will last long enough this year in its expanded format to allow for the first three of the four plays that will be presented on the Dorset stage to be featured in it. The festival will also highlight the work of some new young playwrights, such as Adam Rapp's "The Purple Lights of Joppa, Illinois," Samuel Hunter's "Rest," and a playwright with local roots, Tajlei Levis, who has developed a new musical titled "New Bootlegger Musical." Rapp's play will be presented on June 20; Levis' on Aug. 5, and Hunter's on Aug. 20. All show times for these productions will be 7 p.m.
The festival concludes on Sept. 13 with the Jean Miller Young Playwright's Competition, a program designed to engage the playwriting talents of students in the middle and high school grades of area schools.
For more information about the upcoming season at the Dorset Theater Festival, visit their website at dorsettheatrefestival.org, or call the box office at 802-867-2223.