The New Century
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 6:30 p.m. Sun.; through Sept. 5
Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., 522-2081; www.lepetittheatre.com
With one character in a wheelchair failing to serve as any kind of warning, the flip-flop-clad Heidi Junius bounds up and down steps at center stage and stalks the front aisle like a basketball coach riding the officials. The director is a bundle of energy as she runs a rehearsal of The New Century — setting up blocking, choreographing swishy gestures and inflecting the campy script's endless flurry of quips.
"No," she corrects Francine Segal. "'Bondage and poop.' Poop has to be higher."
They're working on Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach, one of several short pieces comprising Paul Rudnick's racy comedy, based on his monologues about gayness and gay stereotypes. In Mr. Charles, Shane (Michael Aaron Santos) goes to see Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, as if it's just another tourist attraction, but he becomes overwhelmed — by a large discount store featuring high-end brands.
"They've got everything," he says dreamily. "Versace, Dolce, Nike, and sweats and shades for like $25. Total."
The show opens Le Petit's second season of offerings since its management was reorganized in early 2009. Mainstage musical productions begin in mid-September with Hairspray. Muriel's Cabaret Theatre will feature this adult-friendly work as well as the return of Le Petit's beloved Children's Corner, and Junius was tapped to direct for both.
"I directed Little Dog Laughed for them (in April 2009)," Junius says during a rehearsal break. "And Gary [Solomon] called me about this, and I kept saying, 'What about Children's Corner? What about Children's Corner?'"
Junius is one of many longtime local performers active in Children's Corner, which presented hour-long original plays for children. Fred Palmisano gained notoriety for his musical work. Becky Allen performed. WYES' Peggy Scott LaBorde starred in Rapunzel. In the early 1970s, Junius appeared in a version of Cinderella in which the step-sisters were played by men in drag.
"We had to add nighttime performances for adult audiences," she says. "But we didn't change a word."
Children's Corner returns in October with Ricky Graham in Chicken Little. Other shows include The Emperor's New Clothes and The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf.
Le Petit managing director Gary Solomon was convinced to do The New Century by City Councilwoman and Le Petit board member Jackie Clarkson, with whom he saw the play in Boston.
"I knew it was a racy and provocative show," he says. "But I was with a big group. I didn't know if half of them would leave at intermission. When the lights came up, Jackie turned to me and said, 'We have to do this at Le Petit.'"
Solomon scheduled it to coincide with Southern Decadence. He embraces a niche-marketing approach and the season's 14 shows fall into three categories. The mainstage shows, including Soul Doctor, Frost/Nixon, White Christmas and High School Musical, are for general audiences. New Century and two other Muriel's Cabaret shows are racy and for mature audiences. And he hopes that reviving Children's Corner will help the community theater attract families and cultivate new theater fans.