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Critic looks back at Carpenter Square Theatre's 25 years

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It was a chilly night in January 1985, in the drafty Carpenter Paper Co. warehouse on Robert S. Kerr Avenue, near where the Oklahoma County jail now stands. Some people came out of morbid curiosity, but many sensed the excitement of something new.

The event was the opening of Carpenter Square Theatre's first production, "The Rocky Horror Show." If Scott Myers, CST's first executive producer, wanted to get the city's attention, he picked the perfect show in the notorious musical.

And now, you blink, and Carpenter Square will open its 25th season Friday. Where did the theatrical seasons go?

I saw that first "Rocky Horror," starring Randall White as Dr. Frank"?N"?Furter, and have seen at least 182 other CST productions ever since. The company has produced some fine theater "¦ and, like everyone, its share of duds.

Notable in that first season were "El Grande de Coca"?Cola" and "Torch Song Trilogy." The second season ended with "Hair," which looked like ancient history in 1986. These shows remain etched into my memory: "Agnes of God" (1985); the hilarious "Run for Your Wife" (1993); Terrence McNally's "A Perfect Ganesh" (1998); and excellent productions of Martin McDonagh's "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (2001) and "The Cripple of Inishmaan" (2004).

"The Wonder Years" (1995) was the worst dramatic work that I had seen until "Menopause: The Musical" (not produced by CST) came along. "Wonder Years" is a musical about baby boomers as defined by television "? or something like that.

BIG-NAME PERFORMERS
Some big names have performed with CST, notably Lee Meriwether (Lady Bracknell, "The Importance of Being Earnest," 1999) and Maureen McGovern (Eleanor of Aquitaine, "The Lion in Winter," 2001). William Katt was in "I Hate Hamlet" (1999), and the cast of "A Chorus Line" (1989) included a young Kristin Chenoweth. Whatever happened to her?

In addition to staging "Rocky Horror" five times, CST has presented Mark Houston's tabloid"?inspired revue "Six Women with Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know" six times, first in 1989, and becoming "Eight Women" for the 1994 run. "Brain Death" shows its age, but undoubtedly will be revived again.

The list of actors, directors and designers who have worked at CST is long (and the theater maintains a terrific, well"?archived Web site). Space does not allow mentioning all who are worthy, but it would be nice to see the wonderful Kathleen Hope again, and the great Steve Vann will be sorely missed.

Today, Carpenter Square has found its niche producing contemporary comedies and dramas "? mostly comedies. They are the right fit for CST, even when scripts are questionable, such as David Mamet's "Boston Marriage" (2005). But CST was right to produce that play and other oddities, such as Edward Albee's "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" (2007), because it is important for audiences to see the work of contemporary playwrights.

Any theater company that achieves its silver season must be concerned about artistic stagnation. But Carpenter Square's 25th season, which includes John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt," looks promising. 

"?Larry Laneer

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