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Public Theater ponders masterpieces

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Tom Atkins Pittsburgh Public Theater
Gretchen Egolf Pittsburgh Public Theater

Ask Ted Pappas to name a theatrical masterpiece, and he offers a half-dozen titles.

Not coincidentally, all six are the Pittsburgh Public Theater producing artistic director's choices for the company's 2013-14 Masterpiece Season.

Between Sept. 26 and June 29, 2014, the Public will offer three dramas, a musical, a comedy and a farce that measure up to Pappas' standards for greatness.

“The idea of greatness is what keeps artists striving,” Pappas says. “I was interested in what (greatness) means to me, to artists and to audiences.”

His interest in masterpieces was fueled, in part, by his disappointment in many of the new works he had been reading and seeing recently.

“It was a reaction against newer works, because they are not written well. They are all auditions for TV series,” Pappas says. “I went back to read some of my favorite writers to refresh my palate and remind myself of the standards I want the company to pursue.”

It wasn't just a reaction against something, Pappas says. “It's also moving toward something. I want a full meal when I go to the theater, and this is a banquet in my opinion.”

The season will open with Thornton Wilder's “Our Town” (Sept. 26 through Oct. 27). The simply told, but profound, Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows the small pleasures and personal tragedies of the citizens in a small New England town.

“I consider it the greatest American play and certainly the most beautiful,” Pappas says.

Tom Atkins, best known for his long-running role as Art Rooney in “The Chief,” wanted to play the role of the Stage Manager as soon as Pappas asked him.

“It requires an actor of power and experience to play the role, and he's excited to be on board with me,” says Pappas, who will direct the production.

Sam Shepard's “True West” (Nov. 7-Dec. 8) follows with its tale of two brothers in an epic rivalry that's full of reversals, physical action and dark, gritty humor.

Stephen Sondheim's musical “Company” (Jan. 23 through Feb. 23) will be directed and choreographed by Pappas. It's been 15 years since the Public performed a Sondheim musical. Pappas looks forward to directing and choreographing the 1971 Tony Award-winning show about a skittish New York bachelor weighing the wisdom of his impending marriage against the backdrop of the five married couples who are his best friends.

Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare's “An Iliad” (March 6 through April 6) is the season's newest work. Peterson and O'Hare adapted their play from Robert Fagle's translation of Homer's saga of the Trojan War. It's now a fast-paced drama that employs a single actor to play all of the characters — gods and humans — both male and female, including Helen of Troy.

George Bernard Shaw's “Candida” (April 17 through May 18) will feature Gretchen Egolf in the title role and Pappas as director. Egolf played Rosalind in last season's “As You Like It.” The 1903 comedy is about a woman who finds her emotions being tugged between her practical parson husband and a young and passionate poet.

Michael Frayne's “Noises Off” (May 29 through June 29) concludes the season. The farce gives audiences a backstage and onstage look at a troupe of British actors striving to overcome a mountain of personal and professional challenges.

Six-play packages ($138 to $325) are available now. Single-ticket prices will be available when they go on sale in September.

Details: 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org/subscribe

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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