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Winter stage shows warm up the Hamptons

The next main stage show at Bay Street Theatre isn't until after Memorial Day. And you'll have to wait till summer for a fully staged offering at the John Drew Theater. Even Broadway hunkers down a bit from its holiday frenzy in January and February.

But theater in the Hamptons is alive in the dead of winter.

In Southampton, Center Stage opens the first of its "2010 Triple Play" Thursday night. To director Michael Disher, nothing says "Happy New Year" quite like Noel Coward's implausibly riotous "Private Lives": two exes who find themselves honeymooning with replacement spouses in adjoining suites.

This zany piece of romantic erudition is followed by "Twelve Angry Men," the quintessential jury drama, capped by "The Laramie Project," the moving chronicle of a hate crime that left a gay Wyoming student crucified on a rail fence.

Down the road in Quogue, the Hampton Theatre Company opens its winter season Jan. 14 with Teresa Rebeck's "Mauritius," the tale of a young woman, her estranged half-sister and a trio of con artists all conniving over possession of a rare stamp collection. Can you say philately?

 

WHY THREE? For starters, there's not that much happening out east - at least as compared with the frenetic calendar of events in the Hamptons High Season, May through September. "The greatest availability, both in terms of space and actors' time, is in the dead of winter," says Disher. "We auditioned all three shows in September and cast them in October. The idea was that when we went into rehearsal, everybody would already be off-book" - they'd know their lines. "But, of course, that went out the window."

WHY THESE THREE? "I wish I could tell you a rhyme or reason," says Disher. "I try to pick things I can picture actors I know doing. I really enjoy period pieces, and Coward's dialogue in 'Private Lives' is tumultuous." As for "Twelve Angry Men," Disher says, "Everyone thinks of Henry Fonda or Lee J. Cobb, but this is an ensemble play. It doesn't work if one character is off. It's beneficial to have that dependence on one another. I'm doing 'Laramie Project' for the young people. To me it's the greatest sociological experiment presented onstage ever. Yet for kids 17 or 18 - this happened over 10 years ago - their knowledge of it is marginal to nothing. We need to be reminded."

 

STAMP OF APPROVALHampton Theatre Company, observing its 25th anniversary, endeavors to produce a range of plays - classic and contemporary, comedy and drama. "We felt 'Mauritius' was a terrific contemporary choice," executive director Sarah Hunnewell says of the play that debuted in 2007 at the Manhattan Theatre Club. "It's by an evermore recognized young playwright and, as somewhat of a thriller, it's a perfect choice for the dark days of winter." "Mauritius" stars Joanna Howard of Westhampton Beach and the "Les Miserables" world tour.

 

WHAT Triple play plus one in Hamptons winter theater

WHEN | WHERE "Private Lives" by Noel Coward, 8 p.m. Thursday and Jan. 8 and 9, 2:30 p.m. Jan. 10, through Jan. 17; "Twelve Angry Men," Jan. 21-24 and Feb. 6 and 7; and "The Laramie Project," Jan. 28-31 and Feb. 4-5, all presented by Center Stage, Levitas Center for the Arts, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. "Mauritius" by Teresa Rebeck, presented by Hampton Theatre Company, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 14-31, Quogue Community Theatre, 126 Jessup Ave.

INFO Center Stage: $22, students $10, southamptonculturalcenter.org, 631-287-4377; Hampton Theatre Company: $25, $23 seniors, $10 students, hampton theatre.org, 631-653-8955

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