Theater Beat: Great 'Ragtime'; turning tables at Abington Friends; Short Play Festival

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APRIL SAUL / File

New kid on the block.

In West Chester, no less. The Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center at 226 N. High St. will launch its first mainstage production when Spamalot tromps the boards March 31-April 16. Erstwhile New York theater person Kristin McLaughlin Mitchell (she assistant-directed for Stanley Tucci in his Broadway revival of Lend Me a Tenor) is working hard to raise money for the shows.  Uptown! Alliance raised funds for the building. Upown! Knauer Performing Arts Center is also home to the Resident Theatre Company (rtcwc.org), a New York professional theater company. May Spamalot jam a lot.  

Meanwhile, in Manayunk.

The ShoeBox Short Theatre Festival will unleash 26 short plays at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center, March 31-April 2. Info: shoeboxcompany.org.

Welcome back

to Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, N.J. Closed for two years, the 67-year-old theater is back as a nonprofit. First offering: the musical Footloose, opening June 23.

And hello over there

to the Colonial Playhouse (colonialplayhouse.net) in Aldan. It's putting on Bruce Norris' Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Clybourne Park through March 25. Cheryl Knoell of West Chester writes that "the subject matter was timely [racism], the staging decent, and the acting very competent. . . . The venue is humble and the staff and cast are enthusiastic and welcoming."

Onions and peaches.

The Abington Friends School theater program has been led for 20 successful years by Megan Bellwoar Hollinger. In his second year on the faculty is Seth Schmitt-Hall, who's bringing the technological ingenuity. For Pippin last year, he created a "blooming onion" design that could expand into a gypsy caravan and stage set, then fold up and be taken off for a bare-stage final scene.

For James and the Giant Peach this month, Schmitt-Hall, along with Joe Daniels, tech director at Inis Nua, Azuka, and elsewhere, designed a rotating stage on which the peach could roll uphill or downhill and scenes could change. "We're at a point of tech theater where it is evolving faster than textbooks can write about it," Schmitt-Hall says. "But you can't let it take over. If I design a set and the people, when they're leaving, are saying, 'What a set that was,' I have failed. I try to design for the actor in that space."

Can't wait to see:

The Laramie Project (Steel River Playhouse, Pottstown). March 17-19 and March 23-26.

'Tis Pity She's a Whore, a free reading by Philadelphia Artists' Collective at Broad Street Ministry. 7 p.m. Monday, March 20.

Recommendations? Comments?

Email me. Put "Theater Beat" in the subject field. Louise Shaffer of Mount Laurel writes to applaud the brave, controversial Ragtime at Cherry Hill East High School: "I just saw it last night, and it's hard to believe it is a high school production."

jt@phillynews.com

215-854-4406 @jtimpane

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