Gold Anniversaries? 

Three local theater companies hope so, celebrating with parties and pumped-up productions

The baby of the group — the Firehouse Theatre — will celebrate its 10th year with a gala event Oct. 17, dubbed “Red, Hot & 10!” Whatever the temperature is at their anniversary party, the company’s season already is generating heat, thanks to its opening show, “Bat Boy: The Musical” (opening Sept. 4). This bizarre musical follows the improbable tale of a half-bat, half-human found in a cave in West Virginia. His funny/tragic story hardly seems the fodder for a feel-good toe-tapper, but the show caught fire off-Broadway in 2001, winning multiple critics’ awards. Adding intensity to this production will be two of Richmond’s finest actors: the ubiquitous Scott Wichmann as the Bat Boy and Jill Bari Steinberg as his love interest.

These Broad Street banditos won’t stop there: In November, the Firehouse will extend its ongoing relationship with cutting-edge playwright Israel Horovitz with a production of his boxing drama “Fast Hands.” While only 10 years old, the Firehouse seems to be gearing up for a feisty adolescence.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Chamberlayne Actors Theatre (CAT) is reaching into its back-catalog to add some appeal to its 40th season. Since its transition from an amateur to a pro company four years ago, CAT has struggled to gain any street cred as anything more than a glorified community theater. So the company will produce four shows this season that are reprisals of popular shows from its past, hoping perhaps to find clearer focus in the familiar.

Considering the shows CAT has chosen, a challenge will lie in attracting top-drawer talent. From its season-opening “Dracula” to “On Golden Pond” planned for next June, it has picked shows dependent on dynamic leads. Without any star power, these shows will be as exciting as a faded memory. To celebrate their anniversary, the company is throwing a dinner party/auction/interactive mystery at the John Marshall Hotel Sept. 19. Forty is the ruby anniversary, by the way. Undoubtedly, CAT hopes this ruby year will mean riches for them.

Finally, celebrating a legitimate golden anniversary will be the Barksdale Theatre, which officially came into existence in 1953. The company is a little vague on how it plans to celebrate this landmark. The problem may be difficulty in figuring out what exactly to celebrate: Although the company formed 50 years ago, it only performed for private groups at first and didn’t produce a full season of plays until 1955.

But rather than quibble about the past, this is a time to revel in the present as the revitalized Barksdale offers its most exciting season since nearly folding three years ago. Starting with “To Kill a Mockingbird” in October, the company is mixing compelling classics with contemporary gems like “James Joyce’s The Dead” and Lanford Wilson’s “Fifth of July.” The Theatre Gym series is also being folded in under the Barksdale banner and will offer event-level productions of new plays like Suzan-Lori Parks’ Broadway sizzler “Top Dog/Underdog.”

Fifty may be a big round number but it seems to be bringing back some edge to the Barksdale. And anniversary or not, that’s something worth celebrating. S

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