GLOUCESTER — Laughter and redemption are at the top of the playbill for Gloucester Stage's 2012 summer season, which includes the staging of five works from home and abroad.
"Every one of these pieces is smart and accessible and humane," Gloucester Stage Artistic Director Eric Engel said.
For more than three decades, Gloucester Stage's productions have demonstrated that serious theater can also be full of fun and laughs.
The upcoming season includes award-winning plays, as well as a rarely performed musical.
The season opens June 14 for a three-week run of "Round and Round the Garden," the third part of "The Norman Conquests" trilogy by Alan Ayckbourn. The production, like the first two parts staged here in 2010 and 2011, will reunite Academy Award nominee Lindsay Crouse with her onstage cast family members, Sarah Newhouse and Steven Barkhimer.
Crouse, who has long had real family ties to Cape Ann, received a best supporting actress nomination for her performance alongside Sally Field in the 1984 film "Places in the Heart." Newhouse's credits include "Saturday Night Live" and Barkhimer's include both the Gloucester Stage 2009 production of "The Woman in Black" and the 2010 film "The Fighter."
Ayckbourn, a British playwright who received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010, created the plays as a trilogy, though each is crafted to stand on its own. Gloucester Stage has already presented the first two plays, "Table Manners" and "Living Together."
"The third piece is the icing on the cake. It's fun and arguably the best of the plays," Engel said. "There's no question you get a bonus if you saw the first two, but each of the plays covers some of the history, so this is a wonderful play in its own right."
The story for the trilogy revolves around a weekend reunion of adult siblings and their spouses, including Norman, a womanizing librarian played by Barkhimer, and Sarah, the character played by Crouse who tries to hold the family together.
In addition to Crouse, Barkhimer and Newhouse, other returning cast members are Richard Snee and Barlow Adamson.
The rest of the season
July 5-22: The musical "Carnival" is a rarely performed work that features a love story, spirit-lifting melodies and soul-searching ballads. One well-known song is "Love Makes the World Go 'Round."
The show is based on the 1950s film "Lili." The story is about a young orphan girl who goes to the carnival in hopes of finding work and falls into the carnival life — the good, the bad and the ugly, Engel said.
"She falls into a world with the puppets by accident," Engel said. "That's one of the sideshows, and her rapport with the puppets is so delightful and magical that she draws a crowd. It will be a fun show for kids because there are some lighthearted fun numbers with the puppets."
July 26-Aug. 12: The coming-of-age story "Master Harold and the Boys" by South African playwright Athol Fugard comes to stage. The apartheid-based work depicts the relationship between a white teenager and his family's black servants. The cast features Johnny Lee Davenport, recipient of the 2011 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Actor.
Aug. 16-26: The psychological thriller "Nine Circles," winner of the prestigious Mimi and Harold Steinberg Playwriting Award and based on actual events, is described as a raw, emotionally charged quest for salvation set against the backdrop of war.
"Nine Circles," written by a Jesuit priest, tells the story of a young American soldier on trial for his life. The production was originally presented by Boston's Publick Theatre in 2011.
Aug. 30-Sept. 16: The season's final play, "Crimes of the Heart," is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Drama Critics Circle Award. The story follows three southern sisters as they confront life head-on in this humorous and bittersweet family drama.
Engel also noted that two special play reading events will take place later in the summer, featuring local favorites.
Paula Plum will perform in the reading of "Miss Price," and Nancy Carroll and Will Lyman will perform in the reading of "A Fine Bright Day Today."
Single tickets, play passes and special event tickets for the 2012 season are available for purchase by calling the Gloucester Stage Box Office at 978-281-4433 or visiting www.gloucesterstage.org.