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Sunday, November 9, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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ACT schedules five-play 2004 lineup

Seattle Times theater critic

Thanks to an artistically and financially rewarding 2003 season, and lifesaving gifts of cash from individual donors, ACT Theatre has shaken off enough of its financial doldrums to plan a vigorous five-play roster for 2004.

ACT artistic director Kurt Beattie says next year the company will open its season in June with the world premiere of "Alki," a historical drama based on Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" that is set in the Pacific Northwest in Gold Rush times and later.

The script, by noted playwright and "Law & Order" scriptwriter Eric Overmyer, was originally commissioned by ACT. It will run June 4-June 27, 2004, at the theater.

The season will also feature several Seattle premieres of nationally noted scripts.

Among them is Matthew Barber's award-winning Broadway romantic comedy, "Enchanted April," which is based on the novel and film of the same title (July 16-Aug. 8).

Also on tap: Seattle author Steven Dietz's "Fiction," a tale about a married writing couple who find revelations in one another's diaries (Sept. 24-Oct. 17); and Jane Martin's "Good Boys," an explosive study of two fathers of teenage boys caught up in a bloody high-school shooting (Oct. 22-Nov. 14).

A rendition of Tom Stoppard's mind-bending philosophical comedy, "Jumpers" (last professionally produced here in 1975, at Seattle Repertory Theatre), is scheduled as well (Aug. 27-Sept. 19).

In addition, ACT will mount the annual FringeACT Festival of new plays by Seattle area writers next spring, and its perennial holiday production of "A Christmas Carol" in winter.

According to managing director Susan Trapnell, strong box-office returns in 2003 are helping the company dig itself out of debt and uncertainty.

"We've had a very good year in terms of meeting or exceeding our budget on the revenue side, and (staying within) our expense projections," she said.

ACT sold roughly 85 percent of available seats for its five-play subscription season this year, taking in over $100,000 more than anticipated. Thanks to those ticket sales, and crucial donations of labor and cash, Trapnell says the theater will have paid off $700,000 in accumulated labor and merchant bills by the end of December.

Still, there are serious financial challenges ahead. ACT must also pay down a $1 million bank line of credit it borrowed. A recent personal gift of $500,000 to ACT from Boeing Chairman Phil Condit will help whittle down the bank debt, according to Trapnell, but it will take several years or more to retire it completely.

And ACT wants to woo back the many season subscribers it has lost the past year. Subscription sales plummeted from 9,500 in 2002, to 7,500 in 2003, partly because of the theater's hazy future and late promotional campaign.

Trapnell notes that ACT will continue to proceed with economic caution in 2004, keeping show-runs to 3-1/2 weeks (a week less than in 2002), and its annual budget flat at $3.9 million.

But she and Beattie are much encouraged by the warm audience and critical kudos ACT has garnered for such recent hits as Edward Albee's "The Goat" and Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten."

"The actors and other artists loved working here this year," reports Beattie, a veteran Seattle producer and performer who became ACT's artistic head last March. "And I got a lot of feedback from patrons who were very pleased with the experience of going to ACT this year.

"That really stoked our engines. And it made us feel that ACT is genuinely prized and loved by a lot of theatergoers."

Subscriptions go on sale Dec. 1. For information, call 206-292-7676 or go to www.acttheatre.org.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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