By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published Sep 10, 2009 at 8:18 AM

Not to get all sugary on you here, but Next Act Theatre is launching its 20th season on several sweet notes. Producing artistic director David Cecsarini declares "Mary's Wedding," the first play in the lineup, "a sweet piece that has an effect on people when they read it. They often cry."

The show opens Friday night in the Off-Broadway Theatre in the Third Ward for a run through Oct. 11.

Subscription ticket business for Next Act's four play season is also sweet, with the sales goal reached earlier this year than last, according the managing director Charles Kakuk. Individual donations to the company are also on the targeted pace.

And the final offering of 2009-10, a drama titled "The Value of Names," was penned by veteran playwright Jeffrey Sweet.

"Mary's Wedding" is structured as a dream. "It shows us the innocent part of falling in love and then a coming of age, all in an hour and a half," Cecsarini recently explained. "Because of its dream form, the rules of time, space and identity are very fluid. The play takes you by surprise."

The unconventional format permits foreshadowing of events that the audience already knows and revisiting events before they have occurred. The two-character play begins at the end of the story and ends at the beginning.

"Light and sound are very important to the production," Cecsarini said. "It is very theatrical in nature."

"Mary's Wedding" is set in Canada between 1914 and 1920, with World War I looming large over it. The yarn is spun from a simple beginning -- a young couple meets while finding shelter from a thunderstorm in a barn. Edward Morgan directs a cast of Braden Moran and Georgina McKee.

The new Next Act season is featuring international playwrights, although Cecsarini said that was not consciously planned. "Mary's Wedding" author Stephen Massicotte is Canadian, as is Morris Panych, who wrote the company's second offering of the season, "7 Stories." The third production of 2009-10, "Purgatorio," was written by Chilean-American Ariel Dorfman.

With the season cranking up, the Next Act staff and board are scouring the Third and Fifth Wards for viable locations for a new theater. The company moved into its second floor Off-Broadway Theatre in early 2000, and the lease on the space will expire at the end of the upcoming season. While Next Act has an option to extend its stay to 2011, the rental fees would increase.

Kakuk said Next Act would like to find a new space large enough to accommodate 150 seats, an increase of 50 percent over the Off-Broadway's capacity. "We always envisioned this (the Off-Broadway) to be our transitional home," Cecsarini said. "Our next theater will be our final one."

The staff and board are hunting for an existing building in which a performance space can be built. If a new home is not ready a year from now, look for Next Act to perhaps spend part of another season in its present theater and / or rent venues from other stage companies.

Soul searching at the Boulevard

While Next Act is searching for a new theater, the Boulevard Ensemble is doing some soul searching about the theater building it owns in Bay View. The question: does the company want to keep it?

Founder and executive director Mark Bucher has discovered the downside of being a homeowner -- in this case a 50-seat storefront theater and a rental residential property behind it. He does not fondly recall shoveling the snow off the theater's roof last winter, and he is not enamored of being the company's handyman and bathroom cleaner as well as its producer, director, house manager, etc.

Bucher is the Boulevard's only full-time employee. Business manager Jane Wilke is part time.

"I'm 52 and I don't look forward to being up on the roof in the winter when I'm 53," Bucher recently said. "Those kinds of demands are very wearing. I still have something left in the tank, but I would like to do three shows a year and have a private life."

The building's upkeep requires a level of cash flow that is higher than only three annual productions can generate. A subcommittee of the Boulevard's board is studying options that include selling the theater. If that were to happen, Bucher said his company could produce shows in other venues, including non-traditional performance spaces.

The Boulevard's 24th season began in July with a staging of "As Bees in Honey Drown," which did well at the box office, according to Bucher. The rest of the season consists of "Clarence Darrow" Sept. 30 to Nov. 1; "The Marriage of Bette and Boo," Nov. 25 to Jan. 2, 2010; "All's Well that Ends Well," Feb. 3 to March 7, 2010, and "It's Your Mother," March 31 to May 9, 2010.

Speaking of non-traditional performance spaces, New York's Foundry Theater has come up with a novel one -- a tour bus. "The Provenance of Beauty" is a "poetic travelogue" performed on a bus that drives through a transitional neighborhood in the South Bronx. The audience listens on headphones to a script performed by a live narrator and two recorded voices.

The lively streets of the South Bronx provide the scenery and soundscape. "The Provenance of Beauty" is being presented on weekends through October.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.