Famed authors behind the plays onstage in Orlando

Arts and CultureAuthorsDr. SeussAgatha ChristieArtMad Cow TheaterBob Carr Performing Arts Centre

Central Florida's theaters will be bursting with famous names during February — but they're names from the page, not on the stage.

Plays presented around the region will boast some of the most famed names in literature, from ancient Greek writer Homer to mystery queen Agatha Christie, from moralist C.S. Lewis to rhyming kids legend Dr. Seuss. Here's a look:

Jane Austen

Orlando Shakespeare Theater presents "Sense and Sensibility," which navigates the perils of courtship with the Dashwood sisters of southwest England. Jon Jory adapted the play from the 1811 novel by Austen, also famous for "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice." Austen grew up with six brothers and a sister, which may account for her witty observations on family relationships.

During her short lifetime — she died at age 42 in 1817 — Austen didn't receive acclaim for her works as they were published anonymously. But television and movie adaptations of her works have made her a contemporary pop-culture force.

"Sense and Sensibility" opens Feb. 8 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando. Call 407-447-1700.

Fun fact: We associate her with romance, but Austen never married.

Agatha Christie

For a woman who was painfully shy, Agatha Christie made her mark on the world: The "Guinness Book of World Records" lists her as the world's best-selling novelist, with four billion copies of her novels sold. Her "And Then There Were None," also known as "Ten Little Indians," is considered by publishing experts the best-selling mystery of all time.

Christie was a master of the English "cozy" mystery, in which murder usually is committed in a domestic setting and the emphasis is on using the clues to find the killer, not the blood and guts of the actual crime. Her most famous detectives, shrewd spinster Miss Marple and egocentric Belgian mastermind Hercule Poirot, have been memorialized in frequent film and television adaptations.

But Christie, who died in 1976, adapted her own books for the stage. "The Mousetrap" was based on one of her short stories and opened on London's West End on Nov. 25, 1952. It is still running today, making it the world's longest-running play. The story: A group of eccentric strangers are snowed in at a country boarding house with a murderer on the loose. Whodunnit? We'll never tell.

"The Mousetrap" opens Feb. 1 at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, 201-203 S. Magnolia Ave, Sanford. Call 407-321-8111.

•Fun fact: Agatha Christie was the subject of her own mystery after she disappeared for 10 days in 1926 after her marriage collapsed. She was eventually found in a hotel, registered under an assumed name, and she never explained what had happened.

Homer

Most scholars today believe that Homer lived in the seventh or eighth century B.C. Works by the Greek writer set up the ideas of persuasive writing and storytelling that underpin modern literature.

Orlando Shakespeare Theater will present a one-man version of "The Odyssey" as part of its Studio Series. Charlie Bethel, who previously adapted "Beowulf" into a one-man show, adapted "The Odyssey" from Homer's epic poem and will star in this, the world-premiere production.

Odysseus journeys across land and sea, through the underworld and to the very home of the gods as he seeks his homeland and his family. Shipwrecks, sirens, cannibalism, death and revenge all have a part to play in an adventure both comic and thrilling.

"The Odyssey" opens Feb. 14 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando. Call 407-447-1700.

•Fun fact: Homer was so revered that in the third century B.C., an Egyptian pharaoh dedicated a shrine to him in Alexandria

C.S. Lewis

He's best known for "The Chronicles of Narnia," the children's series that begins with a magical land in the grip of the White Witch in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." But C.S. Lewis, who died in 1963, also wrote more directly on Christian morality than in the allegorical Narnia series.

One such work, "The Screwtape Letters," has been adapted for the stage. A touring production will make a stop in Orlando on Feb. 2. The story's conceit: It's told from the point of view of the devil. A senior demon is instructing his nephew, a "junior tempter," on how to lure a man to sin. The nephew's successes and failures are marked through a series of letters, which entertainingly and pointedly reflect on the follies of humanity.

Max McLean adapted the book and directs the production, presented by the New York-based Fellowship of the Performing Arts. It has toured for three years and currently stars Brent Harris, who has experience with the dark side: He played Scar in the national tour of "The Lion King."

"The Screwtape Letters" plays at 4 and 8 p.m. Feb. 2, at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando. Call 1-800-745-3000.

• Fun fact: C.S. Lewis was friends with writer J.R.R. Tolkien and offered encouragement while Tolkien labored over "The Lord of the Rings."

Dr. Seuss

Hop on Pop; Fox in socks; I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I Am!

Theodor Geisel knew how to turn a phrase, as millions of children will attest. The beloved children's author wrote 46 books as Dr. Seuss, full of colorful crazy creatures, deliciously made-up words and ridiculous rhymes. Among his most famous creations: The Grinch and the Whos of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" fame, and the troublemaking Cat in the Hat.

Orlando Repertory Theatre will present the southeastern premiere of a new adaptation of "The Cat in the Hat." Katie Miller devised this version for the National Theatre of Great Britain. On a rainy day, the Cat in the Hat arrives in the house of two siblings while their mother is away. He brings with him the mischievous blue-haired Thing One and Thing Two — and chaos ensues.

"Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat" opens Feb. 16 at Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando. Call 407-896-7365.

Fun fact: While attending Dartmouth College in 1925, the age of Prohibition, a young Theodor Geisel was put on probation after he was caught drinking gin with friends.

Top playwrights

Call it a convergence of famous playwrights: On Feb. 8, plays written by four of theater's big names open across Central Florida.

Nilo Cruz won a Pulitzer Prize for "Anna in the Tropics," set in the cigar-making industry of Ybor City in 1929. It opens Feb. 8 at the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College in Winter Park (407-646-2145).

• Written by Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw at the turn of the 20th century, "Mrs. Warren's Profession" was at first banned in England because of its frank discussion of prostitution. It opens Feb. 8 at Orlando's Mad Cow Theatre (407-297-8788).

August Wilson wrote 10 plays detailing African-American life through the 20th century. One of the latest in his cycle, "King Hedley II," opens Feb. 8 at Seminole State College in Longwood (407-708-2040).

Neil Simon, whose "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is onstage at Mad Cow Theatre, gets a second production in Winter Garden. Beth Marshall Presents is staging "Biloxi Blues," a comic coming-of-age story, at the Garden Theatre (407-877-4736).

mpalm@tribune.com or 407-420-5038

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