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A seasoned cast covers both sides of the bay in Tampa Repertory's 'Flying'

HIGH HOPES: FLYING

In the 1940s, the military knew women weren't cut out to be pilots — except when they were. Flying, St. Petersburg playwright Sheila Cowley's examination of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), combines that history with a love triangle, when the marriage of two pilots is tested by a war buddy. It's Tampa Repertory Theatre's promising season opener. "They have all returned to their small town and are trying to adjust to post-war life, having had this incredible opportunity and liberation experience," said Becca McCoy, who plays former WASP pilot Susan. "As our director put it, the play is really about that space between what used to be and what is not yet." Justin Smith, best known for television roles in The Vampire Diaries, Underground and A Good Day to Die Hard, plays the injured serviceman who comes to stay with Susan while waiting for her husband to return from the war. Rosemary Orlando and Holly Marie Weber round out the cast, and Robin Gordon, who directed Tampa Rep's Hamlet, directs this one.

After a preview Tuesday, the show opens Sept. 20 and runs through Oct. 1 at Studio Theatre at Hillsborough Community College-Ybor, corner of E Palm Avenue and N 14th Street (Avenida Republica de Cuba), Tampa. Then the theater will perform Flying an additional weekend at the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. Oct. 4-7 at the Studio@620, 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. $25; seniors, students and military $20. For showtimes, go to tamparep.org.

PUNGENT AND POPULAR: DISGRACED

Due to the influence of Hurricane Irma on dress rehearsals, the Heather Theatre has amended slightly this weekend's opening of Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer-winning play. Friday's scheduled opening date has been moved to 3 p.m. Sunday. In the play, corporate lawyer Amir Kapoor, a native of Pakistan who would just as soon leave that part of his life behind, hosts a dinner party with his wife, Emily. The amicable gathering of Manhattan professionals takes a sharp turn over a nephew's immigration troubles, which exacerbate long-simmering issues of family, culture and religion.

"The issues and themes of the play are immediate and current," said director Ward Smith, who is also the Heather's artistic director. "This play feels at times like you're observing a hotly contested jiu-jitsu match. … The language grows more testy, tempers begin to flare and you have the unsettling sense that someone is going to lose his or her balance and take a hard fall. You're just not sure who it's going to be." Sunday through Oct. 1 at 8313 W Hillsborough Ave., Suite 250, Tampa. $25. (727) 709-5026. For showtimes, go to heathertheatre.org.

DUE DATE: RENT

While other shows have changed Broadway and will again, RENT is still on any Top 10 list of influential musicals. Jonathan Larson's darkly joyous homage to the creative underclass echoed Puccini's La Boheme while bringing AIDS front and center to the performing arts entertainment capitol. Now the 20th anniversary tour is coming through Tampa. If anything, the show is more relevant now than it was two decades ago, said Marlies Yearby, who was nominated for a choreography Tony award for her work, citing the divisiveness and polarization of the current social climate. "There's something about RENT," Yearby said. "When you get that call to come back and do RENT, it's like you go back to touch a familiar friend or re-birth a baby that is important. When the show lives and is embodied correctly, it moves you. It just moves you. Every time I step back into that space to re-experience that, I walk away with something." Tuesday through Sept. 24 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $31 and up. (813) 229-7827. For showtimes, go to strazcenter.org.

 
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