What better play than Christopher Hampton’s witty comedy “The Philanthropist” to reactivate the stage of the original Margo Jones Theater? The elegant building and the play’s sophisticated repartee are a great combination in The Open Stage Theater’s lively production, running through April 5 at Fair Park.

The Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park, a sleek example of early Modernist architecture designed by William Lescaze in 1936, became the original Margo Jones Theater in 1947, when Dallas’ famed founder of the regional theater movement formed her pioneering Theater ’47 company and began producing world premieres of American plays in the Magnolia Lounge.

During her 10-year stay at the Magnolia Lounge, Jones’ arena-style staging helped to make theater-in-the-round popular in newly formed, intimate theaters throughout the country.

And the small building housed the world premieres of pivotal plays such as Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke”, William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs”, and “Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.

The small, unembellished building – located behind the massive, baroque-style Music Hall at Fair Park – was scheduled for demolition when the Friends of Fair Park, a non-profit organization currently directed by former East Dallas City Councilman Craig Holcomb, secured $700,000 in 1984 to restore the structure.

The building houses Fair Park’s Information Center and the Friends of Fair Park office, and it is available for rental to private and community groups. Non-profit organizations pay a lower rate, says The Open Stage’s Haskell Hestand.

“We actually came here on our first date six years ago,” says Hestand of wife and Open Stage co-founder Cynthia Hestand.

“We went to dinner and talked about theater and about Margo Jones and then drove over to Fair Park and found the building and talked more about theater.”

After their marriage, they formed The Open Stage in 1988. They have produced plays, under a contract with Equity, that have “not recently, if ever, been presented in the North Texas area and which address important issues of the day.”

You can see the show at 8 p.m. April 2-3 for $8 and April 4 for $12. Tickets are available 30 minutes prior to the show, or call 241-6631 for reservations. The theater is located at 1121 1st Avenue in Fair Park.

Arts Calendar

April 2-12 – Vivid Theatre Ensemble and Alley Theatre of Houston present David Feldshuh’s “Miss Evers’ Boys”, a searing dramatization of the infamous “Tuskegee Study” conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service in rural Alabama in 1932-1972. The play explores the lives of poor, black tenant farmers with venereal disease who are not treated, even after penicillin is available, so doctors can track the effects of syphilis on the human body. Featuring Akin Babatunde and Tyress Allen, the show is directed by Claude Purdy at the Dallas Theater Center’s Kalita Humphrey’s Theater. Tickets are $16; call 522-TIXX.

April 1-11 – “Amateurs”, by Tom Griffin, is Theatre Three’s chaotic comedy about a group of actors at an opening night party, starring Larry O’Dwyer. Miser matinee is $5 at 2:30 p.m. April 4; performances are 8:15 p.m. weekdays and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday (no show Mondays). Ticket prices range from $12.50 to $25. Call 871-3300 for information.

April 25 – Earth Day Celebration at the Dallas Museum of Natural History at Fair Park includes live entertainment and children’s activities, guest speakers and representatives from environmental organizations. For information call 670-8457.

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