After bringing audiences to tears with a critically-acclaimed production of Sarah Kane’s disturbing commentary on intimacy, Cleansed, Nicole Stodard and her Thinking Cap Theatre are doing an about face.

The company opens its latest show, Love Burns

“Reactions were all over the map,” Stodard says of Cleansed. “Our audiences left crying and emotional, others were stunned, some just didn’t get it.”

The company made a conscious decision to offer the comedies as a result: “You can do Cleansed show after show, but it’s very heavy on the soul,” she explains.

Vogesang’s plays, Date with a Stranger and All About Al, both take place in a New York coffee shop. Stodard saw the opportunity to create an experience for audiences, transforming Empire Stage’s intimate space into a coffee shop.

And in keeping with the company’s “Plays with a Bite” theme, during intermission audiences can purchase espressos and pastries right on stage, thanks to an arrangement with a local vendor.

Audiences will get another treat, performances by Mark Della Ventura and David Michael Sirois, both accomplished local actors and playwrights known for their work with Alliance Theatre Lab in Miami-Dade.

“With all of the theaters that are closing up lately, we felt it would be good to have some cross-pollination,” says Stodard. “(Mark and David) wanted to work outside of their company and we share a philosophy about what theater can be. We’re keeping it fresh.”

In addition to Love Burns, Thinking Cap is also producing Radio Plays at Empire Stage, a series of radio scripts from the golden age of radio, including material from Fibber Magee & Molly, The Bickersons and Burns and Allen, performed by the Imagination Players with voices and sound effects faithful to the original works.

This show, which will run Saturday afternoons and Sunday evenings and alternating with Love Burns, was the brainchild of Thinking Cap company member Elayne Wilks, and is expected to be a hit with audiences who seek the nostalgia of an era before IMAX and giant flat screen televisions, when listeners had to visualize the action themselves.

Popular local actress Kitt Marsh directs the four-person company, including Wilks, Berry and Fern Katz and Jerry Weinberg.

So, after tackling the challenging works of Sarah Kane and then offering experiential comedy, where does Thinking Cap go next? Stodard has a plan. She expects to turn to “restoration comedy” and the works of Aphra Behn. Behn is not a household name, but rather the first woman to make a living as a playwright in 17th-century England.

“Most people think of Virginia Woolf as the first, but Behn really was there first,” Stodard says. “In her time period, that’s when actresses could take parts for the first time.”

Behn’s work is certainly heavily female centered, but not feminist by contemporary standards, but Stodard says the exercise will help her young company continue to push boundaries while offering compelling stories.

She says, “We don’t do risky theater just for the sake of risky theater.”

Love Burns by Cherie Vogelsang

Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.

through May 26

Tickets $25

Radio Plays

Wednesdays at 2 and 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Through May 26

Tickets $15

Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler St., Fort Lauderdale

Cash only at the door

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