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Redemption that old, favorite theme of dramatists and playgoers everywhere -- will be getting quite an airing in Buffalo's theater district this spring.

Tonight, Road Less Traveled Productions opens its ambitious staging of "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," a play that examines the fate of one of the most reviled traitors in history and asks piercing questions about which sins are possible to forgive.

And next door, starting on Thursday, the Irish Classical Theatre Company will open its own production in which redemption takes center stage: Conor McPherson's acclaimed 2004 ghost story "Shining City."

In a change of pace, the Irish Classical's directors, Fortunato Pezzimenti and Vincent O'Neill, decided to hand over the reins of the production to an out-of-town director with whom the company hasn't worked before. Gordon McCall, a professor at Purdue University in Illinois, who has extensive credits in the United States and Canada, where he served as the artistic director of Montreal's Centaur Theatre for 10 years, has been whittling away at McPherson's script with the cast for more than a month of rehearsals.

The play, which is set in a psychologist's office in Dublin, stars Chris Kelly as the shrink and O'Neill as his recently widowed patient, along with Kelly Meg Brennan and Michael Renna. To hear McCall tell it, the play mixes elements of the classic ghost story with the edge-of-your-seat intrigue of television crime dramas, all in the service of these themes: "redemption, the pursuit of redemption and recovering from loss."

"[McPherson] is a great storyteller in the great Irish tradition of storytelling, so he can spin a yarn very well," McCall said. "I think the beautiful thing about his writing is that we can be, as audience members, the CSI investigators trying to see how quick we are. It's what I love most about good plays that pull you forward in your seat and give you enough to go, 'Oh, oh, oh, OH! I figured it out!' I think that's a great pleasure for an audience."

As a director, McCall said, he takes a structured approach and insists on understanding every facet of the characters' lives and circumstances. He begins by doing 30 separate readings of the script, each time with a specific question in mind. He said his Socratic approach to directing, though it may seem unusually scientific on its face, affords the cast a confidence that allows their interpretations of the characters to be truly spontaneous and free.

"I am a huge believer that great freedom of imagination comes out of structure, comes out of really specific analysis. Fortunately, so are all these actors," he said. "And if we've done our work well, we've hidden all the structure. It's all sublimated. That's the goal."

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A new season

The Irish Classical Theatre also announced its upcoming season last week. It will open Sept. 8 with a production of David Hirson's "La Bete," which runs through Oct. 2. Next is Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of the Henry James story "The Turn of the Screw," which runs from Oct. 20 to Nov. 13. The theater will kick off 2012 with a production of "The Hostage," by Brendan Behan, from Jan. 12 to Feb. 12, after which it will mount the comedy "Fish Out of Water," the second in its series of newly commissioned Irish plays. After that, Edward Albee's acclaimed play "A Delicate Balance" will take the stage from April 19 to May 13, 2012.

Finally, "Da," Hugh Leonard's 1978 drama, will close out the season from May 31 to June 24, 2012. The season also will include a special engagement, the return of "James Joyce's The Dead: A Christmas Play with Music," December dates to be determined.

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

"Shining City"    

WHEN: Thursday through May 22    

WHERE: Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St.    

TICKETS: $32 to $42     INFO: 853-4282 or www.irishclassicaltheatre.com