It all went according to plan.
Last summer, Natasha Williams and Ryan Case built Balagula Theatre's first full season of shows as a quartet of existential, absurdist fare. They put together some of the greats of the genre — Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean-Paul Sartre — culminating with Arthur Kopit's Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, which opens Sunday.
The 50-year-old Kopit classic fit in perfectly at the end because it was a play Kopit wrote at age 23 after traveling to Europe and seeing the work of the masters. It's also a delirious satire to close a season that started in the purgatory of Beckett and eventually went to the hell of Sartre.
But, according to Williams and Case, things went much better for the theater, which is based out of the restaurant Natasha's Bistro and Bar.
Staging an actual season "was the best thing we could have done for the theater we have in terms of presence, solidity and understanding our community," Case says.
"It was a risk to do a season of existential, absurdist theater. But we found the community was hungry for a risk like this."
Williams says, "Lexington is a very sophisticated town with a cultured audience that can be very artsy, and therefore we can be very daring."
Natasha's has been presenting theater since 2004, when it put up a production of Michael Blieden's Phyro-Giants. Since then, the company has produced a steady stream of shows plus a series of "surprise theater" events where plays popped up in the restaurant during evening meals.
For 51/2 years, though, the theater simply operated play to play, never making the formal step of announcing a season of shows.
The 2009-10 season was part of a process of Case and Williams establishing the theater as a permanent entity, a process that has included securing grants and giving up their day jobs.
Williams is closing Props Gallery, the shop she and Case operated at Main Street and Esplanade, to concentrate on the theater.
"We had to ask the question, is theater our life to the degree that we are ready to drop everything else and do it," Williams says, "and not doing it as a hobby or part-time, but full-time theater?"
There will be another season of four shows, but it has not been selected. In addition, the theater wants to do more with the classes it has offered, become more active in helping other groups produce theater and hit the road.
Balagula has taken productions to Morehead and Harlan. It also participated in and won the Kentucky Theatre Association's community theater competition and placed second at the Southeastern Theatre Conference's competition this season.
"That gave us a lot of confidence that we could go there and win," Case says. "And we won with Beckett."
The season just presented was also an affirmation to the theater directors that they could do more in the space than just plays like their 2004 production of Phyro-Giants. The conceit of that play was that it was a play set in a restaurant being performed in a restaurant.
Since then, Natasha's expanded by putting in a newer, larger stage that has served the theater as well as musical performers, comedy troupes such as Extra Crispy and other theater companies such as Paragon Music Theatre's popular cabarets.
Oh Dad, they say, will ramp up the theatricality of the space.
The play centers on outrageous Madame Rosepettle (played by Case), who travels to a tropical resort with her Venus' flytraps, pet piranha, neurotic son and the stuffed corpse of her husband.
"After 50 years, our perceptions of what is absurd have changed," Williams says. "Now, it comes out as a dark, interesting, funny play that is more smart than absurd."
Case says, "It is more like a Twilight Zone, a very, very funny Twilight Zone."
He adds that Oh Dad is a more accessible show to wide audiences than some of the other plays this season at Balagula.
As for next season, Williams and Case say they are figuring out what they want to do.
They aren't inclined to declare any sort of theme and then look for plays to fit it.
"What we will probably do is find the plays that we really want to do and then we'll see a theme that runs through them," Case says.
That, for now, is the plan.