New artistic director Heike Hambley brings her experience, along with plans to raise the profile of Modesto's 'edgy' theater company

Prospect Theater Project's new artistic director won't change the Modesto company's focus on intellectual works.

Heike Hambley said she will stay on the path set by founders Jack Souza and Kathleen Ennis. (Ennis was artistic director this season and will continue as Prospect's managing director.)

"For me, Prospect is the little theater with the edge," Hambley said. "Not that it's not entertaining, but it's the thought-provoking theater."

Hambley, who lives in Merced with her actor husband, David, is well known in the region's theater community. She has worked as an actor or director with Playhouse Merced, the Merced College theater department and Townsend Opera Players, and founded and heads Merced Shakespearefest, which has staged free plays at Applegate Park every summer since 2002.

She also has acted and directed at Prospect, most recently playing a psychic in the May production of "Deathtrap."

Hambley was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and has worked as an educator for 38 years — both in Germany and California. She currently serves as a special- education teacher, working with emotionally disturbed high school students.

She hopes to lead Prospect for three years and raise the 70-seat Scenic Drive theater's profile in the community. She wants to increase publicity efforts and attract more 20-somethings by perhaps staging improv shows or live action versions of movies. Like many theaters across the country, Prospect's core audience is age 50 and up.

Hambley also wants to make the theater greener by using recycled paper for programs, using more energy-efficient light bulbs, serving organic free trade coffee and getting rid of plastic foam cups. She would like to have made significant progress on transforming Prospect into a more environmentally friendly place by Earth Day in April.

Prospect's 2008-09 season will feature five plays, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, a work by a top Irish playwright and dramas about science, the music business and an empty nester.

"We're looking at the roles people play in life and who they really are," Hambley said.

The season:

"Three Tall Women" — Sept. 26-Oct. 19. Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a lawyer, a caregiver and a rich, bitter and angry elderly matron. Grace Lieberman stars.

"The Physicists" — Nov. 21-Dec. 14. Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, known for the 1964 Ingrid Bergman film "The Visit," wrote this masterpiece of espionage and nuclear proliferation set in a mental institution. It pairs nicely with "Copenhagen," which Hambley directed at Prospect in 2006. "It's the other famous play about physics," she said.

"Molly Sweeney" — Feb. 20-March 15. From Brian Friel, one of Ireland's leading contemporary playwrights, this drama presents three viewpoints on Molly's life. Her husband, a blind woman and her doctor offer perspectives. Kathleen Ennis stars.

"Bach at Leipzig" — April 17-May 10. Berkeley native Itamar Moses' new brainy comedy explores the depths to which six 18th-century musicians will sink to pursue a coveted post. Just as David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" was about the cutthroat real-estate business, this is about the cutthroat music business. Shakespeare Santa Cruz is now presenting this play.

"This Day and Age" — July 10-Aug. 2, 2009. The recently widowed wife of a successful doctor decides to sell the family's lovely wooded estate on Long Island and move to New Zealand. The matriarch's adult children have other plans.

Season tickets to all five shows are $65; individual tickets are $15. Call 549-9341.