The Westport Country Playhouse opens its 2011 next week with Christopher Durang's comedy "Beyond Therapy."

For the theater's 81st season, the playhouse Artistic Director Mark Lamos has put together a line-up of plays designed to showcases an iconic American playwright, a contemporary drama and "comedy of manners." Even the Bard makes an appearance in October when Lamos stages William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night, Or What You Will," which will be directed by Lamos.

He will also direct Terrence McNally's "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" this summer.

"I know I have a strong season when I want to direct every show," Lamos said. "I have to find plays that I've fallen in love with."

Previews of the plays will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, to Friday, April 29, with "Beyond Therapy." The opening night is 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30.

Lamos feels responsible for offering local audiences a variety of theater genres. In choosing the plays, he said he is mindful that these might be the only five shows that someone will see between May and October. "It's part of my job to visit as many different possible plays and musicals," he said.

It's also important to make each season different from the previous year's offerings, he said. For example, this year's season doesn't include a musical because two -- "She Loves Me," staged by Lamos, and "I Do! I Do!" -- were produced last year.

Stephen Sondheim's musical "Into The Woods" is already scheduled to open the 2012 playhouse season next spring, though. Lamos said that it will be produced in partnership with Baltimore CenterStage.

Lamos said he also plans to stage an original play in the upcoming seasons at the playhouse.

The goal was to attract as many different segments of the community to the Westport theater, said Lamos, who took the helm two years ago. He he has developed several special events and programming designed to engage different age, economic and social groups to "lose any feeling of elitism," he said.

"I believe that the theater is for everyone, young and old," he said. "I wanted to make sure that our doors are open to everyone. Everyone should feel welcome here because they are."

One of the successful initiatives that drew crowds last summer was the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Night Out and the Young Professionals Network series. Both events include pre-show cocktail parties and entertainment along with the theater ticket.

The Westport Country Playhouse also holds a Sunday Symposium to give audiences an opportunity to listen to a guest speaker's commentary about a play he or she recently experienced. Whenever it's possible, the playhouse tries to bring in the playwright because people are interested in learning about the writer's process, inspiration and future projects, said David Kennedy, assistant artistic director at the playhouse.

Along with helming the Sunday Symposium, Kennedy is also the director of two plays this season, "Beyond Therapy" and Tennessee Williams' bittersweet drama, "Suddenly Last Summer."

Nicholas Martin, who directed a revival of "Present Laughter" on Broadway last year, will take the reins of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Circle."

Lamos believes audiences will enjoy Martin's take on this comedy of manners. "He's done this kind of comedy of manners," Lamos said. "It's a stylized piece. You need to have a director who understands the nuances of the time and the style of a comedy of manners."

Touting one of the benefits of purchasing a playhouse subscription, Managing Director Michael Ross said that people have the opportunity to sample different theatrical styles.

"This season there are five different journeys that they're going to take us to, and you don't want to miss out on any of them," Ross said.

Ross is pleased that subscription sales are up 10 percent higher over last year's end-of-season tally. "This is exciting because the season hasn't even officially started yet," he said.

In addition, the theater's renewal rate is 89 percent and the overall industry average is only 72 percent, he said.

Ross and Lamos said WCP's administrators are thrilled to build the audience. "People are coming on board with us because we've delivered some good seasons," Ross said. He also said that the economy's positive trend has affected box office sales.

"People are back to going out and they enjoy getting some dinner at the Dressing Room next door and then heading over for a relaxing evening of theater," he said. "Let's face it, the playhouse definitely plays an important role in the Westport community."

For information about the Westport Country Playhouse, go to www.westportplayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177.