Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Court Theatre Announces 2010-2011 Season

As seen on their website and elsewhere, the Court Theatre in Hyde Park has announced their 2010-2011 season. Court consistently produces some of my favorite shows of the year, and they look to be continuing that tradition. One interesting note: They are marketing the hell out of directors this year--rather than a picture depicting the play, they have a big headshot of the director. Fascinating. Below are descriptions with comments.

The Comedy of Errors
September 16 – October 17

by William Shakespeare
directed by Sean Graney

Innovative director Sean Graney (The Hypocrites) re-imagines Shakespeare’s funniest farce about mistaken identity, mental illness, and xenophobia. The story of two sets of twins separated at birth, The Comedy of Errors will be a theatrical event full of energetic slapstick and lyrical comedy, performed by six virtuoso actors. This season opener represents the next step in Graney’s exploration of classic farce at Court Theatre, following What the Butler Saw and The Mystery of Irma Vep.

I'm a big fan of Graney's (as I've said a dozen times by now), and I'm fascinated to see how he tackles this one. I actually don't know the play very well, but this clearly won't resemble other versions of it--I can't imagine the play has ever been described as a farce about mental illness before. Whatever it is, it's unlikely to be dull.

November 11 – December 12

by Samm-Art Williams
directed by Ron OJ Parson

Originally produced by the legendary Negro Ensemble Company in 1981, Home is an enduring and poetic story of hope and the resiliency of the human spirit told against the backdrop of the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s. In 2008, Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson) directed an Audelco Award-winning production of Home at Signature Theatre Company in New York, which the New York Times called “a portrait of the black experience…that finds a homey beauty not in suffering but in carrying on.”

Another play I don't know well, but it was very highly regarded twice in New York, so I'm interested to see it. And Parson casts really well, so even if the script is flawed, it's still going to be fun to watch.

The third play, running January 13-February 13, has not yet been announced, but Newell's directing it. My educated guess is that it will be a play that falls under a traditional definition of "Classic," as The Comedy of Errors is the only currently-announced play that does.

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
March 10, 2011 – April 10, 2011

adapted by Sarah Ruhl
directed by Jessica Thebus

Sarah Ruhl, one of American theater’s most exciting young playwrights, adapts Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending novel about sex, love, and history. Often called the longest love letter in literary history, Woolf’s Orlando tells the story of an English nobleman, Orlando, who lives for hundreds of years before falling asleep and waking up as a woman. Directed by longtime Ruhl collaborator Jessica Thebus (The Clean House at Goodman Theatre, Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Steppenwolf), Orlando demonstrates Court Theatre’s ongoing commitment to contemporary translations and adaptations of classic works.

I know the Sarah Ruhl haters will be out in force, but I can't help but be excited. Woolf's novel is a glorious mindbender, and among her most accessible, and I can't imagine how it would work staged. (While the film version, starring Tilda Swinton, is pretty exceptional, it depends on a lot of visual elements that couldn't be directly reproduced onstage.) And I think Ruhl's interest in formal invention (not to say whimsy) and cheerful disregard for realistic psychology would be a good fit for it. And Jessica Thebus (who remarkably has not previously directed at Court) knows how to stage a play. So I say bring it on.

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
May 12, 2011 – June 19, 2011

by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin
Directed by Charles Newell
Music Direction by Doug Peck
Artistic Consultant Ron OJ Parson

Porgy and Bess remains George Gershwin’s magnum opus, with an unforgettable score that includes songs (“Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) later recorded by popular musicians from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald. Coming off their 2008 Jeff Award-winning production of Caroline, or Change, Charles Newell and Doug Peck come face-to-face with one of the greatest—and most controversial—pieces of American music theater ever created. Often denounced as a racially insensitive portrayal of black southerners, Newell and Peck, in collaboration with Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson and an all-African-American cast, will present a thoughtful, never-before-seen retelling of Gershwin and Heyward’s “folk opera” Porgy and Bess, a classic but contested piece of American theater history.

And the real big deal of the season: the first musical at Court since Caroline, Or Change, with the same director and musical director, and it's one of the titans of American theatre and music. It's some of the Gershwins' greatest music and lyrics, but with a scale far beyond what most theatres can do (and you can bet this version will be a hell of a lot smaller than most opera company versions) and a portrayal of black life often seen as outdated and insensitive. It's a huge undertaking, but it's doubtless going to be something special. I can't believe they're making me wait until next May to see it.

1 comment:

Monica Reida said...

I'm not a big Sarah Ruhl fan, but I am pleased that they're doing a play that isn't as familiar to audiences as The Clean House or Dead Man's Cell Phone.

Graney's Comedy of Errors will be interesting to see and I'm certainly looking forward to it.