Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Season to Announce Seasons

The month of March has arrived, and with it the season announcements from many of Chicago's theatres. I always love season announcement time--it's so full of possiblity. Plenty of these shows won't end up being what we hope they will, but for now, 2010-11 is a glorious maybe.

So to fuel that expectation, here are season announcements from three companies: The Goodman (which announced a few weeks ago), Lookingglass, and Remy Bumppo (both of which announced yesterday), along with some commentary from me.

First up is the Goodman, which has announced three of the five plays being done in the larger Albert and two of the three for the more intimate Owen. Here's what they have to say:

Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book Adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
New adaptations from Voltaire by Mary Zimmerman
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman,
Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein
Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Starts September 2010
In the Albert Theatre

Tony Award and MacArthur "Genius" Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman's breathtaking new production of Candide is the theatrical event of the season. In addition to the music of Leonard Bernstein, Candide features contributions from the greatest lyricists of the 20th century, from Richard Wilbur to Stephen Sondheim. In this racy musical satire, naive Candide is banished for romancing the Baron's daughter, only to be plagued by a series of absurd hardships that challenge his optimistic outlook of life and love.

Okay, as I've mentioned previously on this blog, I don't think that Candide will ever work. Period. Too much plot, zero character depth, impossible to make the tone work. Unfortunately, Leonard Bernstein wrote some of the most gorgeous music ever for the show, so people keep trying. (Note the huge number of collaborators listed.) Mary Zimmerman is the real wildcard here: I've never seen her work on a play she didn't write that wasn't by Shakespeare (though supposedly she is adapting this one to an extent), and opera and satire are not genres she usually works in. It's an open question whether her distinctive style will mesh with the play at all. But I am certainly curious to see how it turns out. Also, you're not allowed to call something the event of the season before it opens. Hey, at least nothing is listed as "Broadway-Bound" for this season.

By Regina Taylor
Starts January 2011
In the Albert Theatre
A World Premiere

Rain is Regina Taylor's most personal and intimate work to date. Fiercely independent Iris has made a successful life for herself as a journalist in New York City, but when her marriage fails, she begins to unravel. In search of solace, Iris returns to her mother's house in Texas, but her homecoming proves more confounding than consoling when her mother makes a shocking announcement. As long-buried family secrets come to light, Iris must face her past and make some difficult decisions about the future.

Taylor has a long history with the Goodman, with some productions doing much better than others, but she generally goes for something worthwhile, even if she doesn't reach it. The plot description doesn't give much to go on, so I'm not sure what to think.

Stage Kiss
By Sarah Ruhl
Starts March 2011
In the Albert Theatre
A World Premiere Goodman Theatre commission

In this quirky new comedy by MacArthur "Genius" Award-winner Sarah Ruhl, art imitates life—or is it the other way around? When ex-lovers HE and SHE are thrown together as romantic leads in an outrageously dreadful melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage begins to follow them offstage. Stage Kiss is a hilarious, off-beat fairy-tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss—or when actors share a real one...

Ruhl has her passionate attackers and defenders, and this looks likely to confirm their opinions. It's described as both "quirky" AND "offbeat," which may overload the whimsy for some. However, it does look like a fun idea, and Ruhl's the It Girl these days, so a premiere of hers is certainly a coup.

The Seagull
By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Robert Falls
Starts October 2010
In the Owen Theatre

Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls directs an intimate new production of Chekhov's masterwork The Seagull, whose unforgettable characters reveal the passion and pathos of everyday life. When famed actress Irina visits her family with her young lover Trigorin in tow, they become ensnared in a tragicomic tangle of romance, intrigue and unrequited love. Don't miss this unique opportunity to experience a 20th century masterpiece, interpreted by one of America's outstanding directors.

As has been mentioned, The Seagull is not a 20th century masterpiece at all, as it was written in 1895. Chekhov is also not hard to find on Chicago stages, so I'm not sure it's a show the Goodman really needs to do. But it sure is a masterpiece, and I'd be interested to see what Falls does with it in the more intimate Owen. I'm also curious as to the translation being used.

By Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by May Adrales
Starts February 2011
In the Owen Theatre
A World Premiere Goodman Theatre Commission

Outrageous. Ruthless. Explosive. Named "Best Provocative Playwright" by The Village Voice, Thomas Bradshaw pulls no punches in his comic absurdist drama Mary. At the height of what Time magazine dubbed "AIDS hysteria" in 1983, college student David invites his boyfriend home to his parents' house in Virginia where nothing has changed since the 1800s—including the slave quarters. Confronting hypocrisy and oppression with exhilarating wit, Bradshaw's incendiary work is "likely to leave you speechless!" (The New York Times).

Bradshaw is a proud provocateur, and this looks like no exception. The description makes me really want to see what they hurl at us. I believe this is Bradshaw's first production in Chicago, so we'll either see lots more of him or never see him again. Bring it on.

Here's the three-play season just announced by Lookingglass Theatre, all to be performed at their home in Water Tower Place.

Peter Pan
Adapted for the Stage by Amanda Dehnert
From the books by J.M. Barrie
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Begins October 20, 2010

We’ll start by igniting your childhood imaginations with the timeless story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Amanda Dehnert, a nationally-known director with singular vision, will direct her original adaptation of Peter Pan, based on the books by J.M. Barrie. Bombastic, playful, and darkly comic, Dehnert’s adaptation brings innovative theatricality, aerial arts, and a soulful understanding of yearning and regret to this legendary adventure of pirates, fairies and fantasy.

As Rob Kozlowski said, this is a no-brainer for Lookingglass, and it's amazing they've never done it before. Amanda Dehnert's a director with a great reputation, and a really lovely person--we knew each other slightly at Northwestern, where this play was workshopped last season. I'm pretty excited.
 Ethan Frome
Written and Directed by Laura Eason
Adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton
A World Premiere Lookingglass Original
Begins February 23, 2011

In winter, we’ll warm ourselves with a smoldering adaptation of Ethan Frome, a novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton. Ensemble Member Laura Eason, recently hailed by the Chicago Tribune as Chicago’s next breakout playwright, will direct her adaptation of this deeply poetic story about fervent desire, illicit passion, staggering regret and the irreversible choices that shape the life of a reticent farmer in Starkfield, Massachusetts.

I'm wondering how this novel, which is apparently very small-scale and psychologically acute, will work on stage, particularly such a large one, and in a company with a reputation for physical storytelling. We'll see, I'm intrigued. That said, I'd love to see a bang-up stage version of Wharton's The Age of Innocence, which has huge potential. Get on that, playwrights of Chicago.

The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
Written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar and Abbie Phillips
Directed by David Kersnar
Begins June 1, 2011

We close our season with an original story about a spirited woman in the twilight of her life directed and co-written by Ensemble Member David Kersnar. Now in her 87th year, Lilith Kadison (Lilka) is struggling to reconcile with her distant son, fend off ghostly visitations from her irreverent artistic partner and lover from 1939 Poland, and relinquish her independence to Menelik Moses, an Ethiopian caregiver. A classic hoarder of both objects and memories, Lilka now faces the universal dilemma of what to cling to and what to let go in this powerful piece about art and survival, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison.

Looks interesting--hopefully it will avoid the sentimentality that sometimes plagues tales of elderly people looking back on their lives. Still, it could be hugely moving if it works.

And finally Remy Bumppo, performing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center. They haven't put out an official press release that I've seen, but they've announced the titles.

First is Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, directed by Artistic Director James Bohnen. It's an interesting piece, about a woman, a journalist in a fictional African country, who finds herself in over her head. It's not often done in the United States (and when I read it years ago I didn't really get it), but Stoppard is always worth seeing, and Remy Bumppo does his work very well. I'm interested to rediscover it.

Next is Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Shaun Douglass. It's done frequently, sure, but it's been a while since it had a large-scale production in Chicago, and it's just so damn delightful. I haven't seen it recently, so I'm excited to go again.

In the spring of 2011, they're doing Edward Albee's The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia, about the fallout when a woman discovers her husband's four-hooved mistress. It's an odd choice--the Goodman just did the show in 2003, which makes this a little soon for another large-scale revival. But mostly it's just that I'm not a huge fan of the play. Albee's language is of course gorgeously and very witty, and the dish-breaking, vase-smashing second scene is always riveting, but I just don't think there's as much to the play as many do. To me, it reads like Albee saying "goat-fucker" repeatedly and getting respect anyway because he's won three Pulitzers and is a living legend. I just don't see the profundity. But I'd be willing to have my mind changed.

That's all for now, but I'm sure more announcements are to come. When they do, meet me here.


Monica Reida said...

I'm curious to see how Ethan Frome plays out because I've read it and it doesn't seem like prime material for the stage.

But I still don't see what the big deal is with The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? for the reasons you listed. (Goat-fucker. That is all.) (No, I'm not calling you that, Zev.)

Zev Valancy said...

The impression I've gotten is that the novel is small in scale (basically three people and one room) and the action is mostly internal rather than highly plotted. Would you say that's accurate? Are there other reasons it might not work onstage?

And I think we discussed "The Goat" the very first time we met and basically agreed about it.

Monica Reida said...

That is an accurate description of Ethan Frome and what would mostly keep it from not working is a not-full-fledged sex scene that's really just metaphors being used because it was written in the early 20th century. All you really need to know about that scene is this: red pickle dish. I hope you get the idea.

If you read the scene in the book, it helps to either have your head in the gutter or to be an English major. So, I don't know how it would work on stage because that scene is fairly important.

We did discuss The Goat when we first met. I remember you yelling "goat-fucker."

Anonymous said...

I wanted to briefly respond to your comment about Zimmerman's Candide:

In many ways, Candide is right in line with her work. Episodic, journey-centric narrative (think Pericles or Argonautika); Potential for huge spectacle; Large cast; Ambiguous time/setting. And, to briefly correct you, Zimmerman does have extensive experience with opera. She has directed a number of productions for the Met in New York, as well as Philip Glass's Galileo Galilei at the Goodman.

That having been said, I don't at all disagree with you. I have extremely mixed feelings about Zimmerman's work, and Candide is a show that rarely, if ever, actually works... It will be an adventure to be sure!

Zev Valancy said...

Anonymous--You're right on about Zimmerman working in opera. I have no idea how I forgot about the shows she did at the Met. She doesn't have much experience I know of with Broadway musicals, but Candide is such a strange show that I don't know what would give someone the ability to direct it well.