September 14, 2013

My Annual Idiosyncratic Fall Theater Preview

Between you and me, I’m a little reluctant to list the shows I’m most looking forward to this fall.  That’s because my picks for past seasons have turned out to be some of my biggest disappointments (Patti LuPone in the anorexic The Anarchist, an underwhelming Brian F. O’Byrne in the befuddling If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet) and so I don’t want to jinx my favorites this year.

Besides this fall is shaping up to be even stranger than usual. Only a handful of musicals are opening on Broadway (producers seem to be saving the biggies for spring so they’ll be fresh in the minds of awards voters; so extra kudos to those behind BIG FISH, which will give us a chance to see the always-welcomed Norbert Leo Butz). Meanwhile,  just a couple of new straight plays will bow on the Great White Way before the end of the year (making me even more grateful than usual for the off-Broadway companies like Playwrights Horizons, MCC Theater and Lincoln Center Theater). 

Still, what kind of theater blogger would I be if I didn’t join in the traditional fall preview ritual? So here goes. 

The season’s hottest tickets are largely revivals, most of them starring big names: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen teaming up to do Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT and Pinter’s NO MAN’S LAND in rep; Ethan Hawke taking on MACBETH, backed up by a trio of badass male witches.  And here are three other shows that I’m equally eager to see:

THE GLASS MENAGERIE: If I could only see one show this season, it would be this one.  I’ve loved Tennessee Williams almost as long as I’ve loved theater and his masterpiece memory play about his overbearing mother and frail sister almost never fails to move me. This production, which officially opens on Sept. 26, stars Cherry Jones as the mother Amanda, Celia Keenan-Bolger as the sister Laura and Zachary Quinto as Tom, William’s stand-in for his younger self. It’s directed by the always inventive Steven Hoggett and the word of mouth about last spring’s Boston run was rapturous. 

THE FILM SOCIETY: Jon Robin Baitz’s drama about a film club at a South African high school during that country's apartheid years only played 33 performances when it opened off-Broadway in 1988 but it moved the then 26-year-old playwright to the head of his class. The always-dependable Keen Company is giving the play its first major New York revival, opening on Oct. 1 with a cast lead by Euan Morton and Roberta Maxwell. And as his subsequent work for both TV and the stage has continued to make clear, you can count on Baitz to appeal to both the heart and the head.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM: There will be so much high profile Shakespeare on the boards this season—Hawke’s MACBETH, two-time Tony winner Mark Rylance’s acclaimed duo of TWELFTH NIGHT and RICHARD III, two ROMEO AND JULIETS (a Broadway production with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad as the young lovers and a Classic Stage Company version with Elizabeth Olsen as Juliet and T.R. Knight as Mercutio) plus an all-female JULIUS CASEAR at St. Ann's Warehouse—that’s it’s hard to choose just one. But I’m going to go with Theater for a New Audiences’ production of one of the Bard’s best loved comedies because it will mark Julie Taymor’s first directorial outing since her ill-fated tenure at Spider-Man and this play’s mix of fantasy and reality should be right up her alley. Plus there will be the chance to see the company’s new Brooklyn home when the show opens on Nov. 2.

Still, the biggest thrill for me remains the chance to see new works cause new plays are the way we’ll get the classics of tomorrow. I’ve already caught a couple—FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN, a drama about the unlikely friendship between the boxer Muhammad Ali and the comic actor Stepin Fetchit that opened at the New York Theatre Workshop on Thursday, and MR. BURNS, the futuristic tale centered around The Simpsons TV show that opens tomorrow—and I hope to get a chance to tell you about them in later posts. In the meantime, here are three more new ones that have piqued my curiosity:

THE JACKSONIAN: Like just about everyone else, I’m looking forward to seeing the hottie husband-and-wife team of Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in Harold Pinter’s infidelity-drama BETRAYAL when it opens next month in a new production directed by Mike Nichols. But I’m just as excited about the also-sexy married duo of Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, who are starring in Beth Henley’s latest dark comedy.  It’s set in a Mississippi motel that gives the play its name and at a time when that state reluctantly began to desegregate, which should give the play its bite. The New Group Production is scheduled to open on Nov.7.

DOMESTICATED: Race was the central issue of Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play about 50 years of demographic changes in a Chicago neighborhood. Now, Norris is taking on gender politics, from marital infidelity to sexual identity—in this new work, which stars Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf and opens at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater on Nov. 4.

ONE NIGHT: Thirty years have passed since Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play opened in a Negro Ensemble Company production that included Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson as soldiers in a segregated Army regiment during the Jim Crow era and then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Now Fuller is back with a new show, opening at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater on Oct. 30, that looks at the contemporary complexities of being a woman in the military.

O.K. That does it.   Now let’s keep our fingers crossed that we’ll be just as excited about all these shows—and others—after having seen them.

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