September 17, 2016

My Usual Idiosyncratic Fall Theater Preview

Maybe we're all still suffering from a Hamilton hangover but excitement about the upcoming theater season seems more muted than it has in past years. Still, the new shows are beginning to open and like every other theater lover, I've begun drawing up a list of the ones I don't want to miss.

What I've discovered as I read through the press releases and fall previews is that it's not so much the descriptions of the new productions or even the names of the actors who are starring in them that have piqued my interest this year. Instead, it's all about the playwrights for me.

So here are five new shows by writers whose previous works have amused, inspired, infuriated or otherwise grabbed me by the throat in the way that good theater should and whose new works I can hardly wait to see:

All the Ways to Say I Love You by NEIL LABUTE. Few playwrights are more prolific than
LaBute or more divisive for the people who see his work. I can run hot or cold on LaBute but I'm never bored by him. In plays like Fat Pig, The Shape of Things and Reasons to be Pretty, he's pitted men and women against each other but this time out he's written a solo show about an ostensibly happily married woman and I'm curious to discover the secrets the promotional materials promise she'll reveal. Upping the ante is the fact that the woman is being played by the always-incredible Judith Light, who has won two Tonys and one Outer Critics Circle Award in just the past four years. The MCC production is scheduled to open at the Lucile Lortel Theater on Sept. 29.

The Harvest by SAMUEL D. HUNTER. Even though theater grew out of religious rituals, contemporary theater has all but abandoned the subject of religion. But not Hunter. The issue of faith crawls into nearly all of his plays, including The Whale and the recent The Healing, about a group of disabled people emotionally scarred by the childhood summers they spent at a Christian Science camp where they were told they would be cured if they prayed hard enough. This new one, which will have its world premiere at LCT3 on Oct. 24, is set in a small evangelical church in Hunter's native Idaho and centers around a young missionary who is grieving the recent loss of his father and preparing for a fateful trip to the Middle East. Hunter, the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, has a knack for larding even the most sober subjects with humor and I'm more than ready to return to his amen corner. 

Love, Love, Love by MIKE BARTLETT. It's hard to believe that the same guy wrote King Charles III, a verse play that imagines the future reign of Britain's current Prince of Wales; and Cock, a plain-spoken three-character drama about a man torn between romantic relationships with a man a woman. And yet both, each an Olivier Award winner, bear Bartlett's distinctive intelligence and commitment to a heightened theatricality that I find thrilling. So I'm really looking forward to his take on the 40-year relationship of a baby boomer couple, from their meeting during the summer of love in 1967 to the present day. It's scheduled to open at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre on Oct. 19.

Sell/Buy/Date by SARAH JONES.  Twelve years have passed since Jones' breakthrough show Bridge & Tunnel was a sold-out sensation when it played down at the Bleecker Street Theatre and later won Jones a special Tony when it moved to Broadway. I was knocked out by that multi-character solo show in which she assumed the accents and identities of people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Since then, she's become an outspoken opponent of violence against children, even becoming a special ambassador for UNICEF and so I'm intrigued by the prospect of her new show which is inspired by the lives of women and girls affected by the sex trade and opens at Manhattan Theatre Club on Oct. 18.

Sweat by LYNN NOTTAGE. The last time Nottage immersed herself in a subject, it lead to Ruined, her Pulitzer Prize-winning play about women ravaged by the civil wars in the Congo. Now, she has focused on ravages closer to home: the gutting of America's industrial sector and the good-paying jobs it offered. Nottage spent two years interviewing people in Reading, Penn, the poorest city in the country, and then filtered the stories she heard through her prodigious imagination to create a chronicle of where we are now that has already played as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's cycle of American history plays and opens at the Public Theater on Nov. 3. The timing, so close to the presidential election, makes this even more of a must-see.

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