Fall Theater Preview

When local theater companies began announcing their 2017-18 seasons, I was… surprised. There was serious talk this spring about a 100% cut to the National Endowment for the Arts, and I predicted that local companies would be pumped to make important statements via up-to-the-minute work that would be hungrily devoured by newly politicized audiences. The stage was set last year (sorry) with a series of plays tackling race in America: Trinity Rep did Brendan Jacobs Jenkins’ incendiary Appropriate, Epic did the raucous Bootycandy, The Wilbury Group did Straight White Men, and Burbage staged The Altruists, a searing play about the emptiness of the white left. (After seeing Appropriate, one local artist bemoaned the trend of plays about race with nearly all-white casts, which is fair but probably a separate discussion.)

This season, almost across the board, everyone is turning back to the classics. Could it be that the daily news is so depressing that people are sick of the present day? Or did those threatened cuts to arts funding rattle theater companies into choosing tried-and-true seat-fillers just in case their other funding gets cut?

Shakespeare will always be Shakespeare – that is to say, onmipresent – but honestly I was hoping for younger voices, more women playwrights, and stories that weren’t all conceived by dead (or elderly) white guys. It’s not that there’s not a lot to be learned from Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and Harold Pinter. But… I don’t know, maybe I’m just bieng too literal.

I combed through dozens of listings to assemble this list, and here are ten shows from ten companies that I’m genuinely looking forward to this fall. Just a reminder: pledges at the $75 and $401 levels will get you a ticket to a press preview of one fall production.

In chronological order:

Galileo  (Bertolt Brecht) [pictured]
Burbage Theatre Company, Providence
August 24 – September 16
Burbage Theater Company is first out of the gate this year with Brecht’s 1938 play about Galileo’s heretical teachings about the solar system. It’s also Burbage’s farewell to Aurora, as the multi-use downtown space is shutting down in October.

An Iliad (Lisa Peterson & Denis O’Hare)
Contemporary Theater Company, Wakefield
September 8 – October 27
Contemporary Theater Company kicks off their season with a one man, one musician update of Homer’s classic anti-war tale. Set on an empty stage, the production will happen outdoors in September before moving into the black box space for October. Matt Fraza plays the storyteller.

King Lear (William Shakespeare)
Out Loud Theatre, Providence
Out Loud artistic director Kira Hawkridge cast her own father as King Lear in Shakespeare’s tragedy about an aging king driven mad by the greed of his daughters. (Hmmm!) It’s the final show in Out Loud’s year-long look at various types of madness.

Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett)
Counter-Productions Theatre Company, Providence
Counter-Productions kicks off their season with Beckett’s famous modernist play, an absurdist story where two men wait and wait and wait for someone named Godot. First produced in 1953, it’s a classic that I think was last done locally at URI in 2010.

Skeleton Crew (Dominique Morisseau)
Trinity Rep
October 1 – November 22

One of the most recent plays being performed this fall, Trinity Rep’s production of Dominique Morisseau’s 2016 off-Broadway hit looks at a Detroit family impacted by the Great Recession.

Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber)
Granite Theatre
October 20 – November 19
I have to confess I haven’t really gotten around to visiting Granite Theatre yet, but the consistent raves for their productions definitely have me intrigued. Plus they’re doing Jesus Christ Superstar, probably Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most tolerable musical.

Red Speedo (Lucas Hnath)
Epic Theatre Company
October 27 – November 11
Set around a swimming pool, Epic Theatre Company decided to stage this 2012 sports drama about an Olympic hopeful quite literally. It’ll be performed around the pool at the Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club, which sounds like an acoustic nightmare but certainly interesting.

Neighbors (Branden Jacobs-Jenkins)
The Wilbury Group
A Classics professor’s life is uprooted when a family of black entertainers, the Crows, moves in next door. Jacobs-Jenkins’ first play, a comedy about minstrelsy, features black actors performing in blackface. (The New York Times described its 2010 premiere at the Public Theater as “one of the most sustained shocks of this theater season.”)

Crimes of the Heart (Beth Henley)
2nd Story Theatre
November 17 – December 17
Last year was a creatively rocky one for 2nd Story Theatre, but I’m hoping things pick up with Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer winning comedy about three Mississippi sisters, one of whom is a murderer.

Gabriel (George Sand)
Head Trick Theatre
Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, a French writer who dressed as a man used the pen name George Sand, wrote Gabriel in 1839. It’s a play about a woman raised as a boy in seventeenth century Italy, who must decide how to live as an adult.