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Arts Desk won’t make a habit of reporting on season announcements this year—-there are, after all, more than 70 professional theater companies in the D.C. area. But Arena’s unveiling of its 2012-2013 slate is interesting for a few reasons. Briefly:
1) Tazewell Thompson‘s new play Mary T. and Lizzy K. is scheduled to run March 15 to April 28, 2013, after being dropped from the current season once it looked like funds from a federal grant program would dry up. That indeed looks like it’ll be the case: Odds are not great for the future of the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program, which President Obama’s budget suggests should be transferred to District control without specifying how much money should be in the pot. Yikes. But at least Mary T. and Lizzy K.—-the first installment of Arena’s multiyear cycle of plays about American presidents and their legacies—-lived to see another season.
2.) The first half of the season is very musical. The opener is Randy Johnson‘s One Night with Janis Joplin (Sept. 28-Nov. 4), which includes songs by the iconic blues-rock singer and her forebears. My Fair Lady follows (Nov. 2 to Jan. 6) and it’ll mark the third season in a row Arena has staged a very classic musical, which (I have to imagine!) can’t be a bad financial bet when you’re operating out of (I have to think!) a very expensive house. To wit: This My Fair Lady, directed by Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith, set the all-time box office record when it premiered last year at the prestigious Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. And Pullman Porter Blues features “14 original and classic blues songs” and is set to the backdrop of the 1937 Joe Louis/James Braddock bout. That runs Nov. 23-Jan. 6.
3) Collaborations and cultural exchanges abound. My Fair Lady premiered at the Shaw Festival, whose Jackie Maxwell directs Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire at Arena Feb. 1-March 10, 2013. Pullman Porter Blues is a co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre. Mary Zimmerman directs Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Metamorphoses, based on Ovid‘s myths.
4) #Newplays are still meme-worthy. Pullman Porter Blues and Mary T. & Lizzy K. are both world premieres.
The season also includes The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, one of Arena’s resident playwrights, and Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz.
From the press release, here’s the whole season:
One Night with Janis Joplin
Written and directed by Randy Johnson
September 28 – November 4, 2012 in the Kreeger Theater
With a voice like whiskey and a laugh like pure joy, Janis Joplin took the music scene by storm. Simultaneously rough and vulnerable, Joplin was dubbed the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll, proving music wasn’t just a man’s world anymore. Packed with classic songs (“Piece of My Heart,” “Summertime,” “Mercedes Benz”), the show also shines the spotlight on trailblazers who influenced Janis—like Bessie Smith, Etta James and Aretha Franklin. Now, in a new musical event featuring more than a dozen singers and band members, playwright-director Randy Johnson creates “a compelling portrait of an artist” (Culturemob) through the words, inspiration and music of one of America’s greatest rock ’n’ roll originals.
My Fair Lady
Based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner / Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Molly Smith
November 2, 2012 – January 6, 2013 in the Fichandler Stage
Just as Molly Smith’s record-breaking production of Oklahoma! was enthralling audiences at Arena, her fresh reinterpretation of My Fair Lady set the all-time box office record at the prestigious Shaw Festival in Canada. And now Molly is reassembling her creative team to bring this breathtaking musical to Arena Stage. When Professor Henry Higgins wagers he can transform a Cockney flower girl into an aristocratic lady, he never guesses that Eliza Doolittle will in turn transform him. Lerner and Loewe’s sparkling score includes such enduring favorites as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “The Rain in Spain,” “On the Street Where You Live” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Based on Shaw’s most incisive social satire, My Fair Lady is a joyful, crowd-pleasing celebration for the entire family.
Pullman Porter Blues
A world-premiere co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre
By Cheryl L. West / Directed by Lisa Peterson
November 23, 2012 – January 6, 2013 in the Kreeger Theater
Jam-packed with 14 original and classic blues songs, including “Sweet Home Chicago,” Pullman Porter Blues is the world-premiere production that reveals the true hero hidden within every man. It’s June 1937 and the Panama Limited, bound from Chicago to New Orleans, is bouncing to the beat of the rollicking Midwest blues. Most folks are tuned in to the Joe Louis/James Braddock championship bout, but the men of the Sykes family—three generations of porters—know there’s more at stake than just a boxing title, as they battle each other, racial tensions and an uncertain future. Will the hope they get from the Brown Bomber be the fuel this family needs to make a better life, or will progress tear them apart?
By David Lindsay-Abaire / Directed by Jackie Maxwell
February 1 – March 10, 2013 in the Kreeger Theater
Enter South Boston’s Lower End, where minimum wage is the maximum wage and hard work and sacrifice don’t ensure success. Facing eviction, single mother and mouthy “Southie” native Margaret Walsh reunites with an old flame who “made good,” hoping that his fortune can somehow improve her own. But not every man wants to relive his past, and with each surprising twist of their meeting they discover the dire costs the truth can hold. From Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) and named the Best Play by the New York Drama Critics’ Circle during its Broadway run, Good People is a “poignant, brave and almost subversive” (New York Post) drama about life in a broke and broken American town.
Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of
Based on the myths of Ovid
Written and directed by Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman
February 8 – March 17, 2013 in the Fichandler Stage
Back in D.C. for the first time since her smash hit productions of The Arabian Nights and Candide, and 10 years after this exquisite production stormed Broadway and earned her the Tony Award for Best Director, MacArthur “Genius” Mary Zimmerman returns with Metamorphoses. Zimmerman’s magical interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses proves myths about romance, family, loss and redemption never go out of style. Through lyrical storytelling and stunning imagery, Zimmerman constructs a wondrous world where gods and mortals interact in a giant pool on Arena’s famous in-the-round stage. These timeless stories—“powerful, moving, and funny” (Talkin’ Broadway) —ripple through the depths of imagination, reminding us of the transformative power of theater.
Mary T. & Lizzy K.
Arena Stage commission and world premiere
Written and directed by Tazewell Thompson
March 15 – April 28, 2013 in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle
Writer-director Tazewell Thompson (dir. M. Butterfly, Yellowman) stitches together an insider’s look at the unlikely friendship between First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and her talented seamstress, the successful freed slave Elizabeth Keckly. As one woman’s skilled hands work overtime, creating the most beautiful garments of her career, the other’s reality continues to slip ever further from her grasp. Old wounds and new recriminations explode in this riveting drama about loss, love and the importance of promises, both kept and broken. This world-premiere drama is the first commission of Arena Stage’s American President’s Project.
By resident playwright Katori Hall / Directed by Robert O’Hara
March 29 – May 12, 2013 in the Kreeger Theater
Hailed as “daring, rousing and provocative” by Entertainment Weekly, The Mountaintop is Katori Hall’s bold reimagining of the last night of the historic life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Exhausted from delivering a significant speech, Dr. King rests in his room at the Lorraine Motel when an unexpected visit from a feisty, young maid compels him to confront his own humanity and the fate of our nation. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Play, The Mountaintop’s “soul-stirring” (Variety) storytelling fuses theatricality with spirituality to reach a summit that will leave audiences breathless.
Other Desert Cities
By Jon Robin Baitz / Directed by Kyle Donnelly
April 26 – May 26, 2013 in the Fichandler Stage
After a six-year absence, Brooke Wyeth returns to her Reaganite parents’ Palm Springs enclave for the holidays. But the warm desert air turns chilly when news of her upcoming memoir threatens to revive the most painful chapter of the family’s history. Perception and reality grapple with love and mercy as old family wounds are opened, childhood memories are tested, and the Wyeth clan learns that some secrets cannot stay buried forever. Full of surprisingly touching moments, Pulitzer Prize nominee Jon Robin Baitz (A Fair Country) brings dysfunctional family drama to new heights in this witty, deeply enjoyable work NY1 called “one of the best new plays of the decade.”
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery