What can you expect to see at Shakespeare Theatre Company next season? Plays by Shakespeare, of course. However, you will also have a chance to see the work of Stoppard and Cervantes, Molière and Pirandello, David Ives and Alexis Piron. (Alexis who? I’ll explain in a moment.)
There will be plays directed, of course, by Artistic Director Michael Kahn. There will be a play directed by the current Associate Director and one by a past Associate Director of STC. There will be a play directed by a Commander of the British Empire and one directed by a Knight in Arts and Letters of the French Government.
Today, STC officially reveals its 2014-15 season. (Wow, and it’s only just turned February!) I got a preview of the announcement during an interview with Mr. Kahn late last week, as well as a glance at a press release and a letter to subscribers detailing the six-play season.
AS YOU LIKE IT
This is the one that will be helmed by a CBE. Michael Attenborough (son of the film actor and director Richard Attenborough, who won an Oscar for directing Gandhi) ran the Almeida Theatre in London until last year and served as Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company before that. Kahn said he’s been trying to lure Attenborough to direct at STC for “a very long time.” It will be the “fourth time we’ve done it since I’ve been here,” and each of the four productions has been “quite different.” As You Like It was the play Attenborough wanted to do, and the Lansburgh is where he wanted to do it. Attenborough sees it as “a very personal and intimate play” that would fit best in the smaller of the STC spaces. Kahn told me that he was surprised at Attenborough’s choice from the canon, but that he is happy to give him the opportunity to do the play he most wants to direct.
Shakespeare’s last play will be directed by former Associate Director of STC Ethan McSweeny, who has been directing for STC roughly every other season in recent years, between obligations in New York (on Broadway last season with A Time to Kill) and at regional theaters around the country. Noting that McSweeny’s last Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was “a truly magical production,” Kahn called it “perfectly fitting” that McSweeny will now tackle “Shakespeare’s most explicitly magical play.” The Tempest will play in Sidney Harman Hall.
The non-Shakespeare slice of the season has a distinct Continental cast, beginning with the The Metromaniacs, the final part of what STC is describing as “David Ives’ trilogy of French verse comedies.” Ives’ Venus in Fur was the most frequently produced play in the country last year. Hot off of that distinction, and a New York revival of his breakthrough play All in the Timing, Ives returns to STC where his adaptations of The Heir Apparent and The Liar were monster hits for the company. In those cases, Ives was reclaiming nearly forgotten French comedies. This time, he goes one better, as this will be the first time that this play by Alexis Piron, which was a great success in its day (the 18th century), has been translated into English. Kahn will direct the world premiere of Ives’ adaptation in the Lansburgh and promises that “David and I are planning on having a lot of fun together.”
MAN OF LA MANCHA
STC has ventured twice into the realm of musicals based on classical sources, first with Mary Zimmerman’s production of Candide, and this season with Alan Paul’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Paul, STC’s Associate Director, will next season bring the long-running Broadway take on Don Quixote and the life of its author Miguel de Cervantes to the Harman. Kahn calls it “by my reckoning, the best adaptation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote in any medium” and points out that Cervantes and Shakespeare are believed to have died a day apart. I asked Kahn if, like other Shakespeare festivals well to our North, STC is going to include a musical every year. “We’ll never turn into Stratford,” he replied, “We’re going to see whether a musical fits into who we are.” Last year was an “experiment” that produced a good result. They will “do it again this year and decide” what place the occasional musical might have at STC. But don’t hold your breath for A Chorus Line.
Molière’s classic take-down of false piety will have as its director the French-born Dominique Serrand. He was a founder of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which began in Paris before moving to Minneapolis, where it won the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2005 and ceased operations in 2008. Though the play is satirical, Kahn notes that Serrand’s take will be “quite dark, a much darker vision of that world, not Commedia on any level.” Tartuffe will run in the Lansburgh. Steven Epp (STC’s production of A Servant of Two Masters) will play the title role. (STC isn’t ready to announce any other season casting.)
Kahn will direct, in the Harman, Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of the Pirandello classic, sometimes translated as Henry IV or Emperor Henry IV. Promising “Stoppard and Pirandello and a little bit of Michael Kahn,” Kahn described the play as “a real surprise — you don’t have any idea how it’s going to end.” He also pointed out that, while the first act is quite funny, the play becomes “dramatic and violent.” This will be the DC premiere of Stoppard’s version.
I asked if the STC Presents series will be as robust next season as it is this season. Kahn told me to expect that it will be, but that there is nothing yet to announce. They are “speaking to three other organizations” about bringing work to the STC stages, but contracts have yet to be signed. “Dates are always a problem,” and, in one case, visas also need to be worked out. However, he was “extremely happy to bring Mies Julie” here, he told me, mentioning one of this year’s presentations.
Next season will be yet another without one of the big four tragedies, and I asked if that was intentional. Kahn told me no, that “it really depends on the availability of the people who should be playing those great parts” and that he is “talking to people about those roles” for future seasons. Dismissing the idea that some plays can be presented too frequently, he said, “I don’t think you can see one of those plays with an extraordinary actor too often.” It may feel as if there is over-saturation, but “if someone can bring something quite extraordinary to it, they bear repeating.”
This season, Kahn did a play at Studio Theatre (Torch Song Trilogy) and a play at Signature Theatre (Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill). Will he be directing outside STC next season? “Nobody’s asked me. I think I’ll be spending a little more time teaching.” Maybe a year from now he’ll consider working somewhere else, but not next season. Besides, his twofer away from STC wasn’t intentional, “it all just happened oddly enough” that two outside projects fell into place this season. “I’m not sure I want to do four plays a year again. I had a very good time doing them, but I’m doing a bear of a play now [Henry IV, Parts I and II]. I enjoy working at other theaters and would be very happy to do it again if it’s a project I want to do.” He added slyly, “It’s very nice not to be the boss.”
And speaking of being the boss, I reminded Kahn of Margaret Thatcher’s famous response to a question about her tenure as PM, to which he countered, “I’m not going to go ‘on and on and on.’” That said, about succession in general, Kahn said, “I’m not very good at that kind of planning for myself. I’m aware that the time is coming. We haven’t as a theatre made any decision yet. Nobody seems to want me to go.” He continued by saying that his is “a job anybody would want. I never planned to stay this long.” He then summed up his succession plan as “hoping when I leave that the theatre is in such good shape that anyone would jump at this job and that the Board will have the ability to attract whoever they want.”
One of the enjoyable aspects of a conversation with Michael Kahn is to hear a story from his remarkable career. While we were discussing Man of La Mancha, he told me that he has a “personal funny history with it.” While La Mancha was being developed at Goodspeed Opera House, Kahn was directing a companion piece, a musical based on Sean O’Casey’s play Purple Dust, which included a number of the members of the team also working on La Mancha, including its leads Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, so “I was around the creation of La Mancha and have a personal connection to the piece early in my career.” He was witness to the birth of the long-running hit “as mine went down the tubes, into the toilet,” in part because everyone was “lavishing so much on La Mancha.” Purple Dust never made it beyond East Hampton. Cue “The Impossible Dream”…
New and renewing subscribers can purchase this season by calling the STC box office at 202.547.1122, option 2. Online renewals will be available shortly. Tickets for the general public will be available at a later date. Learn more here.