Theater J, long a dominant company in Jewish theater throughout America, will offer a 2016-17 season full of plays about dominance under attack — including a perhaps surprising choice: Lucas Hnath’s The Christians.
The Theater J season begins with The Last Schwartz, Deborah Zoe Laufer’s riotous visit with a dyspeptic, and dysfunctional, clan gathering itself together to observe the one-year anniversary of their paterfamilias’ death. What starts out as a traditional yahrzeit becomes a grueling death march, involving, among others, one brother who is not quite there and another’s girlfriend who is not quite dressed. “There’s nary a dull moment in this crisp, often very funny X-ray of hereditary dysfunctionality,” said Dennis Harvey of Variety. Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr makes his area directorial debut with this one. From September 7 to October 2, 2016.
Hnath’s much-acclaimed The Christians is next. Starting November 16, the Theater J main stage will become an Evangelical Church and the beloved Pastor Paul will deliver the sermon of his life — one which proposes that non-Christians can enter Heaven through good works, and that Hell does not exist. His congregation loves him, but is unmoored by this theory, decidedly novel to their religion. I saw its premiere in 2014 at the Humana Festival and called it “the best thing I saw at Humana, and the only one to tackle a moral dilemma” in this review. Through December 11, 2016. Gregg Henry directs.
Theater J brings back some raucous, authority-wrecking old friends, The Kinsey Sicks, for the holiday interlude. Hunter Styles, reviewing their last election-year visit for DC Theatre Scene, drew this conclusion: “I say we accept these four lovely ladies for who they are. All the glitter and glamour, the high heels and big egos, the shrewd pokes and the rude jokes… It might be just what we need to take back America.” From December 20-28 of this year.
Theater J starts out the new year with Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, a play in which the physicist Werner Heisenberg, famed for developing the uncertainty principal, meets his mentor, Niels Bohr in the afterlife and they both review their mysterious meeting in that city in 1941, Of course, the greatest uncertainty about Heisenberg was whether he used his position in the German nuclear energy project to deliberately discourage Hitler from trying to build an atomic bomb, and the two, plus Bohr’s wife Margrethe, go through numerous versions of the meeting, apparently uncertain of what actually happened. Elyse Sommer of CurtainUp called it “without a doubt the most cerebral play you’re likely to find on Broadway this season, or any time soon, the sum total of its parts equals a thrilling theatrical experience.” From January 3 to 29, 2017; Eleanor Holdridge directs.
Theater J continues on the high academic track with Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why, an intense, deeply personal debate between a brilliant graduate student and her much-lauded professor about biology and destiny in the human female. Sylviane Gold of the New York Times called it ” a smart, densely textured work about men and women, love and conflict, genes and destiny.” Shirley Serotsky will direct this work, which will run from February 15 to March 12 of next year.
Brighton Beach Memoirs, Theater J’s next offering, is on a decidedly different track. This is a semi-autobiographical story about fifteen-year-old Eugene , who wants to write or play pro baseball but whose depression-era family struggles to achieve more humble goals. Reviewing the play in 1983, Frank Rich of the New York Times noted, “Mr. Simon makes real progress toward an elusive longtime goal: he mixes comedy and drama without, for the most part, either force-feeding the jokes or milking the tears. It’s happy news that one of our theater’s slickest playwrights is growing beyond the well-worn formulas of his past.” Brighton Beach Memoirs will run under the direction of Matt Torney from April 5 to May 7, 2017.
Theater J will conclude its season with a seldom-produced play from one of the great masters. Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass is about Sylvia Gellburg, who one day in Brooklyn reads about Kristallnacht and loses the use of her legs. “A kind of spiritual detective story, Broken Glass pokes and probes the Gellburgs’ troubled lives and marriage and eventually gets to the bottom of the mystery,” says David Richards of the New York Times. Aaron Posner will direct Broken Glass, which runs from June 14 to July 9 of next year.
“I’m delighted to share this season with Theater J’s audience,” said Adam Immerwahr. “These are terrific plays that celebrate and grapple with the human experience…I am thrilled to present them with DC audiences in my inaugural season at Theater J, as we welcome the entire community to Theater J.”
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