Subscriptions became available today for Studio Theatre’s 2016-2017 season which features Three Sisters, No Sisters, Michael Kahn directing Caryl Churchill and Tom Stoppard writing on human consciousness. Studio intends to announce an additional play for both the Main Series and for Studio X in the near future.
Cloud Nine, Churchill’s disquisition on sexual identity and oppression, will open the Studio season later this year. Kahn, the Washington Shakespeare Company’s longstanding artistic director, returns to Studio to helm this adventure, one of Churchill’s most experimental. Act I is set in colonial Africa in the 1990s, and is about a domestic drama in the Administrator’s house; Act II is in London, eighty years later, and some of the same characters appear, having aged only twenty-five years. What was racial oppression in the first Act becomes sexual oppression in the second. “The evening’s subject is sexual confusion, and Miss Churchill has found a theatrical method that is easily as dizzying as her theme. Not only does she examine a cornucopia of sexual permutations – from heterosexual adultery right up to bisexual incest -but she does so with a wild array of dramatic styles and tricks,” Frank Rich observed in a 1981 review, concluding “Miss Churchill…is one daft writer.”
Studio will follow Cloud Nine with Whorl Within a Loop, a semi-autobiographical account of playwrights Sherie Rene Scott and Dick Scanlan’s (co-authors of Everyday Rapture) experience teaching writing in a maximum security prison. (Inmates Andre Kelley, Marvin Lewis, Felix Machado, Richard Norat and Jeffrey Rivera provided additional material.) “[I]t’s hard to listen to their stories without sorrow over how their early experiences — of poverty, abandonment, drugs, neglect — may have (must have) shaped their trajectories,” Christopher Isherwood of the Times observed. “And to sympathize when the Volunteer simply but eloquently describes their narratives as ‘stories about guys who’ve lost their lives, but are still living.’”
Stoppard’s The Hard Problem is next up. This 2014 play, Stoppard’s first in nine years, asks this question: is there such a thing as human consciousness, apart from the mechanical workings of the brain? Put another way: is altruism anything more than a survival mechanism? The Hard Problem, Newswork’s Howard Shapiro says, “is nothing less than you would expect from Stoppard at his best: an intellectual barrage of ideas and arguments surrounding them, in this case tied together by a plot that seems incidental but ends up masterfully illustrating the concepts.”
The Sergeyevana family in Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters have hard problems of their own: although Olga, Masha and Irini dream of happiness in love and life, they are bound to disappointment — in part due to the weakness of their brother Andrei, who owns the home in which they live. Veteran director Jackson Gay, a professor of directing at Yale, will helm this production. Gay is a founding member of New Neighborhood, a theater and television company which will co-produce the production with Studio.
At the same time Three Sisters is performed on the Studio mainstage, Aaron Posner’s No Sisters will be running in Studio X. Posner, whose updating of Chekhov masterpieces The Seagull (Stupid Fucking Bird) and Uncle Vanya (Life Sucks) have won him national attention (his take on The Merchant of Venice, District Merchants, will open at Folger at the end of this month), here examines the rest of the Sergeyevana household, all of whom have problems of their own. Cast from Three Sisters will also appear in No Sisters. (Probably not the sisters, though.)
Other planned Studio X productions include MotherStruck by Staceyann Chin and Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Chin’s story is a solo account beginning with her early years in Jamaica, where her greatest fear was that she would become pregnant outside a stable relationship. Later, she discovers that she is a lesbian, and then, in Brooklyn, finds that she wants to have a child — as part of a stable relationship. The Village Voice’s David Spencer says, “this cathartic bullet-train ride is a confessional narrative about finding oneself. And as with rail travel, ticket holders should come prepared to get on board and heed the conductor.
Straight White Men is a story of a father and his three sons, one of whom is inexplicably bereft. “I assumed that the play…was going to be harshly satiric when I saw it last year at the Public Theater in New York,” Charles McNulty of the L.A. Times said, but “The play’s four straight white men…are portrayed without a trace of venom.”
Dates for productions have yet to be announced.