Arena Stage will bookend its next season with two plays by John Strand: a reprise of his play about the late Antonin Scalia, The Originalist, and a new musical about a couple struggling to save their marriage in the Alaskan frontier, with a book by Strand. In between, Arena will feature plays about challenges confronted by Native Americans (Sovereignty), Japanese-Americans (Hold These Truths), and African-Americans (Nina Simone: Four Women and Two Trains Running) in America; a comedy by the fine local playwright Karen Zacharias; a classic Arthur Miller; and Robert Schenkkan’s sequel to All the Way. And also The Pajama Game.
Ed Gero will once again play Justice Scalia in The Originalist, the fictional story about the relationship between the tart-tongued conservative Supreme Court Justice and a liberal Harvard Law graduate who he has selected to be one of his clerk because he expects to enjoy the intellectual give-and-take. When DCTS reviewed the Arena production in March of 2015, we observed “If legal and political discourse, tightly drawn and mouthwateringly funny, is not your cup of tea you might go anyway to see some of the best acting in Washington.” The Originalist will run July 7-30 of this year; the Asolo Repertory Theatre and the Pasadena Playhouse will co-produce. Molly Smith will direct.
Arena will follow this up with Native Gardens, Zacharias’s new comedy (it debuted in January of last year) about a Mexican couple who move next door to an older, established white couple and get into a pitched battle about — a flower bed, which becomes more complicated when a dispute over the property line develops. Ethnicity, of course, is an underground river. “Zacarías manages to address many of our foibles – yes, most of us are guilty to some extent – without smacking us in the face with them,” said David Lyman of Cincinnati.com. “It’s the sort of approach that made ‘All in the Family’ such an unexpected success when it premiered 45 years ago.” Native Gardens, which former Round House Artistic Director Blake Robison will direct, will run from September 15 to October 22, 2017.
Hal Linden will appear as a mysterious auctioneer in The Price, Arthur Miller’s story of two sons who, in attempting to sort out the possessions of their late father, unexpectedly sort out their memories of him as well. “The Price is a slow-burn, a meticulous unwrapping of truth and consequences that erupts when past and present collide,” our Kelly McCorkendale said of a 2015 production of this play. “The result is a magnificent look into family—the drama, the dynamics, and the dysfunction.” Arena’s Deputy Artistic Director Seema Sueko will direct this production, which will run from October 6 to November 5 of this year.
And then for something completely different: The Pajama Game, George Abbott and company’s wild musical about love and union-management relations. The Sleep-Tite Pajama company’s new superintendent has fallen hard for the head of the union grievance committee. This is the musical that put the bed into featherbedding. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Alan Paul directs, and Helen Hayes Award-winning Parker Esse is the choreographer. The Pajama Game will run from October 27 to December 24, 2017.
Within that same time frame Arena will also be producing Christina Ham’s Nina Simone: Four Women. The story imagines the legendary Simone entering the bombed-out ruins of an African-American Church in the deep South. (Simone wrote the song “Four Women” shortly after racists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls). Simone, singing to the accompaniment of her brother’s piano, is soon joined by the Black female archetypes who Simone crafted into her song. “Ham’s writing is crisp and poetic,” Rohan Preston of the Minneapolis Start-Tribune said. Timothy Douglas directs this production, which runs from November 10 to December 24 of this year.
Arena will kick off the new year with the world premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Sovereignty, a story in which a young Cherokee lawyer, fighting for a restoration of her nation’s jurisdiction, is forced to confront her family’s past, and the nation’s. Nagle is herself both a lawyer and a member of the Cherokee nation. She is a partner in the Pipestem law firm, which has offices in Washington and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has litigated before the Supreme Court. She is also Executive Director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts program. Molly Smith will direct Sovereignty, which will run from January 12 to February 18, 2018.
The Great Society, Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to his enormously successful All the Way, will run between February 2 and March 18 of next year. In The Great Society, the wily, larger-than-life Lyndon B. Johnson simultaneously tries to prosecute an unpopular war and advance a historic social program while running a racially fraught nation. “[The Great Society is] impressive in its scope, surprisingly energetic and shines a bright, clear light on a pivotal moment in American history, as postwar optimism began to dim, as cracks in the polity became ever more apparent,” Charles Isherwood of the New York Times said. “I came away more impressed than I was with ‘All the Way’ — and, ultimately, more moved.” Kyle Donnelly, who direct All the Way at Arena last year, will direct this year, and Jack Willis returns as Lyndon Johnson.
Jeanne Sekata’s Hold These Truths, the true story of a man who defied the Japanese-American internment order, will be in the Kogod Cradle from February 23 to April 8 of next year. Gordon Hirabayashi refused to register as a person of Japanese ancestry — the preliminary step before internment — refused to join the military (he was a Quaker), and refused to sign a loyalty oath during the Second War. For this he was imprisoned; there were consequences later in life as well. “It’s a fascinating saga, drawing on the man’s own eloquent writings and Sakata’s extensive interviews with him and other research,” the Seattle Times’ Misha Berson wrote, “yet along with the appalling bigotry it re-enacts, ‘Hold These Truths’ is also surprisingly humorous and openhearted.” Jessica Kubzansky will direct.
The Seattle Repertory Theater will co-produce August Wilson’s Two Trains Running in the March 30-April 29, 2018 slot. Two Trains Running, the seventh in Wilson’s ten-play Hill District cycle, is set in 1969 and tracks the struggle of an African-American restaurant owner to get a fair price from the City, which he anticipates will claim eminent domain over his property for urban renewal purposes, and the efforts of a recently-released inmate to engage the community in a civil rights effort.
Strand’s new musical, which includes music by Bob Banghart and Georgia Stitt and lyrics by Stitt, closes out the Arena season. It is based on Eowyn Ivey’s novel “The Snow Child”, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Ivey’s novel is itself based on an old Russian folk story about a childless couple who built a child out of snow, only to see it come to life. “How delightful then to find this lovely first novel,” said Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles about Ivey’s work. “Elements of this story make sentimentality as tempting as a witch’s gingerbread house, but Ivey never strays far from the original’s underlying sadness.” Snow Child, which Molly Smith will direct, will run from April 13 to May 20 of next year.