Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, already notable for the socially and politically outspoken theater it brings to the Washington Stage, is kicking it up a notch with a sextet of hot-button plays for the 2017-2018 season.
Woolly Mammoth starts the season with a summer reprise of MacArthur-winning playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ incendiary An Octoroon, in which modern players restage an 1859 melodrama that has a young (white) gentleman falling in love with the mixed-race daughter of a slaveholder who is losing his plantation to foreclosure. DCTS’ Debbie Minter Jackson, who had some reservations when she saw the show last year, nonetheless observed that “[a]spects of slavery clash with modern sensibility in brilliant flashes that director Nataki Garrett stokes knowingly to keep the sparks a’ flying.” Garrett will direct this production, which will run from July 18 to August 6, 2017.
We go back in time — perhaps — to mid-century Germany with The Arsonists, a play about a town plagued with firebugs who worm their way into people’s homes. The protagonist, Beidermann, is certain that he would never fall prey to such a scheme, but when door-to-door salesmen — some carrying cans of gasoline — ask to sleep in his attic, he meekly acquiesces. Woolly will be using Alistair Beaton’s translation, which debuted at London’s Royal Court in 2007 with Benedict Cumberbatch as the protagonist. In this production, Howard Shalwitz will play Beidermann; the production will also feature Emily Townley, Kimberley Gilbert and Tim Getman. Michael John Garcés directs. The show runs from September 5 to October 8 of this year.
Second City — specifically, Felonious Munk — will be back for the November 11 — December 31, 2017 for Nothing to Lose (But our Chains) the story of a man serving a six-year prison stretch, a business executive making a six-figure salary, and an activist and satirist. They’re all the same man, and Munk, who gave us Black Side of the Moon last year, will give the story to us again.
Danai Gurira (Eclipsed) is up next with Familiar, the story of an uber-successful Zimbabwean family, long established in Minnesota, about to celebrate the wedding of the eldest daughter. Mom is large and in charge, and she means to have an American wedding with all the trimmings, but at the last minute her older sister arrives and demands the installation of a Zimbabwean rite. “Ms. Gurira weaves issues of cultural identity and displacement, generational frictions and other meaty matters into dialogue that flows utterly naturally,” said New York Times critic Charles Isherwood. “Her engaging characters are drawn with sympathy.” Theater J AD Adam Immerwahr will direct this production, which will run From February 5 to March 4 of next year.
A pair of 5th-grade history teachers take on slavery and the underground railroad for a game they devise in Underground Railroad Games, but the game turns around to bite them — and us — in the whoosiz. “Role play turns out not to be confined to the classroom in ‘Underground Railroad Game,’ which spirals in intricate and unsettling ways that bring to mind David Ives’s sly study of theatrical pretense, Venus in Fur“, the New York Times’ Ben Brantley said. April 4-29, 2018; Taibi Magar will direct.
Finally, Sandro Botticelli was famous for his sensual, body-loving painting. But what if small-minded people rose up in populist revolt, behind a charismatic, conservative, murderous priest? What if Botticelli had to chose between his art and the life of his apprentice, Leonardo da Vinci? Jordan Tannahill’s Botacelli in the Fire closes out the Woolly season, running from May 28 to June 14 of next year. “[T]he outrageous BOTTICELLI IN THE FIRE [is] an inspired take on the life of Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli,” said Jason Carlos in Broadway World Toronto. Marti Lyons will direct.