What becomes a legend most? For the Shakespeare Theatre Company, celebrating the final year of its artistic director since 1986, Michael Kahn, it will be this: two Shakespeare plays, a new adaptation by frequent collaborator David Ives, a bit of 1940s agitprop, a 19th-century novel transitioned into a new play, and a new adaptation of one of Western Civilization’s oldest stories — all fronted by a revival of one of STC’s most successful recent production.
The reprise is of Romeo and Juliet, Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul’s 2016 staging of the Bard’s most famous meditation on love, hatred and death. DCTS’ Alan Katz, commenting on the 2016 production, said “I felt as if it had been written today.” This Shakespeare classic will be STC’s Free-for-all, which means that you will have an opportunity to obtain a limited number of tickets at no cost. Paul will again direct. The Shakespeare has not announced the dates for Romeo and Juliet; in fact, none of the productions in STC’s 2018-2019 season have dates attached to them yet.
Shakespeare Theatre’s regular season begins with a production of another one of the Bard’s works, A Comedy of Errors. In it, a high-born aristocrat and his slave leave Syracuse to find their identical twin brothers, a high-born aristocrat and his slave in Ephesus. There are, as we say, unintended consequences. (Think of the twin siblings in Twelfth Night, and then multiply it by about eight.) Harold Bloom, the Yale University literary critic, wrote that A Comedy of Errors “reveals Shakespeare’s magnificence at the art of comedy.” Paul will direct this work, too.
STC will follow this up with the National Theatre of Great Britain’s production of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. the story of a mysterious police Inspector who places blame on a wealthy, self-satisfied family when one of their former servants poisons herself. The play has been reworked by Stephen Daldry, and the result, according to The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner, is a “vivid and expressionistic piece of meta-theatre which revels in the frolicsome games with time and metaphysics that Priestley enjoyed playing in his work…It offers a passionate plea for a more just and compassionate society.”
Next, David Ives once again comes to the Shakespeare Theatre with a new adaptation — this one of the early 20th-century satirist Carl Sternheim’s Maske plays which Ives has christened The Panties, The Partner and The Profit – Scenes from the Heroic Struggle of the Middle Class.
“[T]his piece,” Ives explains, “takes three full-length plays and condenses them into a single evening, moving early 20th-century German family life into America today with what I hope is comparable comic and satiric effect.” Sternheim’s plays about the Maske family, the most well-known of which is The Underpants, include also The Snob, 1913, and The Fossil. It is not clear which of these plays is being excluded from Ives’ adaptation. STC has not yet announced a director for this piece.
It has, however, announced a director for the following play, Richard III. Studio Theatre Artistic Director David Muse, fresh off his success with Charles III, will tackle the story of Richard of Gloucester, one of Shakespeare’s most ferocious villains. No word yet on who will play Richard, whose remains were recently discovered underneath a car park in Leicester.
STC will next present another original adaptation, this one by Wall Street Journal’s playwright of the year (for 2017) Kate Hamill of the massive and sprawling novel, Vanity Fair. William Thackeray’s story was originally published as a monthly serial over a 19-month period, and presents itself as a past-tense account rendered through a puppet play. “Vanity Fair is a story about hypocrisy – about the lies we tell to ourselves and to others, and about the many winding paths we take to get what we want,” says Hamill, who has also written adaptations of Sense and Sensibility (which played at the Folger in 2016; DCTS’ Jayne Blanchard praised it highly) and Pride and Prejudice. Jessica Stone will direct.
STC closes out the season — and Kahn’s career as Artistic Director — with Ellen McLaughlin’s new adaptation of The Oresteia, Aeschylus’ trilogy about the doomed House of Atreus. You may know this story, from circa 460 B.C.: Agamemnon, in order to win the Trojan wars, sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia; in order to revenge her daughter’s death (and also to take the throne and marry her lover) his wife Clytaemnestra kills him; then his son Orestes kills her; for which he is put on trial and the Athenian system of justice begins.
McLaughlin, who frequently writes themes derived from Greek mythology, has won awards in the Great American Play Contest, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the NEA, the Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, the Berilla Kerr Award for playwriting, and the NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Grant. She is also an actor, best known for originating the role of Angel in Angels in America.
“I grew up in DC and have known and admired Michael since the beginning of my career, so working at STC has been a joy for me” McLaughlin said. “The theater is filled with smart, passionate people who have given their lives to this medium. The plays that make up the Oresteia trilogy are some the oldest we have, arguably the foundation of western culture; they are wonderful and mighty challenges to take on. I couldn’t be in better company on this journey.”