Bethesda’s Round House Theatre will kick off its 41st Season with a $14-million capital campaign — designed to raise money to improve both the company’s physical plant and what it can offer its artists and audiences. Round House will move out of its present space and into DC’s Lansburgh Theatre in Penn Quarter for the 2019 portion of the season in order to begin its renovations. Perhaps not coincidentally, its five-play season features characters in search of personal growth, and the resolution of long-standing challenges.
The company’s season will open in Bethesda with Beth Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds, a story about six bedraggled humans who decide to fix their lives by going on a retreat led by a guru who has, as we say, problems of his own. The guru’s principal instrument is an enforced silence, which his frantic acolytes subvert in ingenious and desperate ways. “Small Mouth Sounds both hilariously affirms expectations and melts them, as these soul-searching stereotypes wrestle with themselves, their pasts, and, naturally, one another,” says Ben Abramowitz of Vanity Fair. Round House Artistic Director Ryan Rilette will direct this play, which will run from August 29 to September 23, 2018.
Baltimore playwright Paula Vogel is next up with her harrowing, Pulitzer-winning How I Learned to Drive, in which a young girl in a sex-drunk family is subjected to the incestuous, pedophilic advances of her uncle. Yet in Vogel’s story, which discards chronology to maximize impact, the uncle is not simply a predator, but charming, even sympathetic. ” ‘How I Learned to Drive’…is one of those plays you don’t forget in a hurry,” says Variety’s Marilyn Stasio. “Vogel’s boldest stroke in this provocative play is to discard the common image of the pedophile as drooling monster and present him as he more often is — disturbingly human and all too real.'” How I Learned to Drive will run from October 10 to November 4 of this year; Amber Paige McGinnis will make her Round House debut as a director.
Round House will finish 2018 with a production of the first play (chronologically) in August Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh cycle, Gem of the Ocean. In this play, Citizen Barlow, a man who has committed a crime, goes to see Aunt Esther, a healer who specializes in the cleansing of souls. In the midst of tumult borne of racism and labor unrest, Aunt Esther sends Citizen Barlow on Gem of the Ocean, a slave ship, to visit the City of Bones. The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones called Gem of the Ocean “just dazzlingly wise in its utterances,” and opined that it was “the great culmination of all for which Wilson stood.” Timothy Douglas will direct Gem of the Ocean, which will run from November 28 to December 23, 2018.
And — to start the new year, and the Lansburgh residency: what if you had to negotiate a solution to the Middle East crisis, without authority and without the support of the major powers? I know, you’d be Rex Tillerson. But J.T. Rogers’ Oslo tells a different story — that of a husband-and-wife diplomatic team who, entirely in secret, conduct a back-channel negotiation which improbably results in the Oslo Peace Treaty between Israel and the PLO. Oslo is the true story of the efforts of Mona Juul and her husband, Terje Rød-Larsen to organize negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Variety’s Marilyn Stasio calls this play, which won the Tony Best Play Award in 2017 and also won the 2017 Outer Critics Award for Outstanding New Broadway Play, the 2017 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, the 2017 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, and the 2017 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, a “compelling drama” with “superbly drawn characters” and notes that “It…takes three acts, which fly by like hours spent at the circus, to make these mortal enemies calm down enough to listen honestly to one another….” Rilette will direct Oslo, which will run from April 24 to May 19 of next year.
Round House will close out its season with act two of the storied life of Nora Helmer, whose tale began more than a hundred years ago in Ibsen’s famed play. A Doll’s House — Part II, by Lucas Hnath (The Christians) will open on June 5, 2019, under the guiding hand of Round House’s newly-named Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson. In this story, Nora comes back to the home she abandoned 15 years ago, in order to obtain a formal divorce from Torvald. Since leaving him, and their daughter, Nora has become a successful author and crusader against marriage. However, since she was married to Torvald all this time, all of the publishing contracts she entered without Torvald’s consent are legally fraudulent. What’s more, a judge whose wife left him after reading one of Nora’s books has threatened to reveal her secret. Theatremania’s Zachary Stewart called A Doll’s House — Part II “the most thought-provoking new play on Broadway.” A Doll’s House — Part II will run until June 30, 2019.
While all this is going on, Round House plans a substantial upgrading of its physical plant, including better sightlines, a remodeling of the back and side walls to improve acoustics, a grand staircase leading to the balcony, stage and seating flexibility in order to stage productions in different ways, an expanded bar and bistro, a better box office, improved dressing rooms and a new multipurpose room. The design work will be by Charcolblue, who designed the renovation of Baltimore Center Stage a few years ago.
In addition, Round House plans to use the proceeds of its capital campaign to commission and develop, over the next 10 years, 30 new plays written by women; increase payments to its artists; and establish an artist-in-residence program. Round House has named its resident artists for 2018-2020: the actors Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Craig Wallace, the scenic designer Paige Hathaway, and the costume designer Ivania Stack.