In the 2019-2020 theater season, Arena Stage may well be the place to go to meet interesting people: the acid-tongued Texas Governor Ann Richards; Fidel Castro; Ken Ludwig’s mom and dad, some of August Wilson’s unforgettable Hill District denizens, two survivors of Taliban brutality, and the woman who took over second base for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns when Hank Aaron left to play for the Milwaukee Braves.
The ten-play season includes two world premieres and a holiday musical.
The season opens with a visit from Ann, Holland Taylor’s one-actor show about former Texas governor Ann Richards. Richards was the state’s last Democratic governor and George W. Bush’s immediate predecessor. DCTS, in this review, called a Kennedy Center production eight years ago, also with Ms. Taylor in the title role, “exuberant and transcendent.” Kristen van Ginhoven directs; from July 11 to August 11, 2019.
Next up for Arena will be the first of two August Wilson plays, Jitney, the story of an off-the-books transport company which goes to places like the Hill district, where cabbies fear to tread. Jitney, which won the Outer Circle Critics and the Drama Critics Circle Awards for best play and whose 2017 revival won the Best Revival Tony, will run from September 13 to October 20 of this year under the guiding hand of Ruben Santiago-Holmes.
Sharyn Rothstein’s The Right to be Forgotten will be the first of two Arena world premieres. Rothstein, a 2015 Primus Prize winner, has crafted a story about someone who, at 17, did something stupid — and it got on the internet. The Right to be Forgotten tells the story of his struggle to erase this part of his past — and the struggle of information companies to hold on. From October 11 to November 10, 2019; Seema Sueko, currently helming The Heiress, will direct.
Arena will offer two shows for the holidays. At the Fichandler will be Newsies, the Tony-winning musical from Disney about the paperboys of New York, young news carriers, locked in a David-and-Goliath battle with Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith will direct this show, Arena’s only musical this season; from November 1 to December 22 of this year.
Meanwhile, at the Kreeger, we’ll learn how Ken Ludwig’s (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo) father met his mother. Hint: it was through correspondence; they were pen pals before they ever met. Dear Jack, Dear Louise, is the story of a military doctor and an aspiring actress who learned to love by letter during the second War, where distance and danger made ever meeting in person problemmatical. Jackie Maxwell will direct; from November 21 to December 29, 2019.
Arena will open the new year with Ursula Rani Sarma’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s (The Kite Runner) bestselling novel, A Thousand Splendid Sons. This story, set in Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban, is about two women — born a generation apart, but both forced to marry the same brutal man. “Hosseini…captures the nuanced inner lives of women in a manner rare to male novelists,” said Sunita Sohrrajbi of Indiawest, “Sarma has retained that depth in her adaptation.” From January 17 to February 20 of next year; Casey Perloff directs.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival comes to Arena in February to produce Octavio Solis’ Mother Road, which imagines the land once farmed by Tom Joad (of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath) now in the hands of his descendant William Joad, who is both terminally ill and without family…or is he? When William discovers, to his humiliation, that his only living relative is a migrant farmworker named Martin Jodes, he and Martin decide to ride together on the Mother Road from California back to Oklahoma and –stuff happens. Bill Rauch will direct; from February 7 to March 8, 2020.
Arena’s second world premiere — Celia and Fidel — will open on February 28 of next year. Eduardo Muchado imagines an argument between Fidel Castro and another vital Cuban revolutionary, Celia Sánchez, over the fate of ten thousand Cubans who have sought refugee status in the Peruvian embassy. Molly Smith will again direct; the play will run until April 12.
Arena will present its second August Wilson play of the season in April with Seven Guitars, a Pulitzer-prize nominee. This is the story of Schoolboy Barton, a musician whose song unexpectedly became a hit while he was in prison. Released and back in the Hill District prior to going to Chicago to sign a new record deal, Barton decides to right some wrongs before he goes, with disastrous results. From April 3 to May 3, 2020; no director has been announced.
With spring in full swing, thoughts naturally turn to the national pastime, and so it is at Arena. Lydia Diamond’s (Stick-Fly) Toni Stone explores the life of the first woman to ever play in the Negro leagues. Pam MacKinnon directs this adaptation of Martha Ackman’s Curveball: The Remarkable Life of Toni Stone. From April 23 to May 31 of next year.