True events, leavened with fable and fantasy (and a little bit of the Kinsey Sicks) will propel Theater J’s 2020-2021, the company has revealed.
In five months, the outline of our national plebiscite will be in better focus than it is now, which may make it clear sailing for another round of Electile Dysfunction and the Kinsey Sicks. If seeing four guys in drag, singing four-part harmony a cappella about Donald Trump and Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will bring joy to your world, you will want to mark off September 9-13. 2020. The Kinsey Sicks will also be running for President themselves, as they did in 2012, when DCTS’ Hunter Styles observed, “The harmonies are good, and the percussive a capella stylings get the audience tapping their toes* * *A rendition of Sinatra’s ‘My Way,’ fitted with the new lyrics ‘I’ll vote with Yahweh,’ is just one of many happy surprises. It’s been a while since I’ve heard ‘forbidden’ rhymed with ‘sex kitten,’ for example. But summarizing the other songs — which detail the party’s positions on immigration, abstinence, marriage, and much more — would spoil a whole lot of chuckle-worthy moments.”
Things turn considerably more serious with Theater J’s second production, Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. We are in unoccupied France, during the second War, where eight men are, without provocation or explanation, detained in a makeshift jail. Though some insist it is simply a bureaucratic mistake, one of the detainees — who had his nose measured shortly before his arrest — identifies more sinister motives. Incident at Vichy “deals with powerful themes of guilt and responsibility, tautly dramatized and well-defined,” said the Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck in a mixed review. “[T]he brief work has a gripping cumulative power that builds to a surprising conclusion, which is at once uplifting and tragic.” Joe Calarco directs; the cast will include John Austin, Jonathan Feuer, Billy Finn, Vincent Kempski, Michael Russotto, Nathan Whitmer, John Leslie Wolfe, and Gregory Wooddell. Incident at Vichy will run from October 14 to November 8 of this year.
Theater J turns from the cold fury of the Nazi regime to the heartwarming, and true, story of a journalist who reunites with his old mentor, who is dying of ALS. Tuesdays with Morrie is Jeff Hatcher and Mitch Albom’s adaptation of Albom’s best-selling book of the same name. “It is always immensely satisfying to see a superb book transformed into an excellent play,” Tom Williams of the Chicago Critic said. “Is the play sad? Of course it is, being about the premature and painful death of a remarkable man and teacher. Never mawkish, it is very beautiful and moving — a wonderful tale of personal bonding that transcends the grave.” Tuesdays with Morrie, which Jenna Duncan will direct and which will feature Michael Willis, will run from December 2 to 27, 2020.
Theater J opens the new year with a klezmer song cycle also based on a true story — that of playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, who escaped religious persecution in Romania to meet in Canada. Old Stock: a Refugee Love Story, tells the story of Chaim and Chaya, two imperfect people who by banding together beat back the hardships of that wide-open country at the dawn of the twentieth century. The production features the work of Ben Caplan as “the Wanderer,” a sort of oddball narrator. Kate Wyver of The Guardian calls Old Stock “a pleasantly eccentric ode to family” and “[s]weet and sparse” in a mixed review, and says that Caplan, who co-authored the piece, has “lungs as powerful as an ocean, his voice echoes an accordion, breath growling and rolling through octaves of Yiddish prayer and comedy song.” Songwriter Christian Barry, the third co-author, will direct. From January 6 to 24 of next year.
In February, Theater J in association with Folger Theatre (which is on the road next year as renovations are done to their facility) will be producing Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. We are in Jerusalem, during the Third Crusade, when the merchant Nathan comes back from a long journey to learn that his house caught on fire, and a Christian knight saved his daughter’s life. The knight, in turn, had been saved from certain death by the Sultan, who saw in the knight a resemblance to his own beloved, dead brother. As the three characters come to know each other, the discussion turns to which religion is the true one. The answer, when it comes, is a surprise. “The path that Nathan finds is thought provoking, then and now,” DCTS’ Jonathan Mandell said in reviewing a New York production. “But Nathan The Wise is not mere polemics put on stage…Lessing, an early German champion of Shakespeare, fashioned around his political messages a Bard-like entertainment laced with improbable surprises, absurd coincidences and a happy resolution.” Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr will direct this play, which Michael Bloom adapted. From February 17 to March 14, 2021.
Theater J will unveil a world premiere on April: Adrian Silver and Rinne Groff’s adaptation of Groff’s The Red Beads, which is in itself an adaptation of Osip Dymof’s The Singer of his Sorrows”. A father tells a little girl a story at her bedtime, and then suddenly the world transfers into the story, and the little girl is in the home of a poor shtetl poet, who is in love with a woman who does not love him back. This production will be the second in Theater J’s Yiddish Theater Lab. Johanna Gruenhut will direct; the play will feature Regina Aquino, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Billy Finn, Naomi Jacobson, Jefferson Russell, and Todd Scofield. From April 7 to May 2, 2021.
Theater J will close its season with one more true story — Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror. Smith’s story explores the riots in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn after a car in the Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade killed an African-American child and someone killed a Jewish scholar in retaliation. Devere built her play from transcripts of interviews she conducted and famously played all twenty-nine parts in it. This time Smith’s roles will be played by January LaVoy, who is most known for playing the role of Noelle Ortiz in the ABC Daytime Drama “One Life to Live” but is also an acclaimed stage actor. Of a 2019 production of Fires in the Mirror, Ben Brantley of the New York Times said, “Nearly three decades after it was first unveiled, the panoramic view provided by Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror still makes you catch your breath and shake your head in sorrow.” Immerwahr directs this production, which will run from June 9 to July 4 of next year.