Next Season Preview: Theater J

As new-season-announcement season winds down, we look today at the ’14-’15 theatrical action plan  of Theater J, which has in mind  a play by Tony Kushner with a very long title, and new plays with shorter ones by DC dramatists Aaron Posner and Renee Calarco. Theater J’s rollout is the 12th we have assessed. In previous posts we’ve looked at the seasons of Shakespeare Theatre CompanyWoolly Mammoth Theatre, Arena Stage, the Kennedy CenterRound House TheatreSynetic TheaterSignature Theatre, Ford’s TheatreStudio Theatre, Folger Theatre, and National Theatre.

Company trademark: classic and modern plays related closely or loosely to Jewish life.

The season:

– “Yentl,” adapted by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer, with music and lyrics by Jill Sobule, directed by Shirley Serotsky (Aug. 28-Oct. 5)

– “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures,” by Tony Kushner, directed by John Vreeke (Nov. 13-Dec. 21)

– “Life Sucks (or the Present Ridiculous),”  written and directed by Aaron Posner (Jan. 14-Feb. 15, 2015)

–  “G-d’s Honest Truth,” by Renee Calarco, directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick (March 18-April 19, 2015)

– “The Call,” by Tanya Barfield, directed by Jennifer Nelson (at Atlas Performing Arts Center, May 6-31, 2015)

–”The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” by Charles Busch, directed by Eleanor Holdridge (June 3-July 5, 2015)

Highlights: Two world premieres by D.C. playwrights top the news of Theater J’s new season. Director-dramatist Aaron Posner, whose “Stupid F——g Bird,” based on Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” was a hit for Woolly Mammoth Theatre, resumes his irreverent adapting of Chekhov with “Life Sucks (or the Present Ridiculous).” This one’s based on “Uncle Vanya.” And Renee Calarco returns with her sophomore effort for Theater J, “G-d’s Honest Truth,” about a particular set of Jewish scrolls that may or may not be the real thing. (It will be directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick, co-artistic director of Rorschach Theatre.) Calarco’s previous Theater J work, “The Religion Thing,” was the first full production to emerge from the company’s ongoing Locally Grown festival, which nurtures the region’s playwrights. Tony Kushner, represented in Theater J’s repertory several years ago with “Homebody/Kabul,” has a play in the lineup again, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…,” a family drama featuring Tom Story, Susan Rome, Michael Anthony Williams and Tim Getman. Two comedic works of vastly different tones, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl” and Charles Busch’s “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” bookend a season that also will play out in a theater across town from Theater J’s digs on 16th Street NW. Tanya Barfield’s “The Call,” about a white couple that adopts a black child, will be staged at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE, with Jennifer Nelson–onetime head of African Continuum Theatre–directing.

Analysis: A season of rich variation in dramatic temperature is in the offing, though perhaps not with the dash of lightning that struck the company’s ’13-’14 roster. I speak, of course, of “The Admission,” the powerful play by Motti Lerner about an Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians that garnered polarized reactions and caused no small amount of soul searching within the administration of the DC Jewish Community Center, of which Theater J is a branch. Lerner’s play was part of another ongoing project at Theater J, the Voices of a Changing Middle East festival; no festival offerings are listed for the coming season. Still, Theater J is pushing ahead with other examples of leadership: two new plays by D.C. playwrights, for instance. And the presentation of a Kushner play is always an opportunity for a provocative evening. In view, too, of the widespread lamenting of too few directing and writing jobs going to women in the theater, the disclosure that four of Theater J’s six productions will be directed by women, and that three of the pieces are written by women, is important and exciting.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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