Next Season Preview: Forum Theatre

With the 2014-15 season kinda sorta already underway, we sample today the late-reporting Forum Theatre and its new slate of offerings. The Little Company That Could on Colesville Road in Silver Spring can always be relied on to pull more weight than many people might have imagined, and the lineup it is unveiling is suitably hefty: a world premiere podcast play; regional premieres of works by Idris Goodwin and Young Jean Lee, and a revival of Sarah Ruhl’s wildly ambitious “Passion Play.” (In previous posts, we’ve looked at the seasons of Shakespeare Theatre CompanyWoolly Mammoth TheatreArena Stage, the Kennedy CenterRound House TheatreSynetic TheaterSignature TheatreFord’s TheatreStudio TheatreFolger TheatreNational Theatre and Theater J.)

Company trademark: New and recent plays at revolutionarily low prices.

The season:

– “How We Got On,” by Idris Goodwin, directed by Paige Hernandez (Oct. 30-Nov. 23)

– “The T Party,” written and directed by Natsu Onoda Power (January 2015)

– “Passion Play,” by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Michael Dove (March 19-April 12, 2015)

– “The Shipment,” by Young Jean Lee, director TBA (May 21-June 14, 2015)

– “Walking in the City of Silence and Stone,” by Stephen Spotswood, directed by Jess Jung (Fall 2014-Summer 2015)

Highlights: After some uncertainty about its home base, the company says it is staying put in the renamed Silver Spring Black Box Theater, which until now had been a satellite space for Round House Theatre in Bethesda. As for the plays and playwrights: Goodwin, a dramatist and spoken word performer, worked on the hip-hop influenced “How We Got On,” about three kids from the suburbs, at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, after which it premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Ky.  “The Shipment” is Korean-American Lee’s effort to tackle the subject of African-American identity politics. (Lee’s religion-laced “Church” was produced at Forum in 2012.) Onoda Power is bringing back “The T Party,” a rumination on discrimination, from last season. Set in three epochs, Ruhl’s “Passion Play,” a trilogy about morality and politics, was a controversial piece at Arena Stage a decade ago. Spotswood’s mystery, “Walking in the City of Silence and Stone,” meanwhile, will be produced in nine podcast installments, each set at a different Washington location. In addition, the company is embarking on a collaboration with Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, a vehicle for exploring peace and social justice in theatrical form.

Analysis: Forum’s voracious artistic director, Michael Dove, pursues new paths with the gusto of a crew member on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. It’s worth noting that in addition to its pay-what-you-want policy and the new Georgetown initiative, Forum’s leadership ambitions are perceptible in the diverse array of voices it chooses. Three of the season’s five playwrights are women; of the two male playwrights, one is African-American. At this point,  three of the five productions will be directed by women, one of whom is of Asian background and one of whom is black. Numbers don’t mean everything, but there’s far more than symbolism apparent in the breathtaking depth of opportunity Forum is providing. Intriguing, too, is Forum’s decision to return to “Passion Play,” a big, challenging, complicated piece of theater. It’s the type of second look at work with a local pedigree that happens all too infrequently.

 

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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