Theater J’s 2013-14 offerings to continue focus on female playwrights, directors

Theater J’s 2013-14 season wasn’t supposed to look like this. Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky related how Theater J had selected “these plays that did really well in New York last year, they have Jewish themes . . . and they all had really relevant material.”

And then they couldn’t get the rights to any of them.

(Courtesy of Theater J) - This season keeps Theater J’s impressive track record of supporting female playwrights and directors.

The failed first effort was a wake-up call. “That’s not the way to do season planning,” Serotsky said. “That’s the easy way to do it. . . . But for a smaller company, it doesn’t necessarily work that way.”

Back at square one, the thinking was: “What do we want to talk about this year? What have we enjoyed talking about in this current season, and what conversations do we think it’s important to continue having? So that started a more extensive, broad search,” Serotsky said.

The result is a season in keeping with Theater J’s impressive track record of supporting female playwrights and directors. “Even people I’m close to [ask], ‘Why does it matter? Shouldn’t you just be choosing the best plays?’ But it’s so easy to pick the best plays and also have gender diversity,” Serotsky said, adding: “I think it would be harder work to program a season without any female writers.”

“Our issue is also to have non-white voices,” she said. “As a Jewish theater, the question of racial and ethnic background is a little more complicated, but it’s certainly something we’re aware of. We want to expand our definition of what makes a playwright right for Theater J.”

‘After the Revolution’

By Amy Herzog

Directed by Derek Goldman

Sept. 7 to Oct. 6

(regional premiere)

Herzog “is this great, breakout writer,” said Serotsky, pointing out that Herzog’s “4000 Miles” is playing at the Studio Theatre. “I’m sure audiences will be hearing much more from [her], just like Annie Baker,” whose play “The Flick” runs through Sunday on Broadway.

‘The Argument’

By Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros

Directed by Shirley Serotsky

Oct. 23 to Nov. 24

When a couple in their 40s find out they’re pregnant — and they’ve been dating only 10 months — they realize how wildly they can disagree, especially when all their options are on the table.

‘Our Suburb’

By Darrah Cloud

Directed by Judith Ivey

Dec. 19 to Jan. 12

Tony-winning actress and Broadway director Ivey will helm this world premiere. An interfaith teen romance plays out against the backdrop of 1977 Skokie, Ill., when Nazis marched on the suburb in this modern take on “Our Town.” “It’s a real departure from that story as well,” Serotsky said. “[It’s] looking at a time period in American history when we had groups of people coming to this country and . . . feeling very much like they wanted to fit in, and then there were reminders of the way that they did not.”

‘Yellow Face’

By David Henry Hwang

Directed by Natsu Onoda Power

Jan. 29 to Feb. 23

(regional premiere)

Hwang, a Tony-winning playwright, penned this satire about when a Caucasian actor was cast as the Asian pimp in “Miss Saigon.” The Theater J team, motivated by the conversations surrounding this year’s production of David Mamet’s “Race,” wanted to keep tackling the issue of ethnic identity in America. “There’s material in the play about being a first generation in the U.S. with immigrant parents,” Serotsky said.

‘The Admission’

(Part of the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival)

By Motti Lerner

Directed by Sinai Peter

March 20 to April 17, 2014

This play raises “the question of how we talk about Israel, how we perform Israel, how we depict Israel,” Serotsky said. “It’s such a Gordian knot.” She anticipates that “The Admission” will bring up “conversations that are difficult and not everyone will like, but it’s the best artists that we can imagine having here to do so.”

This English-language world premiere is being produced in collaboration with Herzliya Ensemble Theater.

‘Freud’s Last Session’

By Mark St. Germain

Directed by Serge Seiden

May 14 to June 29, 2014

(regional premiere)

In this World War II-era story, Freud and C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” debate God, sex, the meaning of life — you know, just your typical, casual topics of conversation. This “seems like [it] could be an intellectual argument but touches into something much deeper and more important,” Serotsky said. “It’s looking at life and death and faith. It’s a great piece for two actors to pull out a part and dissect that in a very personal way.”

Folger to honor Shakespeare

In honor of the Bard’s 450th birthday, the Folger Theatre is doing an all-Shakespeare season in 2013-14. Artistic Producer Janet Griffin talked through the process of selecting which of Will’s greatest hits could make it into the 41 / 2-century celebration season.

‘Romeo and Juliet’

Directed by Aaron Posner

Oct. 15 to Dec. 1

“We do think it’s a perennial favorite,” Griffin said. Erin Weaver will be Juliet to Michael Goldsmith’s Romeo; Weaver’s husband and Folger regular Posner directs. “What we’re going after with this production is to show both the young love . . . [and] the context of their families losing them, and the sort of society that allows that. [We’re] taking the poetry of the play and really sort of presenting it with that heartbreak of the loss of these youngsters.”

‘Richard III’

Directed by Robert Richmond

Jan. 28 to March 9

“Richard III” hasn’t been done at Folger in more than two decades, Griffin said. “We’re very interested in this notion of historical evidence: what you can know about historical figures and how that’s shaped by fictional works like Shakespeare’s play,” she said.

‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’

From Fiasco Theater Company in New York

April 17 to May 25, 2014

This New York-based, six-person company wasn’t game to do another full production of “Cymbeline” (it has done more than 200). “Two Gentlemen” “is, in a way, a similar sort of fable-based story of ‘Cymbeline,’ ” Griffin said. “It was one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, and ‘Cymbeline’ is one of his latest.”

A special engagement of “Cymbeline,” directed by Fiasco Theater co-Artistic Directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, will begin May 28, 2014.

Anacostia Playhouse construction

On Friday, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signed a permit for the Anacostia Playhouse to begin construction. Chief executive Adele Robey and Managing Director Julia Robey Christian will still need to go to the Board of Zoning Adjustment for a waiver to address an issue with on-site parking requirements (they need 15 spots and, because of a technicality, the spots in the adjacent lot don’t qualify) but can build everything except the seats; seating would change the use of the building from its current green-lit status as an office or warehouse to a theater, which won’t be kosher until after the BZA hearing.

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