Backstage: Studio Theatre’s 2012-13 season

April 3, 2012

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to present the thing, to be frank,” said David Muse of Oren Jacoby’s adaptation of “Invisible Man,” which will kick off the Studio Theatre’s upcoming season. The artistic director cited the longtime reluctance of the Ralph Ellison estate to free up rights to the novel.

Although the show has enjoyed a full run at Court Theatre in Chicago, “there’s going to be continued work on the script, changes in casting and design,” Muse said. He confessed to a bit of nervousness. “It’s a heavy lift for Studio: a 10-member ensemble, a sophisticated set, lighting and projection design. It’s a splashy technical [show]. Every word that’s spoken onstage comes from the novel.”

“The Aliens” by Annie Baker, whose “Circle Mirror Transformation” was directed by Muse, is likely to follow (opening dates for the shows have not yet been determined). Baker’s already having a big 2012; her “Body Awareness” opens at Theater J in August. Muse calls Baker’s writing “new naturalism” because “it’s not just an attempt to put the everyday on stage. There’s a boldness about it.” “The Aliens” follows two slackers who spend their summer trying not to get evicted from their squatters’ paradise — namely, a back alley of a coffeehouse in Vermont.

“The Motherf----- with the Hat,” the Broadway hit by Stephen Adly Guirgis, “feels like a Studio play,” said Muse. “It’s a comedy [that’s] not just a comedy.”

Muse’s first crack at a Tom Stoppard play will come with “The Real Thing,” which Muse plans to direct. A new American play, to be announced within a month or so, will feature Tana Hicken, who previously appeared in Studio’s productions of “The History Boys” and “The Road to Mecca.”

The Studio Lab show will be “Dirt,” a world premiere by Bryony Lavery. “It’s an opportunity to actually develop a work with Bryony, who’s just one of our favorite playwrights,” said Muse, who directed Lavery’s “Frozen” at Studio in 2006.

The 2ndStage production of “Contractions” by Mike Bartlett, whom Muse calls “arguably the hottest playwright in London,” will be a U.S. premiere.

New gal ‘On the Waterfront’

Kathleen Akerley, who is directing the American Century Theater’s production of “On the Waterfront,” has never seen the film. But she’s pretty sure she gets the idea.

“My understanding is, it’s [Marlon] Brando, muttering realism.” She laughs. “My ignorance is vast!”

Realism, however, is not Akerley’s thing, as evidenced by her work as the artistic director of Longacre Lea, a company that focuses on the “absurdism” in the human condition. “It’s not a play I would’ve picked on my own,” she said of “On the Waterfront.” “I’m not very adept at realism.”

But, she discovered, “it turns out the script itself needn’t be realistic. For example, roughly speaking, there are two categories of people in any given scene: the people who control work, and workers.”

“It’s very Marxist,” she went on. “To me, when a play does that, it opens the door for the director and production to really stylize it. What does it mean to be in a world where personal relations take a back seat to work?”

At the center is the notion of how we derive our sense of selves from our places of employment. “The person sitting next to you in the theater seems to be one way. . . . But to assume their personality is a set thing is dangerous. If they suddenly lost their resources or their job, the notion of who they are could change very quickly.”

Through April 28 at Gunston Arts Center, Theater II, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington, www.americancentury.org, 703-998-4555

Shakespeare’s screensaver

To call the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s nearly four-hour production of “Strange Interlude’’ (with two intermissions!) “sprawling” would be like saying Don Draper looks “kind of okay” in a suit. Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic covers all the dramatic bases: death, adultery, pregnancy, love and what happens when you uproot your family tree and unearth more dirt than you bargained for. In an STC first, the production utilizes multimedia projections. Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne discussed his two-month-long creative process.

“The projections in the show serve two purposes: First, between the scenes, they give us a sense of time in place in a very theatrical way. . . . So, for example, when Nina leaves her father’s home, goes out to find herself, and becomes a nurse, she’s on this sort of journey for her life to begin. So I’ve got some period footage of a nurse working in a military barrack in WWI. I’ve got footage of traveling in New England, getting off a train, to give the sense that she’s started her journey.

“The second purpose is as a scenic wall. We start off in a rougher, smaller bungalow in New England, and the walls are badly painted . . . and then it progresses over time to a Fifth Avenue apartment with wall decor.

“I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to find enough material, so I did consider for a while shooting all original footage and trying to make it look original. Like the Lana Del Rey music video [for “Blue Jeans”]: It’s clearly shot now but it’s an homage to another period. So I thought of doing the same . . . but it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do. It felt a lot stronger to use the real footage. It helps the audience tell what time it is. They recognize the cars.”

The show “is a lot of hours. But you get so sucked in, you forget about it.”

Through April 29 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, www.shakespearetheatre.org, 202-547-1122.

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