Backstage: Arena Stage's 2011-12 season; Michael Kahn directs opera in Dallas

TRAGIC SCALE: Charles Castronovo and Lyubov Petrova as in Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Dallas Opera. The Shakespeare Theatre's Michael Kahn staged the production.
TRAGIC SCALE: Charles Castronovo and Lyubov Petrova as in Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Dallas Opera. The Shakespeare Theatre's Michael Kahn staged the production. (Karen Almond/dallas Opera)
By Jane Horwitz
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Arena Stage's 2011-12 season will include two world premieres, a mini-Eugene O'Neill festival, visiting productions from Chicago's Goodman Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and a revival of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man."

Artistic Director Molly Smith says she's begun to program the company in 12-month schedules, indicating Arena will rarely be dark. She views the 2011-12 season as a part of the "two-year launch" of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, following the October opening of the company's $135 million renovated campus at Sixth Street and Maine Avenue SW.

Arena's 2011-12 season:

l "Like Water for Chocolate" (Sept. 9-Oct. 30), the world premiere of a "pre-Broadway" musical adaptation of Laura Esquivel's magical realist novel, will be staged in Arena's Kreeger Theater. The script is by Quiara Alegria Hudes ("In the Heights"), with music and lyrics by Lila Downs and Paul Cohen. Ted Sperling and Jonathan Butterell will co-direct.

l "The Book Club Play" (Oct. 7-Nov. 6) by Washington-based Karen Zacarias, one of Arena's current resident playwrights, will get its second local production, using what Smith calls an "explosive rewrite" by Zacarias that was workshopped at Arena last summer. The comedy premiered at Round House Theatre in 2008 to mixed reviews, though great ticket sales. "She really listened to some of the notices on it," Smith says of Zacarias's rewrite.

l "Equivocation" (Nov. 18, 2011-Jan. 1, 2012) by Bill Cain ("Stand-Up Tragedy") will be a production from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, directed by that company's leader, Bill Rauch. Set in 1605 London, Cain's play imagines that Shakespeare is asked by King James to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot as propaganda against the Catholic rebels. The play was done in New York by the Manhattan Theatre Club last March. What Smith calls a "high-stakes political thriller" will be done in the Kreeger.

l "You, Nero" (Nov. 25, 2011-Jan. 1, 2012) by Amy Freed - another of Arena's resident writers - is a comedy about the ancient Roman emperor and his public relations problem. It will run in concurrently with "Equivocation" in the Fichandler, an in-the-round space conveniently evocative, notes Smith, of a coliseum.

l "The Elephant Room" (Jan. 20-Feb. 26, 2012) by the performance group rainpan 43 ("All Wear Bowlers," "Amnesia Curiosa") will be staged in the Kogod Cradle by Paul Lazar. In the piece, three semiprofessional magicians with different specialties collaborate in an effort to heal their own lives. At the end, according to Smith, they "conjure an elephant."

l "Red" (Jan. 20-March 11, 2012) by John Logan, about the painter Mark Rothko, just won six Tony Awards in New York. The Goodman Theatre's Robert Falls will direct this new production of the play, first presenting it on his home Chicago turf, and then at Arena in the Kreeger.

l "Ah, Wilderness!" (March 9-April 8, 2012) marks the opening salvo of a salute to the man Smith says, as far as theater is concerned, is "arguably where it all started, as far as American writers - Eugene O'Neill." His lone comic look at family dysfunction will play in the Fichandler.

l "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (March 30-May 13, 2012), O'Neill's dark masterpiece, will be staged by noted Canada-based director Robin Phillips in the Kreeger.

l "The Music Man" (May 11-July 22, 2012) will play in the Fichandler, another in-the-round musical revival to be staged by Smith.

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