Next spring Arena Stage will mount the world premiere of a musical titled "Senor Discretion Himself" by the late great Frank Loesser ("Guys and Dolls," "Most Happy Fella"). The 2003-04 season will also feature a revival of "Camelot," a new play by Washington's own Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Crazy for You") and the Pulitzer-winning drama "Proof."
"Senor Discretion Himself," its book not quite finished, had never been produced when Loesser died in 1969, according to Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith. But after his widow saw Charles Randolph-Wright's staging of "Guys and Dolls" at Arena a couple of seasons ago, she asked the director to develop and produce "Senor," Smith said.
Culture Clash, the performance artists (Richard Montoya, Herbert Siguenza and Ric Salinas) who've done comic, socially conscious interview-based pieces at Arena, will work with Randolph-Wright to finish Loesser's book. They'll also act in the play, which Smith described as a miraculous, romantic tale set in a Mexican village; it deals with a "down-at-the-heels baker" who is "transformed from being a town drunk to the town prophet." It will run April 9-May 23, 2004.
The season will open with Ludwig's "Shakespeare in Hollywood" (Sept. 5- Oct. 19), which imagines behind-the-scenes antics when the great Austrian director Max Reinhardt filmed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland, circa 1935. Ludwig's confection, said Smith, is "true screwball comedy." Kyle Donnelly will direct.
David Auburn's "Proof" (Oct. 3-Nov. 23), which won the 2001 Pulitzer for drama and had a long New York run, is about a brilliant woman who fears she has inherited her father's madness as well as his mathematical genius. Arena artistic associate Wendy C. Goldberg will direct.
Smith will direct "Camelot" (Nov. 14-Jan. 4). The tuneful show is based on T.H. White's Arthurian novel "The Once and Future King." As a 10-year-old, Smith recalled seeing a production of it and says that was "the moment that I knew that I wanted to do theater."
Writer-director-actress Regina Taylor (she starred in TV's "I'll Fly Away") will direct her "Crowns" (Dec. 12-Feb. 15), about African American women and the spectacular hats they wear to church. Taylor adapted her play from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. It will be a co-production with the Alliance Theatre Company in Atlanta and the Goodman in Chicago.
Romanian director Alex Darie will stage "A Man's a Man" (Jan. 30-March 7), Bertolt Brecht's 1926 satire about a naive dockworker who "takes a little morning trip to buy a fish and ends up being conscripted into the military," Smith said. It is a "brutal, funny, incisive commentary that doesn't let anybody off the hook." Not even the fish?
"Yellowman" (March 5-April 18) by Dael Orlandersmith, a Pulitzer finalist last year, portrays an African American couple troubled by their family histories, such as the fact that the young man is lighter skinned than his father. "What she's really tackling here is the complexity of race and gender issues between African Americans," said Smith.
Arena's season will close with a revival of Tennessee Williams's 1957 "Orpheus Descending" (May 14-June 27), in which an older woman finds life through an affair with a young fugitive. It is only "a happy coincidence," said Smith, that the production will be staged during the Kennedy Center's Williams festival.
Treasure Trove Michael Kahn didn't know David Roessel or Nicholas Moschovakis from Adam, but he returned their phone call a couple of years ago and the rest, as they say, is history -- theater history, anyway.
Three of the five Tennessee Williams one-acts that Kahn will direct next spring as part of the Kennedy Center's festival spotlighting the playwright will be world premieres of scripts discovered by scholar-editors Roessel and Moschovakis.
Kahn, the Shakespeare Theatre's artistic director, chose three of their finds -- "These Are the Stairs You Got to Watch," "Escape" and "And Tell Sad Tales of the Death of Queens" -- for unveiling at the festival. The fourth world premiere, "The Municipal Abattoir," was sent to Kahn by composer Lee Hoiby (who wrote an opera based on Williams's "Summer and Smoke"). The playwright had left the script in Hoiby's guest room. The fifth work, "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow," was shown on television long ago and Kahn directed it for a 1980s European tour.
Roessel said recently that they made their first discovery while doing research for their book "The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams." The script was among Williams's papers at the University of Texas in Austin.
"The material had been catalogued by title and it didn't really tell us whether it was a story or a play or a poem," he recalled. "We started coming across scripts of plays that we'd never heard of." At UCLA Moschovakis found "And Tell Sad Tales of the Death of Queens."
Kahn described the five scripts as "wonderful little plays . . . [that] show Tennessee finding his voice." Audiences, the director said, "will be surprised by the breadth of the things he writes about."
"Escape," from the late 1930s, "is almost like a working of the themes of 'Glass Menagerie' with the mother and son," he said. The circa-1941 "These Are the Stairs" is "a play about loss of innocence," in which a boy working as a movie theater usher is supposed to keep people away from the balcony, where "sexual things happen," Kahn said.
Roessel noted that the same plot in dramatic form is used in a well-known Williams short story, "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio."
"And Tell Sad Tales" is about a New Orleans drag queen, making the 1960s work the only openly gay-themed play Williams is known to have written. "The Municipal Abattoir," set in a totalitarian state, was probably written in the late 1960s or early '70s, (Williams died in 1983).
For the scholars who spent years in musty archives, this festival is a treat. "To think they're going to have productions at the Kennedy Center is quite amazing to us," said Roessel. "It's a tribute to Williams . . . [and] it's also a tribute to Michael Kahn, who returns phone calls."
* Ford's Theatre will hold a memorial service April 28 to honor Frankie Hewitt, the theater's longtime producing artistic director, who died Feb. 28. The 3 p.m. service will be open to the public. CBS's "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and actor James Whitmore will be among the speakers.
* The Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Theatre will collaborate on a "program of words and music" to celebrate William Shakespeare's 439th birthday April 23. The free event will take place at 6 p.m. on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.