Michael Kahn will exit the Shakespeare Theatre Company next season by taking on Greek tragedy’s only extant trilogy, “The Oresteia” by Aeschylus. On Wednesday, the STC announced its six shows for 2018-19, Kahn’s last after more than three decades as artistic director (a search is currently underway for his successor), and the slate includes the American tour launch of “An Inspector Calls,” reviving Stephen Daldry’s revelatory 1992 production of J.B. Priestley’s thriller for London’s National Theatre.
Kahn describes “The Oresteia” as a dream project. “I’m sort of obsessed,” he says. “It’s always been in my head.” A new version is being written by Ellen McLaughlin, the original Angel in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and the adapter of “The Persians” at the STC in 2006.
“Michael only asked two things,” McLaughlin says of tackling the Greek trilogy, which tells the bloody saga of the House of Atreus and includes the Furies, goddesses of vengeance. “All three plays need to be done in one evening. And the Furies need to be terrifying.”
The Shakespearean offerings include one comedy and one tragedy. Current associate artistic director Alan Paul, who helmed the troupe’s 2015 musicals “Man of La Mancha” and “Kiss Me, Kate,” will take on “A Comedy of Errors,” and Paul’s 2016 “Romeo and Juliet” will be revived as the company’s Free for All show this fall. Former associate artistic director David Muse, now in his seventh year running the nearby contemporary troupe Studio Theatre, will direct “Richard III.”
“I wasn’t trying to be sentimental about the season,” Kahn says. “But it was important to me to include some of the people who have worked here.”
Kahn will also reunite with comic writer David Ives, whose verse interpretations of French classics (including “The Liar” and “The Metromaniacs”) have been STC hits. This time Ives is turning to Germany and Carl Sternheim’s “The Underpants” — which has also been adapted by Steve Martin — “The Snob” and “1913,” which all deal with the same family. The sprawling title is “The Panties, the Partner and the Profit: Scenes From the Heroic Life of the Middle Class”; Ives is condensing the plays and moving them to America in the 1950s, the 1980s and now.
“In the first play, they’re sort of like Ralph Kramden and his wife, and in the last play they’re fabulously rich,” says Ives. “That’s an American story if I’ve ever heard one.”
Kahn’s production of “The Liar,” Ives adds, “ended up being the most fun I’ve had working on any play. We just got along. His form of directing is to make something really hard look incredibly simple.”
“An Inspector Calls” picked up four Tony Awards when it transferred to Broadway from Britain in 1994. It then toured the United States and was back on London’s West End in 2016.
“There’s always been an audience wanting to hear the message that we are responsible for each other,” says producer Peter Wilson, who since the 1990s has been involved with Daldry’s spectacular vision of what was then considered Priestley’s old-fashioned 1945 detective drama. “The romance of the piece, which says the world can be changed, really appeals to young people.”
Kate Hamill’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel “Vanity Fair” rounds out the list; Hamill’s frisky “Sense and Sensibility” was a success at the Folger Theatre last season. Hamill took the top role of Becky Sharp in Eric Tucker’s New York production last fall. Jessica Stone will direct here; no word yet on casting.