“Romantics Anonymous” will be one of the offerings at Shakespeare Theatre Company next season. (Steve Tanner)

In a city of Shakespeare lovers — one that supports not one but two major classical stage companies — few events carry as much theatrical weight as the arrival of a new gatekeeper to blaze novel trails to the past. So one of the big questions of late in the region’s artistic circles has been: What will Simon say?

That Simon is Simon Godwin. He has been lured by Shakespeare Theatre Company from the elite ranks of London’s National Theatre as successor to founding artistic director Michael Kahn, who departs after this season and decades of slaking Washington’s thirst for Shakespeare, and filling his stages with other worthy voices.

Godwin is still shuttling between the two cities, but on Tuesday, he announced the entries of the 2019-2020 season, his first: two Shakespeare plays that he will direct; a play by James Baldwin; contemporary takes on classics by Branden Jacobs-
Jenkins and Lauren Gunderson; and a musical from London adapted by director Emma Rice.

“It’s a combination of vision, primarily, and pragmatism, in trying to understand where the economics are, what the audiences want to see,” Godwin said in an interview Tuesday. “There are a quite a number of things that I’m going to discover. We’re going on the ride together.”

Godwin’s planned itinerary is a good way to get a glimpse of his artistic mind. Well, maybe not quite as good as watching his recent directorial effort for the National, a richly textured “Antony and Cleopatra” with Sophie Okonedo and Ralph Fiennes that is being screened in American venues. But if his first season is any guide, the company’s latest personnel investment hints at some tantalizing possibilities.

For his inaugural Shakespeare at the Shakespeare, Godwin is going to stage a new version of a production he directed last year for the Royal Shakespeare Company: the infrequently revived “Timon of Athens.” He will retain the Timon he employed in his “re-gendered” staging, the acclaimed, American-born British actress Kathryn Hunter, and the rest of the cast will also be American. A few of the season’s offerings hint that Godwin intends to forge closer ties between the company and British theater.

“Timon” will start performances in February 2020 in the Lansburgh Theatre, on Seventh Street NW. And Godwin will conclude the season with the “great celebration of love” that is “Much Ado About Nothing,” with the play’s warring wits, Beatrice and Benedick, still to be cast. “Much Ado” will be produced in the larger, 774-seat Harman, an imposing space across from Capital One Arena on F Street NW that has proved to be a challenge for the company to satisfactorily fill. Godwin says he’s aware of the uphill struggle, both on the stage and in the house, and takes solace in words said to him about theater spaces by Nicholas Hytner, the National’s former artistic director, for whom he once worked: “Rather than have the scale define you, you define the scale.”


Simon Godwin, the new artistic director. (Johan Persson)

Katheryn Hunter played Timon in “Timon of Athens” as part of a “re-gendered” staging of the Shakespeare play that Godwin directed. (Simon Annand)

The season’s first show will be MacArthur fellow Jacobs-Jenkins’s “Everybody,” a retelling of the Christian morality play “Everyman,” which was written by an unknown author. “Here was this 15th-century medieval play that Shakespeare would have seen,” Godwin said, “and then we have an African American playwright saying what this could mean to us today.”

A family event is in the offing for the Harman at Christmastime: a new version of “Peter Pan” with music, by the American playwright Gunderson (“The Book of Will”) and directed by Alan Paul, who scored a hit last season with his “Camelot.” Early next year will also see a revival, directed by Whitney White, of James Baldwin’s rarely seen “The Amen Corner,” a mid-1950s play with gospel music that was successfully staged in 2013 at the National by Artistic Director Rufus Norris.

Also on the menu will be “Romantics Anonymous,” a play with music that Rice premiered in 2017, near the end of her tenure as head of Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s South Bank. Rice will again direct. Based on a 2010 French film, the work was hailed by Lyn Gardner in the Guardian as “a multifaceted gem, chockful of love.”

No doubt Godwin would enjoy seeing such phraseology applied to his latest ventures. “I want us to go to dark places,” he said. “But I also want people to feel the theater can be a place of euphoria and hope.”