Fifth in our series of glimpses of the theater future: Round House Theatre’s 2014-15 season. (We’ve previously taken tours of the forthcoming dramatic agendas of Shakespeare Theatre Company, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center.) Bethesda-based Round House, under the guidance of producing artistic director Ryan Rilette, will introduce British playwright Lucy Kirkwood to audiences in the region, as well as show us a cheeky new spin on a holiday staple.
Company trademark: A carefully curated smorgasbord of contemporary and classic plays.
–“Fool for Love,” by Sam Shepard, directed by Ryan Rilette (Sept. 3-27)
–“Fetch Clay, Make Man,” by Will Power, directed by Derrick Sanders (Oct. 8-Nov.2)
–“The Nutcracker,” by Tommy Rapley, Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich and Kevin O’Donnell, directed by Joe Calarco (Nov. 26-Dec. 28)
–“Rapture, Blister, Burn,” by Gina Gionfriddo, directed by Shirley Serotsky (Jan. 28-Feb. 22, 2015)
–“Uncle Vanya,” by Anton Chekhov, in a new version by Annie Baker and directed by John Vreeke (April 8-May 3, 2015)
–“NSFW,” by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Meredith McDonough (May 27-June 21, 2015)
Highlights: “Fetch Clay, Make Man” is Will Power’s story of the unlikely friendship between heavyweight legend Muhammad Ali and Stepin Fetchit, the black actor whose stereotypical comic persona made him rich and later, a target for derision. In “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” Gina Gionfriddo (“Becky Shaw”) explores the relationship of two women on different trajectories in a post-feminist age. The third new play in the Round House season, “NSFW,” looks with a jaundiced eye at the inner workings of a pair of British magazines, one for men, one for women. In the revival category, Round House brings back a Shepard play it produced early in the company’s life; stages Annie Baker’s (“Circle Mirror Transformation”) take on “Uncle Vanya,” with Rilette making his Bethesda acting debut; and enlists Joe Calarco (“Gypsy”) to mount a contemporary musical version of “The Nutcracker” that’s been a hit in Chicago.
Analysis: Rilette appears to have assembled another thoughtful, eclectic season, with the potential to surpass even this year’s strong lineup, which has already included among other things a powerful revival of “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and a solid staging of Melissa James Gibson’s “This.” Still, the new plays on his intriguingly varied menu are by no means slam dunks: Power’s “Fetch Clay, Make Man” garnered respectable rather than stellar reviews in New York, and Kirkwood has been lauded in Britain for her geopolitical play “Chimerica,” a work I found reductive and shrill. Overall, the Round House season is forward-thinking in a lot of ways, including both its range and its efforts to provide opportunities to women (five of the 12 directing and playwriting positions, for instance, go to women, even if one is shared with Chekhov). And even in doing the requisite holiday show Rilette is with this seemingly irreverently reinvented “Nutcracker” keeping his eye on freshness.