For McCarter Theatre Center’s Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann, every show decision is personal. Be it championing a new work from an up-and-coming playwright or taking a fresh look at a classic, the show selections come from the heart. This fact rings especially true when looking at the first two shows in McCarter’s 2017-2018 Theater Series, A Red Orchid Theatre’s production of Sam Shepard’s Simpatico (now – October 15), and Randy Johnson’s A Night with Janis Joplin (October 10 -29).

As part of McCarter’s mission of collaboration with other theater companies around the country, Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre brings its unique blend of gritty, “storefront” theater to Princeton. Normally playing in a 70-seat house, Simpatico will give A Red Orchid Theatre a chance to stretch its legs on McCarter’s Berlind stage. The production has taken on another level of importance with the recent passing of the playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard.

About the production and Shepard, Mann said “Sam Shepard is one of America’s iconic playwrights, and it’s no surprise to me that an ensemble like A Red Orchid Theatre would thrive off of his idiosyncratic dialogue, multi-faceted characters, and fevered exploration of American nostalgia and identity. Sam Shepard shaped the American theater from the moment his plays appeared on our stages. Simpatico, like all of Shepard’s plays, is a true feast for an adventurous company and a wild ride for any audience. We dedicate our opening play of the season to his memory. In this way, he lives on.”

A Night with Janis Joplin is a combination of story and music focusing on the life and music not only of the eponymous 1960s icon, but also the women whose music made a deep impact on Joplin, including Odetta, Etta James, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and Aretha Franklin. A cast of six extremely talented women bring these legends and their signature sounds to life, backed by a full band on the Matthews stage.

About the show, Mann adds “When I was a teenager and into my 20s I knew the words to every one of Janis Joplin’s songs. I was fortunate to see a preview of this show on Broadway, and my mind was blown. I’ve had very few nights in the theater where I was so happy. I loved the storytelling, not only from Janis Joplin but all of her musical influences. I was so moved, I was on my feet cheering and clapping by the end of the show…which is, believe it or not, very unlike me in the theater (laughs). It was done so well, I can’t wait to share that joy with our audiences.”

Each season at McCarter finds its own voice through a wide variety of productions, not only through the Theater Series, but also through dozens of events presented during the year across its Music, Dance, and Signature Series. Chances are, your next night out is on the calendar at McCarter right now. Visit mccarter.org for a full list of events.

McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton. 609-258-2787. www.mccarter.org.

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