May I respectfully choose not to subscribe to the theory expressed by a top government economist who says that the recession is largely psychological? However, I do fully endorse the money-saving subscription plans that New Jersey’s professional theaters have put in place for this season as well as the sound planning of the majority of the plays that have been selected. Even if you resist the idea of being committed to every show or to a particular night of the week, each of the theaters provides multiple options, including substantial savings, to suit every request or need.
But what are the options that must be considered by the business heads of theaters when funding has once again become a major concern? What about the options for the artistic leadership as they recognize how their patrons might be overwhelmed by political and economic considerations? The public may no longer fall for bromides like “forget your troubles, c’mon get happy” or, as we were advised in 2002, to “go shopping.” But isn’t the theater exactly the place where we need to be to see a more balanced perspective of our lives and a clearer vision of where we have been and aspire to go as opposed to the mall?
Even as theaters are primarily in the entertainment business, the artistic and executive leadership doesn’t ignore the fact that the current state of world affairs has an impact on our interests and how our immediate social concerns inform our tastes. I was particularly interested to see if they consider theater as necessary in filling a void in our day-to-day lives. And what specifically during the season exemplifies their artistic mission?
For the most part, you can count on our professional theaters to present plays that reflect a broad spectrum of the human experience, to entertain as well as to enlighten, and to challenge as well as to charm. The artistic directors of some of our most prominent theaters have expressed their views on these issues.
It doesn’t take a lot of prodding to get McCarter’s artistic director Emily Mann to voice her opinion: “In times of economic and political strife, we need the theater more than ever. Theater elevates the spirit by evoking laughter, compassion, and discussion — qualities all too rarely found in the American media and in political discourse. To quote from the musical ‘Herringbone,’ which opens our season at McCarter: ‘culture durin’ hard times does real well.’”
With regard to filling a void, Mann says, “Audiences don’t go to the theater to be merely distracted from the complexity of politics and economic depression, but rather to engage, to empathize, and to share with their fellow human beings.” Mann’s concern for those who are budget-challenged gets high priority: “Because I believe in the healing and revitalizing power of the theater for all people, we have many packages and discounts for our patrons. No one need feel excluded due to cost. Beyond our special packages, every one of our plays has two pay-what-you-can performances.”
Also, public rush tickets are available at 50 percent off the single ticket price for all theater series performances at the box office on the day of performance. This offer is also available at www.njartstix.org, which is promoted through the New Jersey Theater Alliance.
McCarter is first out of the gate this season and most likely nearest to your home. Last minute changes and decisions are not uncommon here and often pay off to everyone’s delight. When the new musical “Take Flight” by the composing team of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire had to be postponed, there was a show ready and waiting in the wings. That show, “Herringbone,” has been making the rounds for 25 years, but not with the current star. It’s a one-man musical tour-de-force, part ghost story and vaudeville with a dash of murder that stars the multi-talented BD Wong. Roger Rees, who also directed Wong in “Herringbone” last summer in his final season at the Williamstown Theater Festival, directs McCarter’s enhanced production, which runs through Sunday, October 12.
Lanford Wilson’s 1979 Pulitzer-Prize winner, “Talley’s Folly,” which goes into previews on Sunday, October 12, is now considered a 20th century classic. Set in 1944, it is a touching valentine to unlikely romance. What makes this production special is that it will be directed by Marshall W. Mason, the founder of the legendary Circle Repertory Company, where many of Wilson’s plays had their premiere during the 1970s and ‘80s. During his illustrious career, Mason directed over 60 Wilson productions so we feel secure that he knows “Talley’s Folly” very well.
Every season deserves its nod to George Bernard Shaw and the scandalous (in its time) “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” is one of his best. You can expect a few surprises as it will be under Mann’s direction (January 9 to February 15).
McCarter joins forces with the Shakespeare Company of Washington, DC. for a co-production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” (March 8 to 29). That’s the one about a girl getting shipwrecked in a foreign land where sexual identity, self-deception, and misconceptions create havoc before love conquers all. It is under the direction of Rebecca Taichman whose staging comes to McCarter following its initial December run in Washington, DC.
The season ends with another co-production, this one with the Public Theater. “The Brother/Sister Plays,” an ambitious trilogy of new plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney, will be presented over two evenings. These tales of family and legacy, their kinship, love, heartache, and coming of age, are steeped in southern rhythms and inspired by Yoruban culture. Tina Landau will direct evening 1 (“In the Red” and “Brown Water,” April 24 through June 21), and Robert O’Hara will direct evening 2 (“Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet,” May 14 through June 21). Notice that the productions overlap so that so you don’t have to wait until one play ends before you can see the second play.
“A Christmas Carol” is not part of the McCarter’s subscription series but the popular holiday show returns December 5 to 28.
#h#George Street Playhouse#/h#
Can a green mutant superhero save the day? George Street Playhouse’s artistic director David Saint thinks he has the answer to this and other worries: “Given the current economy and upcoming elections, this is an important year for all Americans. Now, more then ever, we need the arts and entertainment to inspire us and to offer a pleasant respite from the troublesome times in our society.”
George Street begins the season with the world premiere production of “The Toxic Avenger,” based on Lloyd Kaufman’s classic cult film. With book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”), and music and lyrics by David Bryan (founding member and keyboardist of New Jersey’s own Bon Jovi), this rock musical about a guy who becomes a superhero after being tossed into a big vat of radioactive goo will be directed by John Rando (“Urinetown”), and runs September 30 through November 2. Conor McPherson’s 2008 Tony award nominee and Olivier Award-winning Christmas ghost story “The Seafarer,” under the direction of Anders Cato, will follow, November 18 through December 18. Donald Margulies’ insightful drama about an artist and his muse, “Sight Unseen,” will begin the new year, January 20 through February 15. A fourth play to fill the March 3 through 29 slot has yet to be determined. But prodigious playwright Arthur Laurents (currently represented on Broadway with the Tony Award-winning revival of “Gypsy”) returns to George Street with the world premiere of his new comedy, “New Year’s Eve,” under the direction of David Saint, starring Marlo Thomas. April 14 through May 10.
There is reason to cheer that Crossroads Theater is celebrating its 30th anniversary season. The Tony Award-winning theater seems to be surmounting the turbulent and unsettling times it faced in the recent past. Its future continues to be shaped by artistic director Ricardo Kahn, who perseveres with a commendable vision. “It’s hard to count the number of ways we truly come together as community in our society, or how many opportunities we have that tap our own creative spirit. There is a void filled by the experience of theater that is as powerful spiritually as it is entertaining."
It may look like deja vu all over again at the Crossroads Theater with a season devoted to shows that previously played the theater. But what better way is there to celebrate its 30th anniversary than with a trio of hits from three different decades? It’s not only a celebration but also an opportunity for those who haven’t seen them to become acquainted and for those who did to enjoy them anew. Opening the season is “The Colored Museum,” a satirical revue-styled show set in a museum in which stereotypes and myths about hair, slavery, and Big Momma are spoofed (September 25 to October 5). Written by George C. Wolfe, it helped to launch the national prestige of Crossroads Theater in 1986 and as well as the career of Wolfe, who would go on to become a hugely successful playwright and the artistic director of the Public Theater.
“It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” first played Crossroads in 1998 just prior to moving to Broadway. There are hopes that some of the original cast will be returning for this engagement that runs November 2 to 23. The final production is “Sheila’s Day” (April 16 to May 3), which is fortuitously the third time Duma Ndolvu’s view of the civil rights struggles in the 1960s in the United Stages and South Africa will have played at Crossroads. Mbongeni Ngema, the original director, will return to direct this play, which was first seen at Crossroads in 1989 and again in 1995. This production has some new material by Ebony Jo-Ann, who appeared in the previous productions. The Genesis Festival, a tradition at Crossroads, offers the public an opportunity to attend readings of five scripts being nurtured by Crossroads (March 25 to 29).
The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey is in the home stretch of their 46th anniversary season, a season (begun last April 30) that has been one of unparalleled excellence. Artistic director Bonnie J. Monte refers to this season as one devoted to “the greatest hits.” Monte can be proud to report that the Shakespeare Theater broke box-office and subscription records this year despite the economic downturn. “Lowered ticket prices for subscribers resulted in the largest response yet and exceeded our goal,” says Monte.
Tennessee Williams’ classic “A Streetcar Named Desire,” under Monte’s direction, is currently running through October 5 and features Shakespeare Theater and Broadway veteran Laila Robins as the legendary Blanche Dubois. Shakespeare Theater veteran Gregory Derelian plays the sexy brute, Stanley. When I ask Monte if she took a new approach to this famous play, she answers, “You don’t muck with Streetcar.”
Curiously, Monte fears that Shakespeare’s most famous love story, “Romeo and Juliet” (October 15 to November 16), may be the riskiest play of the year, as it will not conform to the tradition that some purists expect. “It does honor the story and ‘the swords,’ but I like the way the director David Kennedy has found a minimalist, modern, and abstract way to depict the Renaissance world, mainly through its colors and fabrics,” says Monte. She considers “The Winter’s Tale,” the final show of the season, as another great Shakespeare romance. She feels it will provide a joyous holiday finale as it celebrates the triumph of love, nobility, and all things good (December 3 to 28).
#h#Paper Mill Playhouse#/h#
The immediate future of the Paper Mill Playhouse has been determined by the town of Millburn, which has purchased the financially distressed theater for $9 million. It then leased the building and land back to the theater for 75 years. This will enable the venerable institution to proceed in celebrating its 70th birthday — its platinum anniversary. There will be six shows on the boards, which Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill’s artistic director says, “will delight the many diverse constituencies that make up Paper Mill’s audience while continuing our goal to provide intergenerational entertainment.”
A fresh new look is promised for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved “Oklahoma” (now through October 19), and continues with “Disney’s High School Musical,” the stage production based on the Disney Channel original movie (November 5 to December 7); Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece of modern comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest” will surely lift you out of the mid-winter doldrums (January 14 to February 15); “Master Class” is another laugh-provoker in which the famed opera diva Maria Callas instructs three students, even as the play gives us insightful glimpses into her life and art (March 4 to April 5); the human face is put on American history in “1776,” the inspiring musical about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness (April 15 to May 17). Based on the international hit film, the stage version of “The Full Monty” is known as the grin and bare-it-all musical. Terrance McNally’s witty book and David Yazbek’s bouncy score contribute to the fun and poignancy of this story about a group of unemployed steel workers who are desperate to make some quick cash (June 10 to July 12).
Making theater an essential part of our lives is a task that strongly resonates with Passage Theater’s artistic director June Ballinger: “My prescription is to return to stories that stimulate the original urge towards theater-going, the urge people have to assemble and hear their stories told on stage in a way that is awe-inspiring and transcending. As you know, for 22 years, Passage Theater has developed and produced new work by both emerging and established playwrights. Last year, In order to distinguish ourselves from the 38 other professional theaters in New Jersey, many of which also focus on new work, we refined our mission to produce new works that test the limits of conventional theater and still speak to a richly diverse audience. We now seek writers that emphasize language, ritual, and a sensibility towards heightened or even magic realism. I look for plays that are political yet personal and thought-provoking while still accessible and entertaining. It is a big order but we believe that this focus will give us a reputation for the unusual.”
Broadway veteran performer Brenda Pressley will star in the season’s first play, “The Summer House” by Amber Kain, a darkly comic thriller (October 30 to November 23). Ballinger says, “Of all the plays this season, I think ‘Instructions for Breathing’ by Caridad Svich speaks directly to our mission shift. The play centers on the mysterious disappearance of a child and the ensuing unraveling of a marriage. Rich in language, it speaks to important aspects of today’s world, lends itself to high theatricality in execution, will have a multicultural cast, and is accessible yet challenging. We believe it will excite the hearts and minds of our audience.” “Instructions for Breathing” runs April 30 to May 24.
Mid-season is Passage’s seventh annual Solo Flights Festival, a popular festival of one-person shows, music, and dance (March 5 to 29).
To check out the 23 professional theater companies listed as members of the New Jersey Theater Alliance visit www.njtheatrealliance.com. The listings below run through December 31. Check theater websites for full season listings.
635 North Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville, 215-295-3694, www.actorsnetbucks.org.
You Never Can Tell. $20. September 26 through October 11.
The Investigation. $20. October 24 through November 9.
Seascape. $20. December 5 through 21.
Arts Council of Princeton
102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, 609-924-8777, www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.
Class. Dramatic reading of a new play written by Charles Evered, artist in resident. Roger Rees portrays a jaded acting teacher and Kristen Connelly plays his student. Bebe Neuwirth directs. Register. $5. Wednesday, September 24.
Bristol Riverside Theater
120 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA, 215-785-0100, www.brtstage.org.
The Spitfire Grill. Musical based on the 1996 film. $34 to $42. September 24 through October 12.
Informance Series. Ted Castellanos talks about world cultures, religion, and music. $15. Friday, October 17.
Absurd Person Singular. Alan Ayckbourn comedy. November 11 through 30.
Informance Series. Will Power presents hip-hop. $15. Friday, December 5.
Winter Musicale. Keith Baker directs. Thursday, December 11 through 21.
St. James Parish Hall, 225 Walnut Street, Bristol, PA.
America Rising: Voices of Today. Staged reading of “Up” by Bridget Carpenter. Register. Sunday, September 28.
America Rising: Voices of Today. Staged reading of “Lullaby” by Michael Elyanow. Register. Sunday, November 16.
Bucks County Playhouse
70 South Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-2041, www.buckscountyplayhouse.com.
Phantom of the Opera. Musical. $23. September 24 through October 11.
Jekyll & Hyde. Musical. $23. October 15 through 26.
The Rocky Horror Show. Musical. $23. October 24 through November 1.
To Be Announced. $23. November 5 through 23.
A Christmas Carol. Musical. $23. November 26 through December 21.
Mount-Burke Theater, Peddie School, Hightstown, 609-490-7550, www.peddie.org/capps.
The Comedy of Errors. Aquila Theater Company presents Shakespeare. Theater workshop with actors in the afternoon. Register. $25. Saturday, November 15.
7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-545-8100, www.crossroadsnb.com.
The Colored Museum. Comedy by George C.Wolfe lampoons myths and stereotypes of African-American culture. $45 to $55. September 25 through October 5.
It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. Musical opens with African chant and traces the roots of blues. $45 to $55. November 6 through 16.
George Street Playhouse
9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717, www.gsponline.org.
The Toxic Avenger. Rock musical based on Lloyd Kaufman’s cult classic film featuring a superhero in New Jersey. Written by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, and directed by John Rando. $28 to $66. September 30 through November 2.
The Seafarer. Conor McPherson’s Irish drama features Peter Maloney in a a tale of a poker game on Christmas Eve in Dublin. Directed by Anders Cato. $28 to $66. November 18 through December 14.
Kelsey Theater, Mercer County College
1200 Old Trenton Road, 609-570-3333, www.kelseytheatre.net.
Moon Over Buffalo. Comedy. $16. September 26 through 28.
Brighton Beach Memoirs. Comedy. $12. October 3 through 12.
Dames at Sea. Musical. $16. October 17 through 26.
The Rocky Horror Show. Musical. $16. October 31 through November 9.
The King and I. Musical. $16. November 14 through 23.
91 University Place, 609-258-2787, www.mccarter.org.
Herringbone. BD Wong portrays 11 characters in a musical ghost story. $15 to $49. In the Berlind Theater. Now through October 12.
Talley’s Folly. Romantic comedy by Lanford Wilson stars Richard Schiff and Margot White. Directed by Marshall W. Mason. October 12 through November 2.
A Christmas Carol. Holiday classic by Charles Dickens. December 7 through 28.
5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766, www.off-broadstreet.com.
Leading Ladies. Ken Ludwig farce. $29.50. Now through October 11.
Deja Vu. Musical. $27.50 to $29.50 includes dessert. October 24 through November 29.
Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings. Musical. $27.50 to $29.50 includes dessert. December 5 through 31.
Paper Mill Playhouse
Brookside Drive, Millburn, 973-376-4343, www.papermill.org.
Oklahoma!. Musical. $56 to $84. Now through October 19.
Disney’s High School Musical. Musical. $56 to $84. November 5 through December 29.
Mill Hill Playhouse, Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766, www.passagetheatre.org.
The Summer House. Comic thriller by Amber Kain. Directed by Jade King Carroll. $25 to $30. October 30 through November 23.
Lewis Center, 185 Nassau Street, 609-258-8560, www.princeton.edu.
Senior Thesis Production. “Amezidi,” a Kenyan play by Said Ahmed Mohamed translated and directed by Christopher Simpson, Class of 2009. $10. October 10 through 18.
Flammetangel Kabarett. Recreation of a cabaret created by Jon Feyer and Sarah Outhwaite, both Class of 2009. $10. December 5 through 7.
Berlind Theater at McCarter, 609-258-2787, www.princeton.edu.
Troy: After and Before. Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, translated by Robert Fagles, and Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, translated by Lucas Barron. Directed by Tim Vasen. November 14 through 22.
Fall Drama. November 15 through 22.
Raritan Valley Community College
Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420, www.rvccarts.edu.
A Christmas Carol. Nebraska Theater Caravan. $37 and $42. Friday, December 5.
Don Evans Black Box Theater, College of New Jersey, Ewing, 609-882-5979, www.shakespeare70.org.
The Skin of Our Teeth. Thornton Wilder comedy. $12. September 26 through October 4.
Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600, www.shakespearenj.org.
A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams drama. $29 to $53. Now through October 5.
Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare tragedy. Through November 16. $29 to $53. October 15 through November 16.
The Winter’s Tale. Shakespeare tale. $29 to $53. December 3 through 28.
Somerset Valley Players
Amwell Road, Hillsborough, 908-369-7469, www.svptheatre.org.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Musical about the chicken ranch in Texas. $18. Now through October 24.
Angel Street. Melodrama. $14. October 25 through November 9.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Comedy. $14. December 5 through 21.
15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7469, www.StateTheatreNJ.org.
Mark Twain Tonight. Hal Holbrook stars. $25 to $60. Friday, November 7.
Golda’s Balcony. Tovah Feldshuh portrays Golda Meir, Israel’s first prime minister. $30 to $65. Saturday, November 15.
Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University, 609-258-1742, www.theatreintime.org.
Crimes of the Heart. Drama by Beth Henley. $12. September 25 through 27.
Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends. “A Final Evening with the Illuminati” by Larry Larson and Levi Lee. $12. October 9 through 18.
The Nightmare. Drama by Zach Zimmerman, Class of 2010. $12. November 13 through 22.
Boy Gets Girl. Drama by Rebecca Gilman. $12. December 4 through 6.
Westminster Choir College
The Playhouse, Princeton, 609-921-2663, www.rider.edu.
The Glorious Ones. Musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty set in 17th century Venice based on the novel by Francine Prose. $15. October 31 through December 2.
Yvonne Theater, Rider University, 609-921-2663, www.rider.edu.
Cabaret. Musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb set in Berlin circa 1929. For mature audiences. $4. November 6 through 15.