We have a fantastic Mainstage line-up this Winter! It is the kind of season that comes together every five or ten years. It’s a “marquee” season: three of the plays received highly successful, high-profile Broadway productions and the fourth is a World Premiere.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder won the Tony Award for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction, and Best Costume Design. It also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Outstanding Featured Actor, and Outstanding Director of a Musical.
And yet, it is filled with challenge. The journey of Monty Navarro, who sets out on his “murder-spree” in order to gain his rightful place as Earl, sounds dark, but is delightful and fun-loving.
The challenge for the theatre is to produce this complex, brilliant piece of theatre, and keep it appearing to be simple, while the complexities lie hidden below the surface. The challenge, I think, is in the words. This musical is very much like the operettas of yester-year. It is smart, tuneful, (yes, you can hum the tune when you leave the theatre), and loaded with clever lyrics. So, for the director and the cast, the challenge is in making the words land effortlessly amidst the physical comedy. And if we are successful, the only challenge for the audience is learning to listen while laughing.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won the Tony Award for Best Play, Best Direction, Best Actor, Best Lighting Design, and Best Scenic Design. It also won the Olivier Award in London for all of the above plus Best Sound Design, (a category tragically dropped by the Tony Committee for that year), not to mention a host of Drama League Awards.
The artistic challenge of this extraordinary play is to take the audience into the mind of the central character, Christopher, who goes in search of what happened to the dog in the night-time. The challenge for the audience is to embrace the largess of the mind of Christopher. This character has a big brain. This play is theatricality at its best. It tests the imagination of the audience and the storytelling skill of ten ensemble actors. It began life as a novel for youngsters. It was banned in many American schools because of language and sexual references. And like most contemporary plays, there is some use of profanity, because some people talk that way.
Straight White Men by Obie Award-winning Young Jean Lee just wrapped up a Broadway run in September, and FST will be one of the first productions following the acclaimed, sometimes controversial, and much-written-about New York City production.
The artistic challenge in producing this play is to make sure that the comedy rings loud and true, while the ensuring drama touches the heart. This playwright purposefully challenges the audience from the moment we enter the theatre.
Because the pre-show music in the theatre is specifically designed to be “loud hip-hop with explicit lyrics by female rappers.” The purpose of the author here is to take the audience out of their comfort zone and to create a context for the play that gives us a fresh view of ‘straight white men.’ And then the play is introduced in such a way as to provide a fresh context for us to view three adult men visiting their father at Christmas. And the first 20 minutes, with their father out of the room, the sons behave rather like adolescents testing their profanity vocabulary. Then dad comes home.
The challenge for the audience is to accept moments of discomfort created by the playwright, and see our world through fresh eyes.
Wednesday’s Child is a World Premiere by one of FST’s favorite and most produced playwrights, Mark St. Germain. Two years ago, I asked Mark to write a play about abortion, but to avoid the political debate. The result is a captivating ‘who-done-it’ about the murder of a young college student who is making extra money as a surrogate mother hired by a young couple to birth their first child. It deals with many of the issues surrounding the “abortion debate” (and more) without entering into the debate. It is a human drama. A mystery and a good old-fashioned cop drama.
The challenge here is two-fold: first, producing a World Premiere is always a challenge. There is no road map; it is an adventure into the unknown. And second, to deal with the issues of the play in an even-handed way. It is always our purpose to approach ideas and issues as artists – not as partisans. Our goal as artists is to find the universal truth in the play.
One of the over-riding mandates of our approach to theatre art at FST is to remain open to all points of view. We pride ourselves on our diversity in casting and play selection. We also pride ourselves on our willingness to share diversity of thought. We think that the purpose of theatre is to ‘play on stage’ in order to test and strengthen our life skills. The theatre is a great place to test ideas – to see how our neighbors respond. To present all sides of an issue without choosing favorites.
And we know that, in the end, every person in the audience will react differently according to their own belief system, and according to their values. And we know that every play will either challenge our values, or confirm our values. Sometimes, maybe a little bit of both. And sometimes, the play will make us rethink our values. Where did they come from, and why are we still holding onto them?
Every good play is rooted in conflict. And every good conflict is rooted in opposing values. That makes for great theatre. And this promises to be a great season, filled with conflict, challenge, laughter and the warmth we all know that comes with embracing our differences.
Enjoy the Season.
Producing Artistic Director