Once More Unto the Breach

As summer comes to a close and the tourists follow the leaves north, Rhode Island theater shifts from the fun and frolic of outdoor Shakespeare and Theatre by the Sea to the full weight of the multitude of theatrical offerings that continue to amaze theatergoers in our tiny state. The Gamm has a new home and an exciting season, and OUT LOUD shifts from devised fantasia to cult musicals. Wilbury continues to check off their bucket list of some of the great plays in American theater history, and Academy Players sends a shot across the bow with one of this season’s most-anticipated productions.

From political drama to familiar comedies and musicals and every flavor in between, Rhode Island theater continues to be an embarrassment of riches. The sampling below is not exhaustive, but gives a taste of the months to come. And this is just what’s going on this fall – 2019 promises even more as the stalwarts continue to produce their best and new companies pop up seemingly every week. As the folks at Epic are fond of saying: Buckle up.

The Gamm begins this season with a major change as they move into their new space at 1245 Jefferson Blvd in Warwick. The venue will be unveiled to the public on September 6 with a Warwick Food Truck Night, and the season officially kicks off with Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana, opening October 11.

“For me, it’s right up there with Streetcar Named Desire, which we produced a few seasons back and remains a seminal Gamm production,” artistic director Tony Estrella said. “Iguana is a perfect play for right now, a complex, poetic and beautifully moving story of endurance during hard times and the need for connection and grace.”

Their next show, opening Nov 21, is “a future American classic, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria, a workplace comedy that transforms into a shocking meditation on civility and connection (or lack of) in contemporary America.”

The Wilbury Theatre Group opens their season with Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, opening September 13, a relevant choice coming in the wake of the #MeToo movement. This is followed by Hype Man by Idris Goodwin, opening November 1, which tackles the question of who is responsible for speaking out against social injustice. Artistic director Josh Short described this season as “an eclectic selection of plays from some of the most exciting artists and playwrights working today, and the casts and creative teams we’ve assembled are already hard at work creating an engaging audience experience for every one of them.”

Providence Performing Arts Center begins the year with the national tour launch of the heart-wrenching Miss Saigon, opening September 21 (see preview at motifri.com/misssaigon2018). The next national tour to swing into town will be Anastasia, the classic tale of Russian royalty, opening at the end of November. Additionally, the Loew’s Theatre Building where PPAC is located is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a free event for the community on October 13. Details on the event are forthcoming.

Trinity Rep is bringing a literary classic to the stage like you’ve never seen before. “I’m incredibly excited about our production of Pride and Prejudice, which is going to be a real surprise to audiences,” artistic director Curt Columbus said. “They will know the great story and rich characters, but they won’t expect the energetic and hilarious adaptation by Kate Hamill. Under the direction of the brilliant Birgitta Victorson (who is returning to Trinity after a number of years), this show promises to be a lively, fresh look at a beloved classic.”

OUT LOUD Theatre is presenting their first musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in June. “We are opening the doors to our process and holding open auditions at the start of next year,” said artistic director Kira Hawkridge. “I am thrilled to be tackling this cult classic, honoring what audiences love about these characters while exploring this story through the OUT LOUD lens.” The season, titled “Mortals and Monsters” also features the new works Creation X and Immortal Thirst.

The Stadium Theater in Woonsocket has a full slate of shows this season. “Shrek The Musical, running in October, is going to be a real crowd-pleaser,” said Jordan Harris, marketing director, who also noted that the production will feature a dragon puppet that is more than 23 feet tall.

“Also, the Stadium Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol continues to grow, and this year we are using a new, more musically involved script,” Harris added.

Beginning September 14, Rhode Island Stage Ensemble is presenting And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, directed by Michael Ferron. “I’m very excited Michael is directing this show as he’s perfect for it,” said creative director Lenny Schwartz. “It’s suited for Michael’s meticulous nature.”

Schwartz is also Daydream Theatre Company’s artistic director and this season, he’s bringing Rhode Island a passion project, which is a return to Schwartz’s popular biography plays. The play, titled Ditko will run in November at the RISE Playhouse. It’s about comic book illustrator Steve Ditko, and Schwartz will be at the helm as the director. Of course, one premiere isn’t enough for one season, and October 14 will see the 29 short and interwoven superhero plays Schwartz wrote for his Indiegogo campaign. All proceeds for this night will go to RISE, and if you donated, you already have a ticket!

Epic Theatre’s season, Conviction, will keep audiences glued to their seats. In September, they’ll present the longest title in the RI theater scene this season with We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, from the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 By Jackie Sibblies Drury. They will then hop over to the newly opened James and Gloria Maron Cultural Arts Center, which is home to the Academy Players, for Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker with the Hat — an RI premiere — and they round out the fall with Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden in November.

The Contemporary Theatre Company in Wakefield is not one to rest on their laurels — or rest, for that matter. Coming off the resounding success of the summer season, their fall continues apace with Florian Zeller’s touching and remarkable portrait of dementia, The Father, opening in previews September 14. On October 19, artistic director Christopher Simpson and crew head into previews for the season-appropriate macabre musical comedy, Little Shop of Horrors (which will also be tackled by Trinity Rep later in 2019). CTC’s knack for the “chamber musical” will come to the forefront, as they put their own spin on the Ashman/Menken classic.

If you love supernatural stories and a little mystery, head on down to Westerly’s Granite Theatre this fall. September brings us Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced and in October is Bell, Book and Candle, a romantic story involving a woman with supernatural powers and the man who falls in love with her. And if all that mystery isn’t for you, Annie will steal hearts as the year draws to a close.

Coming off the summer’s successful run of Much Ado About NothingHead Trick Theatre will continue to explore the theme of escapism and fantasy with Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine at AS220 in October. This play, about anti-Nazi liberals who feel that what is going on in Europe doesn’t affect them, is sure to be the talk of the town. Head Trick also is going to hold a “pay what you can night” for the first time this fall.

For more than 40 years, Kaleidoscope has been bringing theater to RI children. Just as the kids get settled back in school, Kaleidoscope will present Bully on September 15. They will return to a classic, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, in early October, and A Happy Halloween House, “An Unhaunted Fairytale Come True” will be performed in time for Halloween. All performances will take place at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Cranston.

Turning leaves shouldn’t mean you have to turn your car away from Newport. Go visit the Newport Playhouse and Cabaret Restaurant! Michael Parker’s There’s a Burglar in my Bed, a night filled with chaos, comedy and culinary delights, will be directed by Playhouse veteran, Tony Annicone. The laughter will continue rolling right into October with A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, directed by a Playhouse familiar face, Michael Johnson. And stay for the free cabaret to take in some show tunes, a nightcap and a few more laughs to carry you home.

This fall, Academy Players of RI has a double premiere. The James and Gloria Maron Cultural Arts Center will have its grand opening on September 13 with a gala including cocktails, light fare, a panel discussion on news and theater, followed by the opening night and RI premiere of Newsies (see preview page XX).

“The James and Gloria Maron Cultural Arts Center is a brand new building large enough to support all our artistic goals and create a space within the community where the arts (music/theater/visual) can be celebrated,” says artistic director Rita A. Maron.

October will bring the first performance in their Musicals in Concert Series when they put on The Addams Family in Concert. November will feature Once on This Island, Jr., performed by kids ages 7-17, and wrapping up the season like a gift will be holiday favorites A Charlie Brown Christmas and Christmas Cabaret.

The Players at Barker Playhouse in Providence bring the underproduced thriller Deathtrap to their stage on October 12, directed by multiple Motif-Award winner, Alan Hawkridge. Ira Levin’s multilayered murder mystery is perhaps only remembered by those who saw the film version decades ago, so new audiences can now discover this unpredictable (and often hilarious) 1978 masterpiece. William Gibson’s The Butterfingers Angel…, directed by Vince Petronio, opens November 30 — just in time to thumb noses at traditional holiday fare and present a unique take on the Nativity story.

Attleboro Community Theatre (ACT) is proud to open its 62nd season with two classics. Inherit the Wind, written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee and directed by Kelli Tallman, takes place in October, and The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, written by Mark Brown and directed by ACT president Jeanne Smith, takes place in December. Smith said, “I am very excited about all of our shows this season; however, Inherit the Wind I am especially proud of due to the trouble we went through trying to bring this show to an audience. This show is sure to bring in a large crowd since it is a classic! Our Christmas show, The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge, is a favorite among our patrons. It always brings in a huge crowd and is hysterical from the opening line!”

Burbage Theatre Company’s first show this fall is the RI premiere of Shakespeare in Love, based on the Academy Award-winning film/screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. “Last season, we chose to focus on how extraordinary want begets extraordinary circumstances and chose plays that were about unstoppable forces meeting immovable objects,” explains artistic director Jeff Church. “For our eighth season, we seek to focus the lens and examine an individual’s strength of will. We want to catch glimpses of outstanding individuals forced into action by elements of their own character — people who confront those inherent complications within and about themselves that will determine the circumstances of their futures.”

Church feels Shakespeare in Love “may be the most succinct, accessible and absolutely delightful love letter to the theater that has been written in recent years, but it is so much more than a story of ‘love triumphant and a bit with a dog.’ Shakespeare in Love is about art’s ability to transcend the power of our oppressors and deliver salvation, if only for a moment.”

A second show before the new year, Moliere’s The Hypochondriac, or The Imaginary Invalid, will be showing in November.

Counter-Productions Theatre Company kicks off the 2018/2019 season with its fourth annual new play reading series, “Readings in Autumn,” featuring two compelling new works. Manhood, by Dennis A. Allen II and directed by AS220’s dance coordinator Ron Lewis, will be performed on September 13. The Married Name, by Epic Theatre Company artistic director Kevin Broccoli and directed by CPTC resident artist Trey Hendley, will be performed on September 20. Both will be presented at AS220’s Black Box Theatre free of charge, and both plays contain strong language and adult subject matter.

“We are thrilled to continue to serve as a platform for playwrights to develop new works,” says CPTC artistic director Ted Clement, “and we look forward to the audience’s response to these provocative plays.”

Following the reading series, the company will produce Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, ‘Night, Mother. The production will be directed by CPTC resident artist Valerie Remillard. Remillard, who was nominated for a Motif Theater Award for last year’s CPTC production of Waiting for Godot, sees the play as an honest look at “a fractured but loving mother/daughter relationship and their tragic, mutual efforts to ultimately deny, avoid or assuage their suffering.” ‘Night, Mother will be presented in November, also at AS220’s Black Box Theatre.

The Community Players (TCP) open their 98th season with Social Security, the hilarious comedy about a couple of trendy New York art dealers whose lives are upended when her mother comes to live with them. Written by Andrew Bergman, “Social Security is sure to hit home with anyone who has dealt with the joys and challenges of caring for an elderly parent,” says TCP’s artistic director Erika Koch.

The Community College of Rhode Island kicks off its season with Green Day’s American Idiot, a musical theater interpretation of the band’s ground-breaking punk rock concept album, to be presented at the Knight Campus in Warwick. The production will feature an exciting collaboration with the fine arts department in the form of extensive video projection work developed by students in the video arts classes. They’ll follow this with the more intimate, family-focused Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, a comedic brawl concerning two cousins battling over family, faith and legacy that is, according to director Luke Sutherland, “on its way to becoming a modern-day classic.” This biting comedy/drama will be presented at the Liston Campus in Providence.

Rhode Island College begins its season with Trinity Repertory Company artistic director Curt Columbus’ translation of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. The play is directed by Trinity’s associate artistic director Tyler Dobrowsky. “It’s been a real pleasure working with this group of actors on this piece,” says Dobrowsky. “In addition to being one of the greatest plays of all time, full of laughter, tears, love and family, it’s also a wonderful ensemble piece where everyone gets a chance to shine.” RIC will follow with Quilters the Musical, a moving play about a pioneer woman and her six daughters, constructed of “blocks” or scenes in which actors will transform into different characters over time. The student-produced RIC: Growing Stage will close the season with Sarah Treem’s When We Were Young and Unafraid. All three productions will be presented in the Helen Forman Theatre.

The fall season at the University of Rhode Island will see the return of OUT LOUD Theatre artistic director Kira Hawkridge in a double bill, directing Ellen McGlaughlin’s translations of Lysistrata and Trojan Women in a program titled Women & War, presented in Studio J. Hawkridge describes the program as, “a thrilling opportunity to engage with two sides of the same coin, seeing war through two different lenses. I am excited to explore how these pieces are in conversation with each other — what they share and what sets them apart.” They will follow with Michael Frayn’s hysterically disastrous play within a play, Noises Off, directed by Contemporary Theatre Company artistic director Christopher Simpson. “The funniest play ever written?” proposes Simpson. “Probably. Noises Off is a classic for good reason — relatable characters, wild desires and the fastest paced comedy imaginable.” This farcical comedy will be presented in Robert E. Will Theatre.

Providence College will produce one full theater production this fall: the wonderfully campy Bat Boy. This musical comedy/horror production, based on the infamous Weekly World News article, tells the story of a half boy, half bat creature discovered in a cave in Hope Falls, West Virginia, who seeks love and acceptance in the face of intolerance. This unlikely love story will be performed in the Black Friars Theatre.

Roger Williams University will start the fall with their RWU Freshman Play, a collection of scenes introducing the first-year students. They will follow with the first mainstage production of the season, LaRonde by Arthur Schnitzler, a “roundelay of sex” in 19th century Vienna, as told in 10 intertwined scenes. Next, they’ll present their Stage Company One-Act Festival, featuring Portrait of a Madonna by Tennessee Williams and Unquestionable Evil by Sam Graber. They’ll close the semester with Sara Ruhl’s haunting Eurydice. All shows will be presented in the RWU Performing Arts Center.

Salve Regina University will honor the recently deceased theater icon Neil Simon by producing the somewhat autobiographical Brighton Beach Memoirs in the Casino Theatre. This coming-of-age comedy focuses on Eugene Morris Jerome, a Polish-Jewish American teenager who experiences puberty, sexual awakening and a search for identity as he tries to deal with his family. “Salve Regina University’s Theatre hasn’t done an American comedy in five years,” says director Tom Gleadow. “What better comedy is there than the late, great Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs?”

Brown University will begin its season at the Leeds Theatre with a production of Bulrusher by Eisa Davis, the story of a clairvoyant orphan found in a basket on the Navarro River. This passionate, lyrical play explores the meaning of love, family, identity and belonging. They’ll follow with the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, a dark tale of one woman’s struggle with bipolar disorder and the impact it has on her family. They’ll close the semester with Yusef El Guindi’s Back of the Throat, which tells the story of an Arab-American writer under increasingly menacing government investigation.

This list is far from everything there is to find on Rhode Island stages this fall. From Swamp Meadow’s Somewhere in Italy to Murder On Us’s Killing Hamilton to the fourth year of From Scratch PVD, there is a lot to take in over the next several weeks. Watch Motif for updated listings, features and reviews of what’s happening, and we’ll see you in the audience somewhere soon!

 

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