Fall Theater Preview

PROFESSIONAL

It couldn’t be a better time to be a theater-goer in Rhode Island. With eight professional theaters to choose from, the fall season is ripe with gripping dramas, cutting-edge musicals and hysterical comedies to match anyone’s mood. I asked many of the smallest state’s artistic directors what they’ll be bringing to the Rhode Island stages this fall.

2nd Story’s artistic director, Ed Shea, when asked about 2nd Story’s upcoming season of eight plays Upstage and Downstage, said, “I’m always excited about the one I’m working on.” And rehearsals have just begun for Lucy Prebble’s Enron. Shea has kept this play in his back pocket for years, waiting for the best time to stage this technically challenging production. Partnering with resident designer, Trevor Elliot, to produce Enron, Shea says that Prebble’s play is both horrifying and so familiar.

While there is no theme, per se, for 2nd Story Theatre’s season, many plays center around education. From Seminar by Theresa Rebeck’s to Collective Stories by David Margulies  to And Ms Reardon Drinks a Little by Paul Zindel, someone is getting a lesson. Shea hopes that most of these plays will be new to many subscribers and patrons.

Contemporary Theater Company’s big fall show is The Visit, adapted by Rhode Islander Kevin Broccoli from the original by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Actors from across the state, including Rae Mancini and Jason Quinn, are in the lead roles. The show combines dark humor with suspense and thought-provoking questions. In December, the holiday show Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge by Christopher Durang brings Kira Hawkridge from OUT LOUD Theatre to direct. It’s a playful revision of the holiday hallmark, A Christmas Carol.

Their annual project with a local high school, called “Testing, Testing 1234,” is also on tap. Four of CTC’s directors work with student actors, stage managers and technicians to produce four short plays.

It’s The Gamm’s 30th Anniversary season, so according to Tony Estrella, artistic director, “With time on our minds we are going to travel from Medieval England through Revolutionary Paris, Victorian-era Norway, ’60s New York City and the deserts of Afghanistan and Las Vegas during the War on Terror.” Estrella is excited that their season “offers back-to-back productions featuring two of the most complex and acutely sensitive portrayals of personal crisis in the history of the theater.” First up is the New England premiere of George Brant’s Grounded. Brant’s one-woman show examines “an unnamed fighter pilot who, after becoming pregnant, is grounded from combat missions and upon return to duty is forced to join the chair force and fly a drone in Afghanistan while never leaving her comfortable chair in a Las Vegas Air Force base.” Grounded, directed by Judith Swift, premieres actor Liz Hayes, a Boston-based actor. “If the pilot in Grounded is one of the great roles of the 21st Century, Hedda Gabler can make a case as the greatest of all time.” Featuring Marianna Bassham as Hedda, The Gamm is offering a new adaptation of what is often considered Ibsen’s finest play. These two plays “speak to each other with incredible power across more than a century and, back-to-back, offer a unique conversation on how resistance to historical forces shapes our destiny.”

Ocean State Theatre Company is quickly earning a reputation for bringing new life to classic musicals, like their upcoming production of My Fair Lady. On Halloween night, they open Dial M for Murder. Producing artistic director, Aimee Turner, is most excited about Meet Me in St. Louis, which will be this year’s holiday presentation. The Meeting’s regional premiere explores an intimate and intelligent discussion between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and is the perfect way to celebrate Black History Month. Two shows they are presenting also will make their debuts on film this year – Jason Robert Brown’s unusual telling of a very intimate love story, The Last Five Years, and Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, which will close their season.

Providence Performing Arts Center brings the national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Family Night is October 15; on that night, patrons who purchase one full-priced adult ticket will receive a free ticket for a child 18 or younger. Select restaurants in the city will be offering a pre-fixe Cinderella-themed menu. Beautiful—The Carole King Musical is the seventh show in PPAC’s Broadway Series and The Illusionists is coming to PPAC straight from Broadway in January.

The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater (TRIST), in collaboration with The Courthouse Center for the Arts, is presenting a new play this fall.  The Impaler’s Progress, written by Rhode Island playwright Mark Carter, about famed medieval impaler Vlad, and directed by TRIST founder and artistic director Bob Colonna. It’s a wild, sometimes violent ride, sometimes outrageous, often hilarious, and never dull.

Trinity Repertory Company’s 51st season is titled “The Necessity of Human Connection.” Described as “funny, whimsical and romantic as it is bittersweet, powerful and longing; six gorgeous stories told by a diverse set of voices both classic and new; some sprawling, some intimate, all moving.” All but one of this season’s plays rings familiar from Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park to Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie. Trinity is excited by the world premiere musical Melancholy Play by Sarah Ruhl directed by Liesl Tommy. The season opens with Checkov’s Ivanov, with a new translation by Trinity artistic director Curt Columbus.

The Wilbury Theatre Group has a great season lined up with a mix of well-known plays and newer pieces. According to Josh Short, artistic director, “Each of the plays and musicals that we’re producing this year are extremely challenging both in terms of production demands and in terms of content, and we’re looking forward to continuing our work to inspire dialogue and discussion with our audiences on the most pressing issues facing us today.”

Short is excited to present three Rhode Island premieres — first the documentary-musical This Beautiful City followed by playwright Lucas Hnath’s A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the death of Walt Disney, directed by Brien Lang and featuring Vince Petronio as Walt Disney. The spring brings Gina Gionfriddio’s hilarious and heartwarming examination of modern day feminism, Rapture Blister Burn. And they round out the season with Next to Normal, one of the greatest new musicals of the last decade, directed by Wendy Overly.

COMMUNITY

In Rhode Island, community theater abounds. And from the stage to the wings, it is packed with talent. We asked several of the state’s most prominent community theaters about their upcoming seasons.

Epic Theater’s fall season will open with Compleat Female Stage Beauty, featuring an ensemble cast, crossdressing and a battle of the sexes! Founder Kevin Broccoli asserts that he hasn’t laughed this hard at a script in years. Next, the theater will perform Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Orlando. Expect to see some solo pieces and a modern ghost story! This provocative season will address the themes of faith, attraction, gender swap and sexuality.

Daydream Theatre Co. will begin their season with a Charles Schulz bio play, The Man Who Saw Snoopy, at Bell Street Chapel in Providence. Written over a span of five years, this is a long-anticipated passion project for writer Lenny Schwartz. In spring, the theater will put on The Social Avenger, a play based on events in Lenny’s life. Then, get ready for a surprise in the summer! We can only imagine what awaits.

America’s oldest continuously running little theater, The Players at The Barker Playhouse, embark on their 106th season this year! They’ll start off strong with the captivating classic, Guys and Dolls. Next, the witty and sly dark-humored Blithe Spirit takes the stage.

Mixed Magic Theatre will present a reading of Wiketv, a new work by emerging playwright and NYU student Brianna McGhee. Ricardo Pitts-Wiley’s Simply Phenomenal, a tribute to Maya Angelou, is traveling to Block Island for one night only in September.

The Marley Bridges Theatre Company is sure to give you a spook this season. Explore the tales of the ghosts and spirits within the mansions of New England in Historic Hauntings. In October, get swept up in the holly jolly murderous folly of Silent Night, Deadly Night. All is not calm and bright in this Christmas crime!

Renaissance City Theatre Company of the Granite Theatre will present Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, And Then There Were None. Then, set in an island paradise during World War II, two parallel love stories are threatened by  prejudice and war in South Pacific. The season rounds out with Over the River and Through the Woods, a fairy-tale-inspired family comedy.

The Academy Players of East Greenwich have a brand new theater this year! The Q2Q Blackbox Theatre has “a more energetic vibe that keeps the atmosphere alive.” A grand opening and performance of The Addams Family will kick off their 60th season in October. The company boasts more progressive content for the upcoming season, along with dinner theater and murder mysteries!

Swamp Meadow Community Theatre in Foster will open with Our Town, the 1938 three-act play by American playwright Thornton Wilder. Director Tim Hillman’s non-traditional casting and stripped down presentation will surely be inspirational. Next, an all-star cast brings a holiday classic to life. Anthony Piccolo stars as Ralphie Parker, the 1940s nine-year-old that will do anything for a Red Ryder B.B. gun in A Christmas Story. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!

Little Theatre of Fall River will present the epic story of loss and triumph of the human spirit in Les Miserables. In December, they will switch gears completely — so grab a pint of Keg Nog and get ready for The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical!

Your Theatre of New Bedford proudly opens its 68th season with a newly energized cast of dedicated volunteers. The growing theater will start their fall season with Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, starring Zane Furtado as Eugene. Next up is Post Mortem, a classic murder mystery laced with suspense and laughter, directed by Bob Gillette. The theater is in the just-renovated auditorium of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.

Counter-Productions Theatre Company will perform three shows this season in their new location at AS220’s black box, 95 Empire in Providence. 1st Atomic Bride of X-1, the company’s version of a one-act festival, will adapt radio plays into full-fledged tales of new dimensions in time and space — with four directors. The theater does a complete 180 with Topdog/Underdog, a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and socioeconomic disparity. A performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III will wrap up this diverse season.

The Theatre Company of RI will open its fall season with Death by Design, a light-hearted murder mystery set in the 1930s. Tom Dudzick’s Greetings! will be performed in December — a touching boy-brings-fiancée-home-at-Christmas comedy.

The Community Players have a full lineup this year. Starting the season is a performance of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a musical comedy that follows a group of quirky kids competing for spelling bee infamy. This is followed by the comedic Sly Fox, about a con man extraordinaire who manipulates an entire town in order to loot their gold. The Players wrap up the season with Guys and Dolls and a to-be-announced fourth performance.

COLLEGE

Rhode Island’s colleges and universities showcase their crop of fledgling talent on the stage and behind the stage. You could see a college or university play every night if you so desired. Here’s a sample of what’s to come for the fall season.

Brown’s Theatre Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS) department has some surprises in store for the fall. The season will open with a bang with a fully-staged production of the much-loved Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd. Directed by artistic director of Trinity Rep, Curt Columbus, it is already shaping up to be a unique and dynamic production, with teasers hinting at a staging that calls to mind the Occupy movement in its exploration of morality as related to the 1 percent. The rest of the fall season looks to be just as exciting, with Hype Hero, a play written by a Brown alum, and Heist Play, written and directed by current Brown senior Skylar Fox.

Providence College is kicking off their diverse fall season with what promises to be a fresh and unexpected take on the over-the-top comedy and theatrics of Moliè­re’s classic farce, The Imaginary Invalid, Directed by Mary G. Farrell. Further down the road are two more productions in PC’s fall season. First comes Fully Committed, an independent, student-directed comedy in which a single actor will take on the challenge of playing upwards of 40 characters in one night. Next comes The Blackfriars Dance Concert, featuring the Providence College Dance Company, with guest and resident choreographers and culminating in two performances in the Angell Blackfriars Theatre.

The University of Rhode Island’s fall season looks to be one full of laughs, opening with the Rhode Island premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, described as an “edgy, contemporary, comedic play”  that follows the lives of four aspiring writers just out of college who seek out the critique of a “well-known writing guru” and get much more than they anticipated. Coming up next in their fall season is Avenue Q, winner of three Tonys and known for its hilarious, catchy music and of, course, a cast that incorporates 11 puppet characters maneuvered by unconcealed puppeteers.

The Roger Williams fall season is an eclectic collection of plays and gives theatergoers plenty of opportunities to see compelling and entertaining work. Opening the fall season is Nothing Serious, a collection of 10-minute comedies showcasing the talent of the incoming freshman class. The season continues with She Stoops to Conquer, a classic comedy of manners by Oliver Goldsmith, and a Festival of One Act Plays, featuring two short plays, one from classic American playwright Eugene O’Neill and the other a new work by a current RWU senior. The last show of the fall season brings to life the whimsical, engaging voice of playwright Sarah Ruhl in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a compelling story of technology, love and memory.

There is so much theater to see in Rhode Island. Try out a play or two or more if you’re not one who usually goes to theater. The talent in this state will astound you.

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