Plays that examine issues and realities of America at a time of patriotic zeal, bitter political division, and global Americanization are on Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s schedule for 2005-06, according to its artistic director, David Alford.
"This season we asked our audiences to come to plays most Nashvillians and Tennesseans could easily relate to like Inherit the Wind, Truman Capote’s Holiday Memories, and The Piano Lesson," he said. "Now, we think it might be really interesting to take a good look at ourselves and the different ways we are uniquely American. The plays in our Americana Season will also resonate deeply with our audiences as they are timely and topical."
To that end Alford and his producing director, Renè Copeland, chose a musical never produced locally by a professional company, two contemporary dramas never produced locally, and two favorite past productions. The company’s 21st season, sponsored by HCA/Tri-Star, includes:
1776 by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone (Oct. 20-22, Oct. 27-29, Nov. 3-5, Polk Theater) – Tennessee Rep will produce a new staging – contemporary design with a diverse, non-traditional cast — of the classic musical.
"As national founders like John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson risk their lives and debate the issues of freedom and liberty and draft the Declaration of Independence, we’ll see the courage of those who dared to challenge the most powerful nation on earth and create a new nation, one united behind the power of the revolutionary idea of freedom," Alford said. "These men were not just political wonks. And the parallels to contemporary struggles against oppression and for self-determination, standing up despite being called traitor, are extraordinary."
The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris (Nov. 24-26, Dec. 1-3, Dec. 8-10, Dec. 15-17, Johnson Theater)
"We have had a mountain of requests to repeat this production about a 33-year-old man who becomes an elf in Macy’s Santaland," Alford said. "David Sedaris" story really speaks to people who are sick of the sentimentality and commercialism of the American holiday season. No one escapes Sedaris’ knife as he exposes both what goes on behind the scenes in a large department store and our own complicity in turning Christmas into a retail nightmare. And so people can truly arm themselves, we will have a special Thanksgiving Day night preview, just before the biggest shopping day of the year!" Alford said.
Two Nashville premiers follow: Recent Tragic Events by Craig Wright (Jan. 26-28, Feb. 2-4, Feb. 9-11, Feb. 16-18) and Oleanna by David Mamet (March 2-4, March 9-11, March 16-18, March 23-25), both in Johnson Theater.
Alford said Recent Tragic Events is best captured with a line of dialogue from the play, an Off-Broadway hit in 2003.
"I think it’s the new American way. I used to wake up every morning and think, ‘What am I gonna do?’ Today I woke up and thought, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’"
The play takes place in Minneapolis on September 12, 2001 . A young man goes to the apartment of a girl with whom he has a blind date. There, he discovers she is concerned about her sister in New York who’s been unreachable in the chaos following the attack on the World Trade Center .
"The play is intelligent, funny, and deeply moving for all who find life somehow different since 9/11,” Copeland said. She cautions Recent Tragic Events and Oleanna have adult themes and situations.
"Definitely our 2005-06 season has at least two plays that are edgier and more adult than those in the current season. Recent Tragic Events also has some very strong language," she continued. "We understand some attendees may be offended, but we feel the plays have powerful stories to tell about America and Americans now – and the language is realistic which makes the plays even more passionate and intense."
Mamet, one of America’s most respected and controversial living playwrights, tackles sexual harassment and political correctness in Oleanna.
"We promise audience members will talk and argue during intermission, all the way home, and into the next week after seeing this play in which a young female student at a large university accuses a professor of sexual harassment. The ending is a stunner," Alford said.
The season ends on a much lighter note, although the play, Dearly Departed by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones (May 4-6, May 11-13, May 18-20, Polk Theater), examines the peculiar ways in which Americans, especially Southerners, sometimes deal with death and dying.
"David and I did this show several years ago as part of a Mockingbird Theatre season and really love its portrait of what happens when dysfunctional families gather to mourn the passing of a loved one. You’ll meet Royce, the lazy sewage-plant employee, and Junior, who’s just sunk all his money into a parking-lot cleaning franchise, and Delightful, a binge-eating nearly mute child. It’s the funniest play you’ll ever see about family and death. I know that seems an unlikely combination for comedy, but sometimes laughing is the only way to deal with either of those things, and the comedy and characters of this play are so well written you won’t be able to help yourself," Copeland said. "If you don’t laugh and can prove it, you’ll get your money back!"
"In fact," she added, "if you don’t laugh and shed a tear and get a bit angry next season, you can talk with me about a total refund!"
Casting will be completed this summer and in the fall, Alford said.
Season subscribers will also have two special offerings: Das Treffen (The Gathering);The Other Side, a new work being created by Tennessee Rep in association with a professional theatre company, Theatre Magdeburg, in Nashville’s German "sister city." The production will involve Nashville and Magdeburg actors acting and interacting via projection feeds and video screens and celebrate Magdeburg ‘s 1200th anniversary.
Alford says it is the world’s first truly transatlantic production and will be staged in Johnson Theater in late September. Details are forthcoming as the production develops.
Alford’s popular one-man version of Truman Capote’ A Christmas Memory will be done again, but only for season subscribers as part of a holiday event, set for December in War Memorial Auditorium.
"There will not be public performances of Capote’s work this year and season subscribers will be the only invited guests," he said. "This private edition is our way of giving a special thanks to the people who invest in our artistic mission by buying tickets for the entire season."
"We’re also going to be working with Nashville Shakespeare Festival on its summer production in Centennial Park, but details about that will come from that organization’s board later this spring," Alford said.
Each production runs from Thursday through Saturday for three weeks when in Polk Theater and for four weeks when in Johnson Theater. A Saturday matinee performance will be given in the third week for productions in Polk and in the third and fourth weeks for productions in Johnson. Matinees on the third Saturdays will be signed for the hearing impaired. All Thursday evening performances are at 6:30 p.m. , while Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. . All performances have accessible seating.
Season subscribers will save $50-$75 over most single-ticket buyers. Subscriptions are $150 and $125 for the five-show season. Tickets for Das Treffen (The Gathering); The Other Side are $30 each, but at this time these are only available to season subscribers. Flex Passes are $30 each with a minimal order of $90. For questions and orders: 615-782-6560 or 1-800-410-4216. Orders can also be taken at the TPAC Box Office downtown, or at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Green Hills.
Tennessee Repertory Theatre is the largest professional theatre in the state, presenting work that is designed, built and rehearsed in Nashville by a company of highly skilled actors, designers, directors, and technicians. A non-profit organization, Tennessee Rep produces a blend of comedies and dramas each year, from world classics to prize-winning contemporary plays, in Polk and Johnson Theaters at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.