Actor’s Express has announced six shows for its 33rd season, assigning them to parts of the year but no specific dates. Thank the novel coronavirus for that.
Artistic director Freddie Ashley hopes to open the 2020–21 season this summer with a Lizzie Borden rock musical and end it in late spring or early summer 2021 with a world premiere by Boston-based playwright Kira Rockwell. Among the more intriguing entries are a new title from playwright Lucas Hnath (A Doll’s House, Part 2) and the oft-rewritten and reworked Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along.
“We can’t wait to offer audiences the opportunity to laugh, cry, jump in their seats and lean into the experience of being alive in the world today,” Ashley said in a statement. “And to be able to do that together.” Ashley and managing director Alex Scollon lead the company.
Here’s a closer look at what Actor’s Express has planned.
SUMMER 2020. On a sweltering summer morning in a New England home in 1892, a prominent businessman and his second wife were hacked to death with an ax. One of the businessman’s daughters, the now infamous Lizzie Borden, was the prime suspect. Her trial was a coast-to-coast media sensation, turning her into something of an American legend. Lizzie is performed by four women and a rock band. The New York Times called the 2019 piece “a gothic rock ritual with a ‘riotgirl’ attitude” and “an eerie hybrid of rock club and a turn-of-the-century New England parlor.” Lizzie comes from Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner. Atlanta’s Jennifer Alice Acker directs.
The Thin Place
FALL 2020. For this new thriller from playwright Lucas Hnath (The Christians, A Doll’s House, Part 2), Actor’s Express will turn its space into an intimate séance, where the truth burrows into the “thin place,” the delicate boundary between our world and the next. The conceit: Everyone who ever died is still here — and Linda knows how to talk to all of them. Maybe you can too if you listen, if you really listen. The New York Times made the twisty piece, told by four actors, a critic’s pick and called it “compelling and delicious: another example of Hnath’s theatrical intelligence and respect for human mystery.” Ashley directs.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
HOLIDAY SEASON 2020. The Express revisits Hedwig for a third time, following its stagings of the cult classic in 2002 and 2008. The rock musical, born off-Broadway in 1998, tells the tale of how a “slip of a girlyboy” from communist East Berlin becomes the “internationally ignored song stylist” known as Hedwig after a botched sex change operation. Hedwig searches the world for stardom and love, while Hedwig and the Angry Inch celebrates everyone who’s ever felt like a misfit. The music, lyrics and book come from Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell, who played Hedwig in the show’s off-Broadway world premiere. Neil Patrick Harris, Darren Criss, Taye Diggs and Andrew Rannells have all worn the wigs and stilettos. No director has been named.
Merrily We Roll Along
WINTER 2021. One of Stephen Sondheim’s most fascinating pieces of work. Merrily We Roll Along follows Franklin, Mary and Charley — a composer, writer and lyricist — as they juggle the tensions between ambition and friendship in a show about old friends, growing up and bending with the road. The musical is told in reverse chronology, starting in the present as the friendships reach a breaking point and journeying backward in time through their successes and struggles, all the way to their first night together as they anticipate a future full of possibility. The score includes such Sondheim standards as “Good Thing Going,” “Our Time” and “Not a Day Goes By.” The 1981 original famously lasted only 44 previews and 16 performances on Broadway. The show has since been done twice off-Broadway, at California’s La Jolla Playhouse, at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in the U.K., in a reunion concert with original cast members, in a Encores! staged concert at City Center in New York and elsewhere. Ashley directs.
SPRING 2021. Bootycandy is a semi-autobiographical series of subversive vignettes that explore what it means to grow up gay and black in America. Playwright Robert O’Hara’s 2014 script follows a man named Sutter as he takes a kaleidoscopic odyssey through his childhood home, church, dive bars, seedy motels, nursing homes — and one funny phone conversation about very inappropriate baby names. The satirical comedy had its world premiere in 2011 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Expect a night full of sassy lessons in sex education. The New York Times called it “as raw in its language and as raucous in spirit as it is smart and provocative.” Martin Damien Wilkins (the Express’ When Father Comes Home From the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3) directs.
Oh, to Be Pure Again
LATE SPRING / EARLY SUMMER 2021. World premiere. This drama from Texas-born, Boston-based playwright Kira Rockwell unfolds during a hot summer at a fundamentalist church camp in Texas, where the occupants of the senior girls’ cabin search for something bigger than themselves. An idealistic young counselor works to shepherd the girls through a delicate phase of self-discovery, only to be confronted with challenges to her own worldview. The young women find themselves crashing into the uneasy tension between obedience and rebellion in a culture that is obsessed with their sexual purity. No director has been named.
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