Oct 13, 2013
02:10 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Steve Martin, Phylicia Rashad, August Wilson and Athol Fugard Play Starring Roles at Long Wharf Theatre in 2013-14

 Steve Martin, Phylicia Rashad, August Wilson and Athol Fugard Play Starring Roles at Long Wharf Theatre in 2013-14

Actors Burke Moses and Didi Conn in rehearsals for "The Underpants."

Okay, so the headline is a little misleading. Nonetheless, in planning its 2013-14 season it's clear that New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre has done its usual stellar job of blending theatrical pleasures with challenges, the new with the classic, the familiar with the obscure, and big names with exciting up-and-comers. We asked Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein to comment on this year's slate of productions, and why they excite him.

On the Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Theatre:

The Underpants (Oct. 16-Nov. 10)—Steve Martin's adaptation turns German playwright Carl Sternheim's 2011 social farce Die Hose (deemed scandalous and banned in its day) from a biting satire of the rising German middle class—which some historians have noted was the prototype for the later German Nazi Party—into a smart and slapsticky reflection on the war between men and women. It's also a satire of the phenomenon of instant fame, following the complications that ensue after young wife Louise's bloomers drop in the middle of a public appearance by the king. In short, indiscretion leads to celebrity leads to mo' problems. For Edelstein, who directs the production, it's a reminder of the phenomenon of modern "celebs" like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian: "They really haven't accomplished anything; they're sort of famous for being famous—yet they're on the cover of magazines and talked about on entertainment shows," he says. "I'm always looking for comedies to present, but there are fewer of them than there are dramas, and even fewer contemporary plays in the great comic tradition. This is a play I've admired for a while, and I thought it'd be great fun to do."

Fences (Nov. 27-Dec. 22)—Broadway veteran Phylicia Rashad—who's been in everything from Into the Woods to August: Osage County, but still will forever be known as mom to the "Cosby Show" brood—makes her Long Wharf directorial debut with this Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play, set in the 1950s and part of Wilson's 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle. His lead character Troy Maxson, a former Negro Leagues baseball star turned embittered garbage collector, has been played in the past by James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington and, in an unexpectedly triumphant turn last summer in London, British comedian Lenny Henry. Says Edelstein, "August Wilson has never been seen on the Long Wharf stage before—he'd been the province of our colleagues at Yale Repertory Theatre, where most of his plays were developed, at least in part. But those days are gone, and I think August belongs to the canon of great American playwrights. It's time we present him to our audiences, and this is one of my favorite of his plays."

4000 Miles (Feb. 19-March 16)—Unabashedly lauded by The New York Times during its 2012 run at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (and called the "best play of the season" by TIME magazine), this 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist concerns the relationship that grows between 21-year-old lost soul Leo—who's completed a coast-to-coast bike trip adrift in a sea of tragic circumstances—and his cantankerous 91-year-old grandma Vera, widow of a celebrated political leftist, whose doorstep he lands on. "We've been doing plays that have had recent success in New York, like last season's Clybourne Park," Edelstein says. "In some ways, that's a newer venture for us, and it's proven to be very satisfying. This is a beautifully written play by the young and gifted Amy Herzog, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama. It's the kind of play that speaks directly to our audience, too, because much of our audience is older; they will really relate."

The Last Five Years (May 7-June 1)—Successful author Jamie and frustrated actress Cathy each review their doomed relationship—he from beginning to end, she from end to beginning—in this much-loved "cult" musical from Jason Robert Brown, who also wrote the Tony-winning score for Parade (a 1998 collaboration with Alfred Uhry about the World War I-era trial and lynching of Jewish businessman Leo Frank), and whose latest score, for the new musical The Bridges of Madison County, debuts on Broadway in February. A Major Movie Musical version of The Last Five Years is currently in the works (as The Last 5 Years), starring Anna Kendrick and "Smash" heartthrob Jeremy Jordan, but here's the chance for local audiences to see the undiluted original. "We love doing musicals," says Edelstein, "though it's difficult to afford the large scale productions. Jason Robert Brown is without question one of the most gifted composers on the theater scene today. This show is challenging in its structure, but it's immensely moving. The songs are just beyond compare, absolutely exquisite."

Stage II World Premieres:

The Consultant (Jan. 8-Feb. 9)—Obie and Drama Desk award-winning actress—not to mention rising playwright—Heidi Schreck penned this new comedy, which deals with the absurd world of the contemporary corporate workplace and the unlikely relationship that develops between a precocious corporate consultant and a middle-aged adman after a series of brutal layoffs at Sutton, Feingold and McGrath. "I've known Heidi for almost 20 years, she's grown into a fine playwright," says Edelstein. "I think this play really speaks to this moment of challenges to the corporate culture." Director Kip Fagan recently directed Jesse Eisenberg and Vanessa Redgrave in The Revisionist, a play written by Eisenberg, at New York's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

The Shadow of the Hummingbird (March 26-April 27)—Legendary South African playwright Athol Fugard ("Master" Harold . . . and the Boys, A Lesson from Aloes), winner of the 2011 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, premieres his 34th play. He's also the star, in his first appearance on any stage since 1997, playing a grandfather surprised by the afternoon visit of his 10-year-old hooky-playing grandson. Says Edelstein, "Athol and Long Wharf have had a fruitful relationship for many years now, and he was gracious enough to offer us this new play, which is no small thing. The fact that he's going to appear in the play is a huge deal. I'm very proud to be directing this production."

For more information about the 2013-14 season, or to purchase tickets, visit longwharf.org or call (203) 787-4282.

 

Steve Martin, Phylicia Rashad, August Wilson and Athol Fugard Play Starring Roles at Long Wharf Theatre in 2013-14

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