TheaterWorks Announces Its 2018-19 'Renovation Season'

‘It's the renovation season," declares Rob Ruggiero, TheaterWorks’ producing artistic director.

Which means it's also the relocation season.

Theaterworks has announced five of the six shows in its 2018-19 season. But starting in January, the 233 Pearl St. venue that TheaterWorks has called home for decades will be undergoing extensive renovations.

"We could have done four shows, then stopped so we could do the renovations" Ruggiero says, "but we wanted to keep paying the artists, keep them working. So we're going for it."

The decision was made months ago to produce half of the upcoming season at an alternate location, but TheaterWorks is not quite ready to announce what that location is. Ruggiero stresses, however, that "I am really committed to keeping us in downtown Hartford. We have restaurant partners, parking partners... We have an economic impact on the area."

The season will begin on Pearl Street Oct. 4 through Nov. 11 with Jez Butterworth's "The River," a romance that's "also a bit of a mystery," Ruggiero says. "I've been wanting to do it for three years now. I'm directing that one."

"The River " will be followed in November/December by the sixth go-round of "Christmas on the Rocks," the seasonal favorite that has undergone a cast change and switched a couple of segments in the past few seasons.

"I'm definitely exploring adding at least one new story” to the anthology of short plays about Christmas icons such as Charlie Brown and Tiny Tim, Ruggiero says," but I don't know if I will for sure."

"The last show in the unrenovated space," Ruggiero says, will be Lucas Hnath's drama "A Doll's House, Part 2,” Jan. 18 through Feb. 24. A different production of the same play has been announced as part of the Long Wharf Theatre's 2018-19 season in New Haven.

"You'd think it might not be in our repertoire," Ruggiero says, since Hnath's play is a sequel of sorts to the classic 1879 Henrik Ibsen drama about a woman held back by family duties. “But the writing is so contemporary."

Jenn Thompson, who directed "The Call" at TheaterWorks in 2016 (as well as "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Oklahoma!" at the Goodspeed Opera House in recent seasons) will direct.

"A Doll's House, Part 2" will probably be the most produced play at regional theaters nationwide next year, Ruggiero says.

However, it’s “a tricky sell,” he says. “We have to tell people that they don’t need to see [Ibsen’s] ‘A Doll’s House’ in order to see this one.”

Once “A Doll’s House, Part 2” closes in February, the Pearl Street renovations begin and are likely to last for five or six months.

The first show in the yet-to-be-confirmed alternate space will be “Fully Committed” by Becky Mode, March 21 through April 21. The play asks a single actor to play over 40 characters that populate a crowded upscale New York restaurant. TheaterWorks first staged “Fully Committed” 17 years ago, and now will be doing a revised version of the script that was done in New York in 2016. The star will be Jamison Stern, who appeared at TheaterWorks this season in the hit comedy “The Legend of Georgia McBride” and also worked with Ruggiero in the musical “La Cage Aux Folles” at the Goodspeed Opera House.

“We needed something funny for the middle of season,” Ruggiero says of “Fully Committed,” while also touting Stern’s popularity with TheaterWorks audiences. Ruggiero is not ready to announce who will be directing “Fully Committed,” but it will not be him.

Next up in the alternate space, May 23 through June 23, will be what Ruggiero calls “our issue play.” “Actually” is a relationship drama by Anna Ziegler about sexual consent, concerning two Princeton students in the aftermath of a drunken hook-up.

“It has identity issues, race issues, peer pressure issues and personality issues. You become judgmental of both characters,” Ruggiero says.

“Actually” will be directed by TheaterWorks’ Producing Associate Taneisha Duggan, who directed an in-house reading of the script when it was first being considered. Duggan has been active in programming and other behind-the-scenes areas, and she has acted at TheaterWorks in the past, but “Actually” will be the first show that she is directing at the theater.

“I wanted to put it in the right hands,” Ruggiero says.

The final show of the season, July 25 through Aug. 25, has yet to be determined. It will be in the alternate space and Ruggiero says “I am considering something with music.”

As for the five shows just announced, “it’s important to me that we have two female directors [Thompson and Duggan], and at least one female playwright [Ziegler].

"A Doll's House Part 2" is the only show on the 2018-19 season list that was also on the 12-show “under consideration" list for the season that TheaterWorks shared back in January. A different Zeigler script, "Boy," was on that list.

There are still two shows remaining in the TheaterWorks 2017-18 season. Ayad Akhtar’s hostage drama “The Invisible Hand” opens this month, followed in July by Robert Askins’ dark comedy “Hand to God.”

The season thus far has been very successful, with every show extending its scheduled run. “‘Georgia McBride’ did really, really well,” Ruggiero says. “It more than doubled our ticket projections.”

“This past season was very ambitious. It really taxed our production people. The special challenge this year was to find great plays that we could do well in an alternate space.” The challenge has been liberating, Ruggiero says. Now he’s thinking about the possibility of doing TheaterWorks shows outside of Pearl Street even after the home stage has been renovated, and creating partnerships with other arts organizations.

TheaterWorks will be offering season subscription deals for its 2018-19 season. theaterworkshartford.org.

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