Trains. A coal furnace. Apartheid. The lunatic, the lover and the poet.
Hartford Stage's wide-ranging, multistyled 2017-18 season was announced today. It follows some familiar patterns for the award-winning regional theater. There's an intimate, one-person show about contemporary social issues. There are re-appreciations of classic works — this year, that means literary classics by Agatha Christie and Edith Wharton. There's a world premiere drama. There's a play by a writer considered one of the world's greatest living playwrights, Athol Fugard. And there's Shakespeare.
Hartford Stage announced the titles and directors of the shows, but has yet to announce the dates each show or any casting details.
The season opens with the bard's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," directed by artistic director Darko Tresnjak, who has made the resurgence of Shakespeare at Hartford Stage a personal mission. This is the first time that a Shakespeare play has opened the season since Tina Landau directed "Antony and Cleopatra" in 2010. "Midsummer" follows Tresjnak-directed productions of "The Tempest," "Twelfth Night," "Macbeth," "Hamlet," "Romeo & Juliet" and "The Comedy of Errors."
"Seder" is a new family drama by the versatile playwright Sarah Gancher, who has worked with everyone from Blue Man Group to the Ars Nova Play Group. "Seder" is described on Gancher's website as an "intimate epic" set during a "secular Jewish family's first-ever Passover seder," at which hidden stories of Communist Hungary and other family secrets are revealed.
"Feeding the Dragon" is written and performed by Sharon Washington, based on her own experiences growing up in an apartment on the upper floor of the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library. The play's title comes from Sharon's father's job: feeding the library's huge coal furnace. "Feeding the Dragon" had its world premiere in Pittsburgh in September of 2016 and will be presented by Primary Stages at New York's Cherry Lane Theatre following its Hartford run. As an actress, Sharon Washington has been seen in Connecticut productions including in "Digging Eleven" at Hartford Stage in 1999.
A splashy new adaptation by Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor") of Agatha Christie's train-bound mystery "Murder on the Orient Express" comes to Hartford Stage in the spring of 2018. The show's world premiere production is currently running at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey, directed by Emily Mann. Mann's script adaptation of "Having Our Say" was at Hartford Stage and Long Wharf during the 2015-16 season, and she directed "The Doll's House" and "The Value of Names" at Hartford Stage in the 1980s.
"Murder on the Orient Express" is followed by another adaptation of a female novelist, but it's of a much different type. Douglas McGrath, who wrote the book for "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" and co-wrote the screenplay for the Woody Allen film "Bullets Over Broadway" (which was later turned into a musical), has written a new stage version of "The Age of Innocence," Edith Wharton's story of romance and social status in 1870s New York. The premiere of McGrath's version will be directed by Doug Hughes, who was artistic director of the Long Wharf Theatre for five seasons in the late 1990s.
The 2017-2018 Hartford Stage season will end with the provocative choice of Fugard's "Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act." Tresnjak will direct the three-character drama, which concerns South Africa's miscegnation laws and was first staged in 1974. Hartford Stage staged Fugard's "The Blood Knot" in 1976.
In a phone interview last week, Hartford Stage's associate artistic director Elizabeth Williamson — who programmed the season alongside Tresnjak, and will be directing "Seder" — noted that finding the right balance is essential. "We're trying to balance popular titles with things that there are good reasons to do right now." Williamson brought the "Seder" project to the theater, and says she's been working with Gancher on it for about a year. "Feeding the Dragon," she says, came about not just because "we've admired Sharon Washington for years" but because the last co-production with Primary Stages, last year's "Body of an American," was such a positive experience. "Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act," Williamson says, "is a play Darko and I both love — he's been wanting to direct it for years. It's about Apartheid dozens of years ago, but it's powerful now — complex and urgent."
Hartford Stage is offering season subscription packages. For more information, contact the theater at 860-527-5151 or hartfordstage.org.