New Haven’s arts scene is still basking in the glow of new and shiny renovations.
The Yale Art Gallery’s grand reopening redistributed its impressive collections in a manner that made the whole place seem not just new but monumental. Rather than rest on architectural laurels, the gallery has arranged some major exhibits, including an eerie grouping of works by Red Grooms.
Yale Center for British Art is next up to be renovated. It’s a less expansive process than YAG’s but will require the temporary closing of large chunks of the building. The YCBA’s fall film series, which centers on gritty British post-war, has been moved to the Whitney Humanities Center on Wall Street.
Last year, the Long Wharf Theatre (longwharf.org) redid its mainstage auditorium and lobby, not to mention its lighting grid and rest rooms. This resulted in much more delightful conversations during intermission. It also seems to have a positive effect on attendance. Increased leg room will do that. The Long Wharf’s 2013-14 season opens with Steve Martin’s adaptation of the absurd German play The Underpants by Carl Stenheim, Oct. 16 through Nov. 16. That’s followed Nov. 27 through Dec. 22 by the August Wilson classic Fences (which world premiered in the 1980s at the Yale Repertory Theatre across town).
The Yale Rep (yalerep.org) wrapped in blue cloth for much of the summer — not for a performance art piece, but so the brick building could be repointed and otherwise spruced up. The Rep season starts with Tennessee Williams’ awesome A Streetcar Named Desire (Sept. 20 through Oct. 12), directed by Mark Rucker and starring Rene Augesen and True Blood’s Joe Manganiello. That much-anticipated romantic drama is followed by a couple of modern political entertainments, namely Caryl Churchill’s anti-capitalist ensemble piece Owners (Oct. 25 through Nov. 16) and Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist (featuring the director/star team of Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp, who previously brought Moliere’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself and the Goldoni’s A Servant of Two Masters to the Rep stage).
The Shubert (shubert.com), which treasures its historic legacy as a try-out house for major Broadway hits of the mid-20th century (A Streetcar Named Desire among them), has assembled about as modern a season as it’s ever hosted. There’s not a Rodgers & Hammerstein or Cole Porter musical for the whole year. Instead, there’s The Color Purple (Oct. 19 for two performances in a single day), An Evening With David Sedaris (Oct. 21), the ‘70s bible rewrite Godspell (Oct. 25-27), comedian John Pinette (Nov. 2), Elvis Costello solo (Nov. 8), Chris Cornell solo acoustic (Nov. 20), the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (Nov. 22-24) and Blue Man Group (Dec. 26-31). Oh, some traditions are being renewed: the Nebraska Theatre Caravan production of A Christmas Carol, which took a year off from the Shubert last year, returns Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.
The smaller New Haven theater institutions are also deftly mixing the old and the new. New Haven Theater Company (newhaventheatercompany.com) offered readings of new plays by company member Drew Gray last month, and this month stages Thornton Wilder’s immortal Our Town (Sept. 19-28). The Yale Cabaret (yalecabaret.org), a largely extracurricular experimental lab for Yale School of Drama students which stages 20 different shows for one weekend apiece during the school year, has chosen as its management team this year a bunch of dramaturgy students. Of the first three Cabaret productions of the fall semester, two are original works: the “grit behind the glam” drag-queen drama We Know Edie La Minx Had a Gun (Sept. 19-21) and actor/writer Gabe Levey’s motival-therapy-themed The Most Beautiful Thing in the World (Oct. 3-5). The other is the Amiri Baraka’s groundbreaking piece of sociopolitical realism, Dutchman (Sept. 26-28).
Besides the Yale Cabaret, Yale School of Drama (drama.yale.edu) offers numerous public performances, notably the big-budget thesis projects of students in the directing program. This year, Cole Lewis is directing Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, while Dustin Wills is devising a new version of Peter Pan Dec. 13-19, based on his own researches into the J.M. Barrie archives at Yale’s Beinecke Library. Again, tradition fuels new visions.
In this new New Haven of renovations and reinterpretations, even the New Haven Symphony, one of the country’s oldest symphony orchestras, seems positively contemporary. Twentieth century composers overwhelm the fall concerts. OK, so maybe two of the composers in the Oct. 3 Tchaikovsky Triumphant show, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn, died in 1893 and 1847 respectively, but the other guy on the bill, Christopher Theofanidis, is in his 40s, and the big guest violin soloist that night is 19-year-old Chad Hoopes. On Nov. 7, it’s a modern European mélange of works by William Walton, Samuel Barber, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Kurt Weill and Connecticut’s own musical innovator Charles Ives. The Nov. 23 NHSO event brings together Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, excerpts from Delibes’ Coppelia Suite, Francaix’s The Flower Clock and, hey, there’s that Tchaikovsky again (with stuff from his Sleeping Beauty Suite).
In local clubs, you’ll find fewer flat-out nostalgia tours and more of what you might call revisionist rock. Members of the accomplished West Coast surf rock band Los Straitjackets are implicated in the double-bill of retro-garage rockers the Neanderthals and the Outta Sites at Café Nine Sept. 30. Café Nine is also hosting a Nov. 23 CD release party for the Spampinato Brothers, a new projects for the guys better known as the backbone of NRBQ. On Oct. 4, the featured Café Nine attraction is Mark Mulcahy, leading light of the Ninth Square arts scene of the 1980s, returning along with a lot of other local artists from those days for the illuminated-art gathering LAMP, which brighten the neighborhood that night at 9 p.m. following opening-night ceremonies of the mammoth weeks-long visual art extravaganza City Wide Open Studios.
The Space/Outer Space club complex in Hamden (nhfpl.org) is mostly known for breaking new bands, offering lots of high school and college acts their first-ever shows. But the Space launchers also have a handle on some cool reunion shows this fall, all to be held at the still-newish Spaceland Ballroom space: New York new-wave legends the Feelies, Sept. 28; ‘90s Connecticut ska sensations Spring Heeled Jack, Oct. 24 & 25; and Space founder Steve Rodgers doing his annual Mighty Purple reunion with his brother Jonny on Nov. 1.
Toad’s Place (toadsplace.com/) got picketed this summer for booking redneck loudmouth Ted Nugent. But it should be noted that Toad’s regularly brings in progressive points of views, particularly in the hip-hop genre. Activist rappers Immortal Technique and Brother Ali stop at Toad’s on Oct. 2 as part of their War & Peace tour also featuring Poison Pen, Diabolic and I Self Divine. Other notable Toad’s shows: DJ Cedric Gervais Oct. 24; roots/punk innovators Lucero and Titus Andronicus Nov. 12 and a pro-pot Smokers Club aggregation of Ab-Soul, Joey Badass, Chevy Woods, the Underachievers and others Nov. 26.
The local literary scene is thriving. Book clubs and author events are frequent, as they should be, at places like the New Haven Free Public Library (nhfpl.org), the Institute Library (institutelibrary.org) and New Haven Museum (newhavenmuseum.org). Yale Bookstore (yale.bncollege.com) hosts a lot of authors, but the busiest bookstore for signings, discussions and other literary events remains the independent R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison (rjjulia.com), where this fall you can meet such famous names-below-the-title as Meg Cabot (Sept 23), R.L. Stine (Sept. 28), David Sedaris (Oct. 21), cartoonist Mark Tatulli (Oct. 23) and David Levithan (Nov. 21).
Which brings us back to that thought of new ways to see old things. On Oct. 9 at the Shubert in New Haven, R.J. Julia and other sponsored are holding a benefit for Hartford’s Mark Twain House and Museum. Titled “Mark My Words,” the event has three major authors — Sue Grafton, Scott Turow and Alice Hoffman — being interviewed by David Baldacci (a bestselling thriller-writer himself).
Mark Twain, after all, is the guy who said “I am glad the old masters are all dead, and I only wish they had died sooner.” He also said “Some things you can't find out; but you will never know you can't by guessing and supposing. No, you have to be patient and go on experimenting until you find out that you can't find out. And it is delightful to have it that way, it makes the world so interesting.”
Here’s to an endlessly interesting fall arts season.