Here’s what you can expect to hear next season at Hartford Stage: Henry V’s battle cry of “Once more unto the breach!” and the sage advice “Eat your halibut and mind your own business” from “The Flamingo Kid.” Plus hundreds of lines from new works that nobody has heard yet.
Hartford Stage announced five of the six shows in its 2018-19 season via a press release Friday night.
It will be the theater’s final season under the artistic directorship of Darko Tresnjak, who announced last month that he will be leaving Hartford Stage in June 2019 to pursue other projects.
Tresnjak will direct two of the five announced shows, both of them premieres. “The Engagement Party” by Samuel Baum (creator of the TV series “Lie to Me”) is scheduled for Jan. 10 through Feb. 3, 2019. According to the press release, the play takes place at “a young couple’s intimate gathering” where “a spilled glass of wine leads to a spiraling sequence of events and revelations that will irrevocably change their lives.”
Hartford Stage Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson, who will serve as the production’s dramaturg, said in a phone interview that “The Engagement Party” “deals with entitlement, abuse of power and what money means to us.”
Tresnjak will also direct a new musical adaptation of the 1984 coming-of-age film “The Flamingo Kid” (May 9 through June 2, 2019) , with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music by “War Paint” composer Scott Frankel. Freedman co-created the musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which Tresnjak directed at Hartford Stage in 2012. That show later moved to Broadway, where it won Tony Awards for both Freedman and Tresnjak.
According to Williamson, “Darko’s been hearing about ‘The Flamingo Kid’ from Robert for many years, and decided he wanted it to be the musical he does in his final season at Hartford Stage.”
“The Flamingo Kid” is the latest of several musicals based on films or TV series directed by Garry Marshall. The others are “Happy Days,” “Beaches” and “Pretty Woman.”
The Hartford Stage season will open Sept. 6 to 30 with the premiere of “Make Believe,” a new play by Bess Wohl that tracks the lives of four characters who were unsupervised latch-key kids in the 1980s. The national tour of Wohl’s largely wordless drama “Small Mouth Sounds” was at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven last year. “Make Believe” will be directed by Jackson Gay, who studied at the Yale School of Drama at the same time as Wohl in the early ’00s. Gay has regularly directed at the Yale Repertory Theatre, including the premieres of Jen Silverman’s “The Moors,” Rolin Jones’ “These Paper Bullets!” and Sheila Callaghan’s “Elevada.”
Williamson helped set up the Wohl/Gay collaboration. “Bess and I go a long way back. I produced her first professionally produced plays, and developed ‘Barcelona’ and ‘American Hero.’ We commissioned this play from her with a grant from the Toulmin Foundation, three and half years ago. I got very interested when Bess told me ‘You won’t want to do this one.’ That usually means it’s something that’s special to the playwright. It’s very funny and it’s very rude, and it has actual kids in it.” When scheduling “Make Believe,” Williamson says it was important to find extra time to workshop the show fully, including the full involvement of the playwright.
Besides dramaturging “Make Believe” and the two Tresnjak premieres, Williamson will also be directing Shakespeare’s “Henry V” Oct. 11 through Nov. 4. This will be the only Shakespeare play at Hartford Stage since Tresnjak became artistic director in 2011 not to be directed by Tresnjak. Last year, Williamson directed the Hartford Stage productions of Caryl Churchill’s “Cloud 9” and Sarah Gancher’s “Seder.”
“I always wanted to direct ‘Henry V’ because it has an almost Brechtian theatricality,” Williamson says. “It gets caught up in the energy of being at war. Henry is told it’s a just war and we already know it isn’t. It’s not equivalent to our situation now, but asks a lot of questions that are important.”
The other play announced thus far is “Detroit ’67” by Dominique Morisseau, running Feb. 14 through March 10, 2019. Set during the 12th Street riot (spurred by a police raid on an after-hours club), “Detroit ’67” is part of Morisseau’s “Detroit Trilogy.” Another of the plays in the trilogy, “Paradise Blue,” is being staged in November at the Long Wharf Theatre. Morisseau’s urban economics drama “Sunset Baby” was done at Hartford’s TheaterWorks last year.
Williamson calls Dominique Morisseau “one of the most important playwrights of her generation.” She says she didn’t know Long Wharf was doing “Paradise Blue” — “it’s ridiculous, because I’m talking to the Long Wharf all the time” — before Hartford Stage arranged to do “Detroit ’67,” and loves that both shows will be done in Connecticut in the same season.
“Detroit ’67” will be directed by Jade King Carroll, who directed “Having Our Say — The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” at Hartford Stage and Long Wharf Theatre in 2016. The Morisseau play will be the third co-production Hartford Stage has done with New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center. The other two were both this season: the comic mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” and this month’s premiere of “The Age of Innocence.”
Hartford Stage’s annual holiday show “A Christmas Carol — A Ghost Story of Christmas” will return Nov. 23 through Dec. 29. It will be the show’s 21st season.
During Tresnjak’s time as artistic director, Hartford Stage has staged over a dozen premieres of new works. Next season adds at least three more to that number. The only Tresnjak season to feature more than three premieres was the 2015-16 season, when the theater had four: “An Opening in Time,” “The Body of an American,” “Rear Window” and “Anastasia.”
“Darko met both Sam [Baum] and Bess [Wohl] when they were young actors at the Williamstown Theatre Festival,” Williamson says. “Some of these artistic relationships go back a very long time.”
It’s possible that the yet-to-be-announced sixth show in the season (happening in April) could also be a premiere of some sort, Williamson says.