FETCH CLAY, CHOIR BOY & More Set for Marin Theatre Company's 2014-15 Season
Last night at Opening Night of Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth, Marin Theatre Company's artistic director Jasson Minadakis and managing director Michael Barker announced the company's 2014-15 season programming today. Featuring six new plays by living contemporary playwrights in MTC's intimate 231-seat mainstage Boyer Theatre, the season includes:
- the return of Tarell Alvin McCraney - his first since the triumphant local premiere of "The Brother/Sister Plays" at MTC, Magic Theatre and A.C.T. - with the Bay Area premiere of Choir Boy
- West Coast premiere of Fetch Clay, Make Man by San Francisco native Will Power
- Bay Area premiere of The Convert, the Bay Area debut of playwright Danai Gurira (an Obie Award-winning dramatist and also the actor best known as Michonne in AMC's The Walking Dead)
- two winners of MTC's Sky Cooper New American Play Prize, including the Bay Area premiere of The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter and the West Coast premiere of The Way West by Mona Mansour
- a special holiday season presentation of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)
Based in Mill Valley, MTC is a 47-year old professional nonprofit theater. It is a destination for provocative plays by contemporary playwrights and some of the finest acting in the region.
"I am delighted to announce our extraordinary 2014-15 season and to welcome to our theater five of our country's most unique, provocative new voices (as well as a dash of Marin-bred comic genius)," said Minadakis. "This is the most diverse, exciting line-up of plays and playwrights that has ever been offered on our mainstage. For the first time, two of our Sky Cooper Prize winners will share the same season: Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, one of the most compassionate and devastating plays to hit the American theater in years; and Mona Mansour's The Way West, an irreverently funny play-with-music about a Central California family of women. For the first time in our history, we will also offer three plays from African-American playwrights: The Convert, the Bay Area debut of playwright Danai Gurira, is an astonishing, passionate examination of the historical colonization of Southern Africa; the West Coast premiere of Fetch Clay, Make Man, Will Power's bracing, percussive new play about the friendship between two of the 60s most polarizing personalities - Muhammad Ali and Stepin Fetchit; and the Bay Area premiere of Choir Boy, a beautiful and hopeful gospel-infused coming-of-age play by McArthur Genius grant-awardee Tarell Alvin McCraney, returning to MTC after his In the Red and Brown Water thrilled our audiences in 2010. And for the holidays, we bring back Marin's comic favorites, Reduced Shakespeare Company, with their abridged and hysterical look at the history of comedy."
MTC opens its 2014-15 season in August with the West Coast premiere of Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man. Why would the shining son of the Nation of Islam seek help from one of the most vilified figures of black American culture? In this knockout new play, San Francisco-native Power investigates one of the most unlikely friendships of the Civil Rights era, between the young, largely untested heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and the disgraced and disregarded Hollywood actor Stepin Fetchit, who is inseparable from his demeaning onscreen character. "Plenty of verbal punches are thrown" in this "eye-popping [and] intriguing" (The New York Times) new historical drama that is also a "fascinating [and] bracing look at the politics of identity" (Backstage.com).
Fetch Clay, Make Man premiered in 2010 at the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey and received its second production at New York Theatre Workshop in August 2013. Born in Harlem and raised in San Francisco's Fillmore district, Power "has been hailed by critics as 'the best verse playwright in America' and is known for bridging the gap between contemporary hip-hop and performance theater" (Dallas Magazine). His 1999 solo performance work The Gathering: a hip hop theater journey to the meeting places of Black men is considered to be one of the first hip-hop theater pieces ever created. These distinctions, among others, earned Power a Trailblazer Award from the National Black Theater Network. Locally, he co-founded the Whammy (SF Weekly) and Bay Area Music Award (BAM magazine) winning rap group Midnight Voices in 1990, wrote Flow and The Seven (which won three San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards) under commission by San Francisco's Thick Description. Power's work has not been seen locally since he performed excerpts of Flow at the Bay Area Hip-Hop Theater Festival preview in 2003.
In October, MTC produces the winner of its 2011 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize, The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. Charlie has been self-destructing for years. Weighing in at nearly 600 pounds, he is a gentle but grieving giant, beached on a couch in Northern Idaho. A surprise visit from a young Mormon missionary (and a near heart attack) pushes him to reach out, after years of near isolation, to his estranged and troubled daughter in this "beautifully devastating, remarkably eloquent [and] frequently very funny" (Chicago Tribune) drama. MTC is elated to produce the Bay Area premiere of "one of the very best plays of 2012" (Chicago Tribune), which has been hailed as "riveting, impassioned and arresting" by The New York Observer, "vibrant and provocative" by the Village Voice and "extraordinary" by New York Magazine.
The Whale won MTC's 2011 Sky Cooper Prize, which celebrates the work of the American playwright and encourages the creation of bold, powerful new plays for the American stage. Premiering at Denver Center Theatre Company in January 2012, this new play has gone to have productions Off Broadway by Playwrights Horizons in October 2012, at South Coast Repertory in March 2013 and at Victory Gardens Theater in April 2013. The play has won numerous awards, including the the Off Broadway League's 2013 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play, the 2013 Drama Desk Special Award for Significant Contribution to Theatre and 2013 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding New York Theatre. Though Hunter won Village Voice's 2011 Obie Award for playwriting, the success of The Whale marks a turning point in the playwright's career. Playbill declared 2014 "The Year of the Hunter," noting that his plays are receiving numerous productions across the US during the 2013-14 season, including the premieres of The Few, A Great Wilderness and Rest. Locally, Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley produced A Bright New Boise in November 2013 and the Playwrights Foundation's Bay Area Playwrights Festival held a staged reading of I Am Montana in 2007.
During the holiday season, MTC welcomes back the Reduced Shakespeare Company for the first time in over 15 years to present their "way too funny" (Napa Valley Register) new stage act, The Complete History of Comedy (abridged). They've skewered history, the Bible and the world's most celebrated playwright. Now, they seek to answer life's greatest mysteries: What makes people laugh? The "bad boys of abridgement" leave no joke untold as they deconstruct the entire history of comedy in 90 minutes. The show's been hailed as "a wild, wild ride! It's funny. Really, really funny... And really, really smart" by the Cincinnati Enquirer, "fresh and funny... a dizzying night's entertainment" by Cincinnati City Beat and "wonderful, whimsical - a winning formula that is anything but formulaic" by Fairfield Daily Republic.
The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) premiered in August 2013 at Napa Valley Playhouse and has since been presented at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Founded in 1981, Reduced Shakespeare Company has grown from a pass-the-hat act at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Novato to an internationally renowned touring comedy group, with nine original stage productions to their credit. MTC previously presented Reduced Shakespeare Company in 1998 to perform their The History of America (abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) in repertory. Most recently, Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete History of America (abridged) was produced locally in 2011 by the Marin Shakespeare Company, where The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) remains the most produced play in that company's 25 year history (with productions in 2007, 2000, 1999 and 1998).
The Bay Area debut of award-winning Zimbabwean-American playwright Danai Gurira follows in February with the local premiere of The Convert - "an impressive new work by an impressive young playwright" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). In the emerging colony of Rhodesia, a young Shona girl named Jekesai escapes a forced marriage arrangement by becoming maid and student to Chilford Ndlovu, an African man who continues the work of Catholic British missionaries. As anti-colonial sentiments rise among her people, Jekesai must make an impossible choice - between her newfound Christian faith and her ancestral loyalties, between European and African ways of life. In this "gutsy, heartfelt [and] richly complex portrait" (Chicago Tribune), "Gurira has met the demands of a big subject by writing a big play." (The Washington Post).
Commissioned by the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, The Convert premiered in January 2012 at the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey in a coproduction with Goodman Theatre in Chicago and Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre, where the play ran in March and April of that year, respectively. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company also produced the play in February 2013 at its Washington DC theater and at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia in October 2013. Actor and playwright Danai Gurira is best known for her roles in the AMC drama series The Walking Dead and 2013 Sundance Film Festival film Mother of George. Yet unseen in the Bay Area, her plays have earned her "a reputation for hard-hitting drama" (Variety) and the Village Voice's 2006 Obie Award for playwriting. She received the 2012 Whiting Writers' Award, which is given in recognition of exceptional talent and promise early in a writer's career.
In April, MTC produces the winner of its 2013 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize, The Way West by Mona Mansour. Yes, Mom may be filing for bankruptcy. And, sure, her health could be better. (She should probably stop driving too.) But she is from the West! And through optimism and courage, she will overcome adversity - or so she tries to convince her daughters through frontier folk songs and tall tales of pioneers past (and passed). MTC is excited to produce the West Coast premiere and second production of this wryly funny and generously tender family drama that surveys the quirks of our American spirit.
The Way West won MTC's 2013 Sky Cooper Prize, which celebrates the work of the American playwright and encourages the creation of bold, powerful new plays for the American stage. The new play receives its premiere this April at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. The play has been developed at The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, where Mansour was Core Writer from 2010-2012. (MTC previously partnered with The Playwrights' Center to develop Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth, the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of which is on MTC's mainstage now through March 16, 2014.) Mansour received the 2012 Whiting Writers' Award, which is given in recognition of exceptional talent and promise early in a writer's career. Locally, Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco held a staged reading of her The Hour of Feeling in October 2012, and produced The Letter (a short play co-authored with Tala Manassa) as part of their 2012 ReOrient Festival and Urge for Going in November 2013. San Francisco-based theater critic Chad Jones wrote of Mansour's "powerful" writing in Urge for Going: "On some level it could be O'Neill or Miller or Williams. The circumstances are unique, but a family's love and loyalty, complicated by loss, strife and politics that affect your daily life, are part of a universal story and one we need to hear over and over again and connect with over and over again."
The Bay Area premiere of Choir Boy by "The Brother/Sister Plays" playwright Tarrell Alvin McCraney closes out MTC's 2014-15 season in June. This "exceptionally beautiful, heart-pummeling" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) new play takes place at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys, a private institution in the American South dedicated to nurturing strong, ethical black men. When tenors Pharus and Bobby compete for the top spot in the school's legendary choir, friends, family and 50 years of history both inside and outside the school walls get caught in the middle. Threaded throughout with haunting a cappella gospel music, this "vivid, magnetic and moving" (The New York Times) play "genuinely sizzles" (The Guardian), as it explores the universalities of love and hate through an intimate portrait of the black gay experience in America.
Commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club, Choir Boy premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London on September 2012 and received American productions in the summer and fall of 2013 through a coproduction between Manhattan Theatre Club and Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. McCraney has quickly become not just one of the top new playwrights in the US, but also the UK. He recently was named a 2013 MacArthur Fellow for showing extraordinary originality and dedication in his creative pursuits, received Yale University's inaugural Windham Campbell Prize in 2013, served as the Royal Shakespeare Company's International Playwright in Residence in 2009-2011 and was featured in "Playwright: >From Page to Stage" on the PBS series Independent Lens in December 2013. MTC previously produced McCraney's In the Red and Brown Water in 2010 as part of the West Coast premiere of his "The Brother/Sister Plays" trilogy that also included The Brothers Size at Magic Theatre and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet at A.C.T. Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle declared the "unprecedented three-theater premiere" the high point of Bay Area theater in 2010, writing: "Taken individually, [the three productions] would top many a Top 10 list. Taken together, they blended into one of the most unforgettable events of the decade."
"Selecting plays for a season is always challenging," said director of new play development Margot Melcon. "As an artistic team, we read so many amazing scripts every year, many more than we can fit into our mainstage season. We could have put together dozens of different combinations of plays and playwrights we would have been thrilled to present, but it is our job to find the six stories that we are most passionate about sharing with our audiences right now."
In MTC's 2014-15 Season, Fetch Clay, Make Man, The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) and The Way West are recommended for youth aged 13 and up; The Whale, The Convert and Choir Boy for mature teens and up. For younger children and families, MTC will offer its second Theater Series for Young Audiences in partnership with Bay Area Children's Theatre during the 2014-15 Season. This series will be announced in April.
Six-play full-season subscriptions and four-ticket flex packages are on sale now. Subscription packages offer savings off single ticket prices, exclusive benefits and personalized customer service. Six-play full-season subscriptions are available for $120-306 and include free ticket exchanges, lost ticket replacement and priority seating. For more information about subscriptions, visit marintheatre.org or contact MTC's Box Office, (415) 388-5208. Single tickets go on sale in early July.