News Column

Main Street shines spotlight on playwrights

June 15, 2013

YellowBrix

June 15--A trio of "S" playwrights plus two premieres equal Main Street Theater's 2013-14 season.

The "S" refer to three of the theater's most revered talents: George Bernard Shaw, Stephen Sondheim and Tom Stoppard. Main Street will present one of each writer's best-known works: Shaw's "Heartbreak House," Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Stoppard's "The Real Thing."

Both area premieres drew critical acclaim off-Broadway last season: Paula Vogel's pageant play "A Civil War Christmas" and Laura Marks' dark comedy "Bethany."

Though artistic director Rebecca Greene Udden is tipping the balance a bit more toward familiar works than in most recent seasons, the lineup maintains Main Street's customary emphasis on smart writing and substantial content.

Main Street also has entered the public phase of its $3 million capital campaign to renovate and purchase its longtime home at 2540 Times in the Rice Shopping Village.

Since 2012, the company has worked on the initial phase, said Shannon Emerick, director of marketing and development. Contributions from foundations and key individual donors have brought in half of the total, about $1.5 million, allowing the company to make the down payment on the property and renovate the building's facade.

If the fundraising continues at intended levels, Emerick says, the company should be able to begin renovations next year. The work is expected to take five or six months, during which time Main Street would present its shows in other venues, such as the company's Chelsea Market facility, now used chiefly for its children's theater productions.

2013-14 season

"The Real Thing," Sept. 5-29

What is real and what is not? The complex dynamics of a playwright protagonist, his wife, the actress who becomes his mistress and the mistress' husband -- on stage and off -- keep the audience guessing in Stoppard's modern classic. It combines his characteristically brilliant wordplay with insights into the mystery of love, the nature of honesty and the joy of language.

"Packed with wit, ideas and feelings," wrote Frank Rich in the New York Times.

"The Real Thing" won the Tony as best play in 1984 and as best play revival in 2000. Main Street gave the play's Houston premiere in 1986.

Stoppard's other well-known works include "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," "Travesties," "The Invention of Love" and "The Coast of Utopia," as well as the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love."

"A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration," Nov. 29-Dec. 22

This pageant play intertwines the lives of many characters, real and imagined -- from President and Mrs. Lincoln to assorted soldiers, slaves and rebels -- to create a theatrical tapestry of life in America on Christmas Eve, 1864. The vignettes are decked in homespun renditions of traditional carols, hymns, marching songs and spirituals.

"A Civil War Christmas" premiered at the Long Wharf Theatre in 2008 and ran off- Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in December 2012. Talking Broadway called it "boldly inventive theater, warm and affecting ... a fascinating interface of history and fiction." "Vogel artfully weaves historic details into the play," said Variety, "and pulls it together with economical writing that reflects the poetry of the day." Vogel won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for "How I Learned to Drive."

"Into the Woods," Jan. 19-Feb. 9

Main Street again will team with Guy Roberts and Prague Shakespeare Company for an intimate new production of a classic -- but this time, a contemporary classic rather than a Shakespeare play. One of composer-lyricist Sondheim's most popular and widely produced works, "Into the Woods" combines several famous fairy tales into one master narrative in which each principal's quest keeps complicating the other characters' efforts to attain their goals. With its clever book by James Lapine, "Into the Woods" explores the deeper implications of these venerable tales as coming-of-age lessons, then looks past the traditional "happy ending" to discover what realities lie beyond for the characters.

Premiered on Broadway in 1987, "Into the Woods" won Tony Awards for best book and score. Sondheim's other shows created in collaboration with Lapine are "Sunday in the Park With George" and "Passion."

"Bethany," March 27-April 19

A finalist for this year's Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, "Bethany" considers the limits of morality in desperate times. Set in an American exurb wiped out by foreclosures, the play follows Crystal, a mother in dire financial straits, and the extreme measures she takes to be reunited with her child.

"Bethany" had its world premiere at Women's Project in January 2013. In the New York Times, Charles Isherwood wrote: "Without stepping over the line into moralizing -- or editorializing -- Marks' disturbing, incisive drama suggests that the bruising exigencies of our depressed economy are scraping away at the surface civilities of American life, making it harder for people to heed their moral compasses. 'Bethany' reminds us that the distance between self-preservation and pure ruthlessness can be collapsed with alarming ease."

"Heartbreak House," May 8-June 1

Shaw blends farce and tragedy in this look at a family of wealthy bohemians, as Captain Shotover and daughter Hesione entertain a houseful of eccentric, troublesome guests in the time just before World War I.

Written in 1919, the play presents a microcosm and parody of British society on the brink of disaster, oblivious to the upheavals that will soon erupt in the war to end all wars.

Among the prolific playwright's other classics are "Major Barbara," "Caesar and Cleopatra," "Candida," "Saint Joan" and "Pygmalion."

All 2013-14 shows will be at Main Street's Rice Village location, except for "Civil War Christmas," which will play at Chelsea Market. For subscription information, call 713-524-6706.

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