Season to taste

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday March 28, 2017
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It's the time of year for season's greetings. Not the kind framed with pinecones and holly berries, but that time when theaters roll out their offerings for the coming season. The latest troupe to reveal how it will trim the branches of its 2017-18 season is New Conservatory Theatre Center, which has two world premieres on its schedule, two revivals, and a slew of regional premieres.

NCTC commissioned Harrison David Rivers to write This Bitter Earth, about unexpected complications for a biracial gay couple, which will open the upcoming season in September. Photo: Courtesy Harrison David Rivers

Under Ed Decker's artistic direction, NCTC's season will start off with one of those world premieres. Expected racial roles are reversed in the gay relationship at the center of Harrison David Rivers' This Bitter Earth (Sept. 22-Oct. 22). The focus is on a biracial couple in which the white partner is wrapped up in the Black Lives Matter movement while his African-American partner's political apathy puts their relationship at risk. NCTC commissioned the play from the Minneapolis-based playwright, widely considered an important emerging talent.

Next up is the regional premiere of Le Switch (Oct. 27-Dec. 3) by Philip Dawkins, the Chicago playwright who received a double introduction to the Bay Area in 2014 with overlapping productions of The Homosexuals at NCTC and Failure: A Love Story at Marin Theatre Company. In Le Switch, Dawkins looks at how different generations of gay men view the recent right to marry, especially a commitment-phobic New York librarian in his 30s who sees gay marriage as hetero-normative; and the dilemma he then faces when he is attracted to a much younger man at a wedding in Montreal who sees same-sex marriage simply as the norm.

Come December, NCTC will present �" drumroll, please �" Avenue Q (Dec. 1-Jan. 7). If you think you have heard this before, it's because this will be the fifth annual production of the Muppets-for-grownups musical.

Still at Risk (Jan. 19-Feb. 25) is the second world premiere in the season nurtured through NCTC's New Play Development Lab. The theater presented Tim Pinckney's Message to Michael nearly 20 years ago, and in his new play, Pinckney focuses on a former AIDS activist struggling with a lost sense of purpose whose passions are rekindled when an event threatens to erase the history he was part of creating.

Megan Mullally, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane were among the stars of the recent Broadway production of It's Only a Play, which will mark NCTC's 11th production of a Terrence McNally play when it opens next March. Photo: Joan Marcus

Terrence McNally, the four-time Tony Award-winning playwright, will be represented on NCTC's stage for the 11th time with the regional premiere of It's Only a Play (March 2-April 1, 2018). McNally updated the references in his name-dropping backstage comedy for its recent starry Broadway run following an earlier run in 1986 (so goodbye Charles Nelson Reilly reference; hello, Harvey Fierstein). The story takes place as opening-night revelers are awaiting the reviews of a new play, while the real sweat is being shed by the producer, director, playwright, leading lady, and friends with various agendas who are sequestered in a suite upstairs, and who pass the time with insider-y bitchery about that business they call show.

Bathsheba Dolan's The Mystery of Love and Sex (April 13-May 20, 2018) may only have four characters, but it has the kind of title that suggests a sprawling investigation. That might not be far from the truth, for as The New York Times wrote of its 2015 Lincoln Center debut, Doran's drama is "so packed with humanity that it seems infinitely larger, like a chart depicting the sexual and emotional anatomy of us all." Its particular focus is on two childhood friends �" she's white and was raised Jewish, and he's black and was raised Baptist �" who still live together as adults but not as lovers. The comfortable arrangement begins to unravel during dinner with her parents, and paths forward are revealed not always to be the ones right in front of you.

NCTC will close its season with an updated revival of Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly (May 11-June 10, 2018), which first played the theater 15 years ago. The title derives from Crabtree's high school counselor remarking on his dreams of making it big in the theater: "When pigs fly," she replied. The musical revue is designed as a shoestring extravaganza in which mundane objects are used to build the spectacle, while the character "Howard" struggles with collapsing scenery, performers' egos, and other backstage calamities. The show became an off-Broadway hit when it opened in 1996, just weeks after Crabtree had died from AIDS.

The total number of shows in the season has been reduced from eight to seven, in part to allow for holdovers of popular productions and, according to Executive Director Barbara Hodgen, "to give us the time we need to go into even more depth as we develop new plays from queer and allied artists."

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