The Kansas City Repertory Theatre on Monday announced an ambitious lineup of plays for the coming season, including recent Tony Award winners, a world premiere, a reworked holiday classic and, not your typical Rep fare, “Sex With Strangers.”
The 2017-2018 season will bring the Tony-winning “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which delves inside the mind of a brilliant boy who has autism; “Fences,” August Wilson’s Pulitzer-winning drama about a frustrated black father in the 1950s; “Between the Lines,” a world premiere musical adapting a young-adult novel by Jodi Picoult and her daughter; and the dramedy “Sex With Strangers,” by playwright Laura Eason.
If there’s a theme, says artistic director Eric Rosen, it’s plays that help us understand people who are different from us.
“These are hopefully stories that require a tremendous amount of empathy from the audience,” Rosen said in an interview before Monday’s announcement. “In moments like these when the nation is in a fervor, theater is an art form that requires us to be empathetic.”
So, he says, we step into Wilson’s world and feel what his protagonist feels. We get a glimmer of understanding about life with autism.
“We try to find stories that allow us to create for our audiences feelings of identification, feelings of great joy and great loss,” Rosen said. “You are feeling as much as thinking, experiencing a different perspective.”
The Rep will continue its popular “A Christmas Carol” holiday tradition but with a twist: Rosen is rewriting the script that the theater has used for decades. Charles Dickens’ own words will still play a prominent role, but expect changes.
This year, the theater might skip its newer tradition of presenting an alternative holiday show at the smaller Copaken Stage downtown. The reason? Rosen and his husband, actor Claybourne Elder, are expecting a baby in August, and Rosen expects to take some time off.
“We’re trying to figure out the fall,” Rosen said. His first directing job won’t come until “A Christmas Carol,” and the theater might not have the staff to take on two holiday shows at once, he said.
A musical to be announced and the annual new plays festival will round out the season. Most play dates will be announced later.
Here are the details:
▪ “Between the Lines”: This world-premiere musical is based on the novel by Picoult and daughter Samantha van Leer, about a middle school bookworm who finds that the handsome prince in her storybook has come to life.
“I love the material,” Rosen said. “Most of our audience, the people who decide about going to plays, are women who are mothers. It’s a great mother/daughter story, in the ‘Wicked’ category of stories that appeal to adults and teenage girls. ‘Between the Lines’ speaks both about the isolation of growing up and the need for fantasy. It’s uplifting. It’s really funny. We don’t get to do things that often that are just fun.”
The play fits into Rosen’s goal of making the Rep “an origin place.” The theater’s original productions of “Venice” and “A Christmas Story” went on to other theaters and eventually Broadway. As “Between the Lines” is developed, he said, Picoult herself will be visiting Kansas City to be a part of the process.
The play’s music and lyrics are by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, with book by Timothy Allen McDonald.
▪ “Fences”: The Oscar-nominated film version stars Denzel Washington as a former baseball player who never realized his dreams. Viola Davis and Kansas City, Kan., native Stephen McKinley Henderson co-star. The Rep has a long tradition of presenting August Wilson dramas, but was “Fences” chosen to play off the movie’s success?
“It doesn’t hurt that August Wilson is very current,” Rosen said. He points out that Wilson’s “Jitney” is on Broadway now, and Washington has said he will produce HBO movies of all 10 of Wilson’s plays.
▪ “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”: Based on Mark Haddon’s best-seller, this is the story of 15-year-old Christopher, who, because of his autism, views the world differently than most. After the neighbor’s dog is found killed, he sets out to find the culprit. The 2015 Broadway adaptation was known for its wild lighting and sound to simulate Christopher’s mind.
“The only thing I know for sure,” Rosen said, “is we will not in any way try to replicate the Broadway production.” He said the Rep is among the first theaters to get the rights to do their own versions.
▪ “Sex With Strangers”: This dramedy is about Olivia, a 30-something obscure novelist, and Ethan, a famous 28-year-old blogger, who are stuck at a remote B&B during a snowstorm. They don’t have much to do … until they find plenty to do. Over and over.
The play is by the versatile Eason, an old friend of Rosen’s who wrote the Rep’s successful productions of “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Tom Sawyer.”
“It’s not dirty at all but it’s sexy,” Rosen said. “It’s very smart and very funny.”
▪ Origin KC: New Works Festival (April 27-May 27): Two plays will be presented in rotation. “Brother Toad,” by the Rep’s playwright in residence, Nathan Louis Jackson of Kansas City, Kan., deals with two families’ answer to gun violence. Jackson is the writer behind the Rep’s previous productions of “Sticky Traps,” “Broke-ology” and “When I Come To Die” as well as Netflix’s “Luke Cage.”
“Welcome to Fear City,” by Kara Lee Corthron, is about the roots of hip-hop: A young black man in the Bronx in a hot 1970s summer dreams of becoming a poet.