Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coming Up: Something Wild at the Goodman in 2012-13

It's time for Chicago theaters to announce their new seasons, with Steppenwolf first out of the gate a few days ago. I previewed Steppenwolf's 2012-13 season here, but today we'll be looking at the Goodman Theatre, which has announced an ambitious and exciting slate of shows falling under the theme "Expect Something Wild."

The Goodman has two theaters -- the larger, more grand Albert, which seats 856, and the smaller Owen Theatre, which has room for 468 -- which means they have several subscription plans, allowing you to do all eight shows in both theaters, or pick one or the other. There will be five mainstage shows in the Albert Theatre, and three more intimate shows scheduled in the Owen.

First up is Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth," directed by "visionary wunderkind" David Cromer for the Albert. Cromer was born in Skokie, Illinois, and he has a pile of Jefferson Awards for his work in Chicago, plus he earned a Lucille Lortel and an Obie in 2009 for his well-received (and dramatically different) direction of "Our Town." This is his first trip to the Goodman.

"Sweet Bird of Youth" is a Williams classic, with unforgettable characters like Princess Kosmonopolis, the aging screen goddess whose career is crumbling, and young, handsome gigolo Chance Wayne, who makes a big mistake when he brings his new girlfriend, the Princess, to his hometown in Mississippi, where he  comes up hard against his old girlfriend Heavenly and her powerful family."Sweet Bird of Youth" is scheduled for September 15 to October 28 in the Albert Theatre.

Next is "Black N Blue Boys," subtitled "Broken Men," by Dael Orlandersmith, set for September 29 to October 28 in the Owen. The play is described as "an explosive narrative that uncovers the darkest corners of humanity—and shatters our notions about predators and their victims." Orlandersmith was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn prize in 1999 with "The Gimmick" -- she won that award in 2003 and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for "Yellowman."

Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," a smart family drama about a woman who has written a memoir revealing a long-buried family secret to the world, will play in the Albert from January 12 to February 17, 2013. "Desert Cities" was a hit at Lincoln Center last year, with a follow-up Broadway production. Ben Brantley reviewed it for the New York Times, including this major compliment: "Built with gleaming dialogue, tantalizing hints of a dangerous mystery and a structural care that brings to mind the heyday of Lillian Hellman, 'Cities' has the appeal of a Broadway hit from another age."

Christopher Shinn's "Teddy Ferrara" is up next in the Owen. Shinn is another Pulitzer Prize finalist, and his new play seems ripped from the headlines, about a gay college student whose world is turned upside-down by a campus tragedy. "Teddy Ferrara" will play February 2 to March 3, 2013.

The last play in the Owen is "The Happiest Song Plays Last," by Quiara Alegría Hudes, opening April 13 and running till May 12, 2013. Hudes was nominated for a Tony for the book of "In the Heights," but she goes farther afield with "The Happiest Song," setting the action in North Philadelphia and a town in the nation of Jordan. The first is the home of a community volunteer trying to help the needy, while the latter is the location of her cousin, an Iraq War vet, as he tries his hand as an action movie star. "The Happiest Song Plays Last" was part of the 2011 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.

The most interesting play for me on the Goodman's schedule is Lynn Nottage's "Meet Vera Stark," which takes a look at Hollywood during its "golden" years when black actresses could play only maids. In the play, Vera Stark really is a maid, to a star known as "America's little sweetie pie," while Vera tries to hunt down her own dreams for stardom in her spare time. She makes a bit of a splash in the small roles available to her, which doesn't go over well with "America's little sweetie pie." And then the play leaps forward to the 1970s and then 2003, as film scholars try to figure out what happened to this mysterious actress who jumped off the screen way back when. Nottage is a fabulous writer, the Hollywood premise is fascinating, and I can't wait till "Meet Vera Stark" hits the spotlight in the Albert Theatre April 27 to June 2, 2013.

And the last play of the season will be Mary Zimmerman's take on "The Jungle Book," based on the 1967 Disney movie. It will feature Zimmerman's trademark stage magic, mixing songs, dance, lights, costumes and whatever else she comes up with to create stunning visuals. The Goodman is calling "The Jungle Book" the theatrical event of the season, and if it's anything like Zimmerman's other work, it will be that and more.

"The Jungle Book" will swing by the Albert Theatre June 22 to July 28, 2013.

They will add one other show, to be announced later, to its Albert schedule, presumably to fit sometime in the November/December area. Stay tuned for that announcement.

In the meantime, peruse the descriptions of the other seven shows at the Goodman website, and be sure to look closely at the "Expect Something Wild" banner, which has "The Jungle Book" written all over it in the coolest possible way.

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