Urbana's Station Theatre has announced its 2016-17 season, with an interesting mix of pieces. They'll begin with two Conor McPherson plays in a row, with The Night Alive, what the New York Times called "a group portrait of five highly imperfect people fumbling in the dark" followed by The Birds, McPherson's take on the classic Daphne du Maurier story. Interestingly, neither McPherson's Birds nor Alfred Hitchcock's famous film hews to the storyline or character in du Maurier's story. The original angry birds who turn on mankind for no apparent reason are there in all three versions, however.
Every Brilliant Thing, written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, was originally performed as a one-man show by Donahoe, albeit the one man used lots of audience interaction as he shared an engaging and sometimes amusing list of reasons to stay alive.
Mother and son Adrienne and Adam Kennedy are behind Sleep Deprivation Chamber, which shared an Obie for Best Play with a different short work by Adrienne Kennedy. The action that informs Sleep Deprivation Chamber sounds like it was ripped from today's headlines, with an African-American man beaten by police after a minor traffic stop. It was written in 1996, making it all the more heartbreaking, as we all ponder how long this kind of injustice will continue.
Urbana's own Deke Weaver and Tom Mitchell will direct work that reflects long-term projects they've undertaken, with Weaver weaving (I couldn't help myself) the B story—B for Bear—from his Unreliable Bestiary and Mitchell returning to the work of Tennessee Williams to find St. Louis Stories.
On the lighter side, Robert Askin's Hand to God offers a hilarious and very irreverent puppet show that asks pointed questions about religion and true believers, as does The Christians, Lucas Hnath's respectful, probing look at a successful pastor who has a change of heart about a core principle of his faith. Both shows have seen successful New York runs and multiple award nominations.
If you want a quicker summary, that's two Conor McPherson plays, both involving a young woman who enters a household and blows it up, two one-person shows, two autobiographical pieces, two original adaptations and two examinations of religion and faith. Here are longer descriptions of the plays on the Station's season, direct from their website:
October 6–22, 2016
THE NIGHT ALIVE by Conor McPherson
Directed by Kay Bohannon Holley
Featuring Gary Ambler, Lindsey Gates-Markel, Jim Kotowski, David Butler, and Mathew Green.
"Tommy's not a bad man; he's getting by. Renting a run-down room in his Uncle Maurice's house, just about keeping his ex-wife and kids at arm's length, and rolling from one get-rich-quick scheme to the other with his pal Doc. Then one day he comes to the aid of Aimee, who's not had it easy herself, struggling through life the only way she knows how. Their past won't let go easily, but together there's a glimmer of hope that they could make something more of their lives. Something extraordinary. Perhaps.
"With inimitable warmth, style and craft, Conor McPherson's The Night Alive deftly mines the humanity to be found in the most unlikely of situations."
November 3–19, 2016
THE BIRDS by Conor McPherson
Directed by Thom Schnarre
"Conor McPherson boldly adapts for the stage the Daphne du Maurier short story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film—a gripping, unsettling, and moving look at human relationships in the face of societal collapse. The play takes us to an isolated house, where strangers Nat and Diane take shelter from the relentless masses of attacking birds which are hitting the eastern seacoast in the not-too-distant future. There they find relative sanctuary, but not comfort or peace; there's no electricity, little food, and a constant sense that someone lurks in the shadows to take what little comforts the couple shares. When the young and alluring Julia seeks refuge with the couple, her presence brings both unsettling news of the outside world and a growing discord in their claustrophobic existence. Survival becomes even more elusive as paranoia takes hold of their makeshift fortress."
December 1–17, 2016
EVERY BRILLIANT THING by Duncan Macmillian and Jonny Donahoe
Directed by Katie Baldwin Prosise
"You're six years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she's 'done something stupid.' She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that's brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for. 1. Ice cream. 2. Kung Fu movies. 3. Burning things. 4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose. 5. Construction cranes. 6. Me.
"You leave it on her pillow. You know she’s read it because she’s corrected your spelling.
"Soon, the list will take on a life of its own.
"A one-person interactive play about depression and the lengths we will go to for those we love."
January 19–February 1, 2017
HAND TO GOD by Robert Askins
Directed by Mikel Matthews, Jr.
"After the death of his father, meek Jason finds an outlet for his anxiety at the Christian Puppet Ministry, in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas. Jason's complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door, and—most especially—his mother are thrown into upheaval when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Hand to God explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind us."
February 16–25, 2017
BEAR written and directed by Deke Weaver
"Bear is the fourth installment in artist and University of Illinois School of Art + Design faculty member Deke Weaver's lifelong project The Unreliable Bestiary—a collection of performances and books for every letter of the alphabet, with each letter representing an endangered animal. Ultimately a site-and season-specific theatrical triptych, Bear will find Weaver and his collaborators delving into the peculiar myths, rituals, and cycles of living of the stocky-legged, big-pawed omnivores. Bear’s fall chapter will take small groups of adventurers on short hikes to bear-related outdoor installations set in local parklands and will culminate with a final tale told in a close, dark, den-like setting. Information about BEAR’s winter and spring chapters will be updated at unreliablebestiary.org."
March 2–4, 2017
ST. LOUIS STORIES inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams
Directed by Tom Mitchell
March 23–April 8, 2017
SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER by Adam Kennedy and Adrienne Kennedy
Directed by Latrelle Bright
"In this autobiographical drama, a broken tail light leads to the brutal beating of a highly educated, middle-class black man by a policeman in suburban Virginia. The Kennedys interweave the trial of the victimized son (accused of assaulting the offending officer) with the mother's poignant letters in his defense and her remembrances of growing up in the 1940s, when her parents were striving 'to make Cleveland a better place for Negroes.' They have created a gripping examination of the conflicting realities of the black experience in twentieth-century America."
April 27–May 13, 2017
THE CHRISTIANS by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Jaclyn Loewenstein
"Twenty years ago, Pastor Paul's church was nothing more than a modest storefront. Now he presides over a congregation of thousands, with classrooms for Sunday School, a coffee shop in the lobby, and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool. Today should be a day of celebration. But Paul is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church's belief. A big-little play about faith in America—and the trouble with changing your mind."
For more information on the Station Theatre's upcoming season and to find reservation information, visit their website here.