World premiere by Lynn Nottage about America’s poorest city is highlight of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 season

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced plays for its 80th anniversary 2015 season today.

As always, the most exciting aspect of any OSF season is finding out what newly commissioned world premieres are in store. With the country’s largest acting company at the ready, and strong producing partnerships stretching from Ashland all the way to Broadway, OSF is uniquely positioned in the American theatre eco system to nurture and champion important new plays. The question then becomes – which writers get the nod?

From OSF’s American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a visionary, ten year (2008-17) initiative which aims to commission up to 37 new plays about moments of change in American history, the news this year is fantastic. Though AmRev’s track record to date has been mixed, it is thrilling to learn that 2015 will feature a world premiere by the astonishing Lynn Nottage (@LynnBrooklyn).

Dodging the artistic dead ends of whimsy, wackiness, “magical realism”, and manic profanity that entrance so many of her contemporaries in the American theatre, Nottage is the real deal and writes plays that matter. As good playwrights must be, she is an activist deeply engaged with the world. A new work by this talented Brooklynite is national news, and Oregonians are extremely lucky to be among the first to see it.

It's like this: A world premiere by Lynn Nottage is coming to OSF in 2015.  BOOM!
It’s like this: A world premiere by Lynn Nottage is coming to OSF in 2015. BOOM!

“I am truly excited to return to OSF with the world premiere of my new play, SWEAT,” Nottage said recently. “With the outstanding support of OSF, I have spent the last two years visiting Reading, Pennsylvania, examining how the de-industrial revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century is reshaping the American narrative. The play is inspired by interviews that I conducted and my observations of a once thriving city that is now grappling with how to reclaim its lost identity.”

The play is set at the end of the last millennium. A group of close friends share everything: drinks, secrets, love and laughter. But their world is upended by a shake-up at the steel plant where they work and an unspeakable act that has repercussions over two generations. SWEAT is actually one of several plays Nottage is writing based on her experience and interviews in Reading. As previously noted here, the playwright recently received a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation to undertake her research for this play. Find out more on her web site.

If you’re unfamiliar with Nottage, here’s an interview with her from Guernica:

“So much of writing now is about pleasing the powers that be, because the playwrights are dependent on the beneficence of the theaters.”

“Theater can give three-dimensions to two-dimensional stories.”

“A play can be like an injection—it can poke the needle directly into you and infuse you with life and humanity.”

“My plays often begin with an idea that haunts me. I’ll wake up in the morning thinking about it. With RUINED, I was haunted, and I had no idea it would have the impact it did.”

“For some reason, black male stories have found more of a space on film and television now, but as an African-American woman writer, our stories remain frightening or alien and are not invited to be part of the mainstream conversation, even though we’re a key part of shaping American culture. You take out black American women from American culture and a lot of white babies don’t get raised. We were at the forefront of the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, but somehow black women get removed from the conversation. That’s what I’m looking at in BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK—the history of omission.”

“The issue that is pressing for me right now is poverty. I feel as though the class divide is getting larger and larger, and for me it’s a deeply personal story. I have friends who existed in the middle class for years and now can’t feed their families. And when you’re in your twenties or even thirties there’s a certain level of resilience, but when you’re in your forties or fifties, and you’ve been working twenty-five years at the same job and that job’s suddenly removed and you don’t have any options, what are you going to do? That’s increasingly the narrative of America, and it’s being ignored.”

So put SWEAT by Lynn Nottage, which opens in OSF’s Bowmer Theatre in July 2015, on your calendar.

What else is on in 2015 in Ashland?

Eugene O’Neill’s marathon LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT will play in the small Thomas Theatre. There’s a new musical with a book by Jeff Whitty (and music by the Go-Go’s). There’s some Shakespeare (three plays identified so far). Mary Zimmerman is directing GUYS AND DOLLS. And there’s one play yet to be announced.

And strangely, OSF is staging the clunky 19th century melodrama that nearly drove Eugene O’Neill’s father, actor James O’Neill, insane after he performed the lead role 4,000 times over 30 years – THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Dumas. But maybe this play was necessary to give us Gene.

Full list below.

ANGUS BOWMER THEATRE

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by William Shakespeare (February 20 – November 1)
Director TBA

GUYS AND DOLLS Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows (February 22 – November 1)
Directed by Mary Zimmerman

FINGERSMITH Adapted by Alexa Junge from the book by Sarah Waters (February 21 – July 12)
Directed by Bill Rauch
World Premiere

SECRET LOVE IN PEACH BLOSSOM LAND by Stan Lai (April 15 – October 31)
Directed by Stan Lai

SWEAT by Lynn Nottage (July 29 – October 31)
Director TBA
World Premiere

THOMAS THEATRE

PERICLES by William Shakespeare (February 26 – November 1)
Directed by Joseph Haj

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O’Neill (March 25– October 31)
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore

TBA, to be announced in late Spring 2014 (July 7 – November 1)

ALLEN ELIZABETHAN THEATRE

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA by William Shakespeare (June 2 – October 9)
Directed by Bill Rauch

HEAD OVER HEELS Book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics from the catalog by the Go-Go’s (June 3 – October 10)
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
World Premiere

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO Adapted from the book by Alexandre Dumas (June 4 – October 11)
Director TBA