Star light, star bright | 2015 Williamstown Theatre Festival prepares to fill western Mass. sky with stars all summer long

While in the Northwest it feels like summer is already here, in New England residents are shoveling through snow deeper than a Thornton Wilder play.

But there’s light at the end of the white tunnel for hearty Yankees (not Yankees fans). In a few weeks that ice sheet covering the Northeast will melt (in theory) and green grass will return. And for residents of a certain western Mass. hamlet, spring means the summer theatre season is that much closer.

One magical day in June as the college kids depart, an avalanche of top shelf theatre practitioners will suddenly hit Williamstown. And that’s when you know that WTF is on. The night sky above the Berkshires has never been short of stars. But this year there will be even more than the usual number of constellations of talent whirring through the heavens – and across the two WTF stages.

The all star Williamstown Theatre Festival announced the 2015 lineup this week. It’s the first season under the new leadership of Mandy Greenfield. And if you don’t already have plans to pay a visit to the verdant valleys and gently eroding Irish Alps of western Mass., this just may be the year to go. You may have to stay all summer to catch all the shows. Read ’em and weep. How does four world premieres sound – including one by William Inge? How about O’Neill’s classic MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN with husband and wife team Audra McDonald and Will Swenson? Stop. No really, don’t.

Mandy Greenfield, Williamstown Theatre Festival's new Artistic Director.
Mandy Greenfield, Williamstown Theatre Festival’s new Artistic Director.

Here’s some coverage from over the border in Bennington.

WTF is happening?

Exactly.

From o'er hill and dale they come.  In a few short months, the Williamstown Theatre Festival will fill the sky with stars.
From o’er hill and dale they come. In a few short months, the Williamstown Theatre Festival will fill the sky with stars.

2015 Williamstown Theatre Festival

Main Stage

WORLD PREMIERE
Off the Main Road | June 30 – July 19
By William Inge; Directed by Evan Cabnet
With Kyra Sedgwick

Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winner Kyra Sedgwick makes her WTF debut in the world premiere of a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner William Inge. As the second wave of feminism crests in America, the elegant but emotionally-fragile Faye Garrit (Sedgwick) seeks refuge from her husband, a former professional baseball player, by checking into a run-down resort on the outskirts of St. Louis, with her 17-year-old daughter. The future for mother and daughter may look hazy, but personal, political, and sexual awakenings allow them to move forward with new and heartbreaking clarity. Directed by former WTF Foeller and Sagal Fellow Evan Cabnet, this gripping and powerful drama deepens Inge’s legacy of penning rich, emotionally hard-hitting stories populated by complicated and truthful, human characters.

Off the Main Road was, until recently, a lost work among Inge’s canon – found and reintroduced by the Inge Estate in 2008.

WORLD PREMIERE
Paradise Blue | July 22 – August 2
(2012 L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award Winner)
By Dominique Morisseau; Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Tony and Obie Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs the world premiere of a bracing and charged drama from Dominique Morisseau. Blue, a gifted trumpeter, contemplates selling his once-vibrant jazz club in Detroit’s Blackbottom neighborhood to shake free the demons of his past and better his life. But where does that leave his devoted Pumpkin, who has dreams of her own? And, what does it mean for the club’s resident bebop band? When a mysterious woman with a walk that drives men mad comes to town with her own plans, everyone’s world is turned upside down. This dynamic and musically-infused drama shines light on the challenges of building a better future on the foundation of what our predecessors have left us.

A Moon for the Misbegotten| August 5 – August 23
By Eugene O’Neill; Directed by Gordon Edelstein
With Audra McDonald & Will Swenson

Six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald and Tony Award-nominee Will Swenson take the stage in Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill’s final masterpiece. When Phil Hogan, a salty tenant farmer, fears he will lose his property, his daughter Josie (McDonald), lures their dissolute landlord, Jamie Tyrone (Swenson), into bed one summer night. Under the glow of the moon, truth comes into focus for these two souls, but what awaits them when dawn breaks? Helmed by Gordon Edelstein and featuring scenic design by the world-renowned Ming Cho Lee, this raw and invigorating new look at O’Neill’s poetic and bitterly romantic A Moon for the Misbegotten assures us of the heart’s capacity for infinite love and forgiveness.

Nikos Stage

WORLD PREMIERE
Legacy | July 1 – July 12
By Daniel Goldfarb; Directed by Oliver Butler
With Eric Bogosian, Halley Feiffer, Jessica Hecht, & Greg Keller

Tony Award-nominee Jessica Hecht and Drama Desk Award-winner Eric Bogosian couple up for the world premiere of Daniel Goldfarb’s funny and turbulent Legacy. When renowned novelist Neil Abrams (Bogosian) is panned by The New York Times, he reopens the conversation with his wife Suzanne (Hecht) about starting a family. As Neil copes with feeling increasingly antiquated and culturally irrelevant, and Suzanne begins a relationship with one of Neil’s brilliant grad students (Feiffer), the equilibrium of their marriage is threatened. Directed by Obie Award-winner Oliver Butler, this thoughtful drama exposes the cost of trying to will our own legacy.

AMERICAN PREMIERE
Kinship | July 15 – July 25
By Carey Perloff; Directed by Jo Bonney
With Cynthia Nixon

Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winner Cynthia Nixon makes her Festival debut in Carey Perloff’s gripping and sexy new drama. The tightly wound lives of a fiery newspaper editor (Nixon), an upstart journalist, and an overly-protective mother unravel when a passionate entanglement turns into an intense power struggle. Helmed by Obie Award-winning director Jo Bonney, Kinship explores the deep, often funny, and always intense pursuit of total happiness.

WORLD PREMIERE MUSICAL
Unknown Solider| July 30 – August 9
Book & Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein; Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Trip Cullman

In this haunting new musical created by writer Daniel Goldstein, Obie Award-winning composer Michael Friedman, and director Trip Cullman, Ellen Rabinowitz sets out to understand her past after she discovers an enigmatic photograph while cleaning out her deceased grandmother’s home. As she chases the truth about the soldier featured in the photo, Ellen is drawn into a tangle of historical facts and mysteries that lead her to surprising love stories and unexpected truths. Bringing together three WTF alumni, Unknown Soldier delves into memory and family mythology, asking how – or even whether – the past shows us who we are.

DOUBLE HEADER of TWO AMERICAN PREMIERES of BRITISH PLAYWRIGHTS
Chewing Gum Dreams & An Intervention | August 12 – 23
Olivier Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett’s An Intervention will run simultaneously with fast-rising writer/performer Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum Dreams. Lila Neugebauer, former WTF Foeller Fellow, directs.

Chewing Gum Dreams
Written and Performed by Michaela Coel
Fourteen-year-old Tracey Gordon is rude, crude, and riotous. Who can blame her? Every which way she turns, she’s constantly failed by those who should be looking out for her. But beneath her tough exterior lies a very real fear that the future holds very little for her. Explosive, thoroughly honest, and devilishly funny, Michaela Coel’s award-winning Chewing Gum Dreams recalls the last days of innocence before the onrush of adulthood for a girl from the rough part of a tough city.

An Intervention
By Mike Bartlett; Directed by Lila Neugebauer
With a rotating cast
A whole lot of booze, a new girlfriend, and government involvement in a foreign war are just some of the factors that threaten to drive a massive wedge between two people. Can they close the ever-widening gap in their relationship, or have they reached a breaking point? Featuring rotating pairs of world-class actors, each performance of An Intervention will reveal new meaning inside this theatrical, mischievous, and engrossing two-hander from Olivier Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett that puts personal and political intervention under a magnifying glass.

Restored glory in the Berkshires? | Look for big things at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2015 as Mandy Greenfield takes the helm

It’s not new news – in fact it was announced almost a year ago – but the impact of the change won’t truly be felt until the 2015 summer season. And so it’s still something to watch out for.

Mandy Greenfield, formerly second in command at Manhattan Theatre Club and the force behind programming at MTC’s two Off Broadway spaces, has taken over for Jenny Gersten as the Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Though Greenfield was technically the AD for the current 2014 season, the lineup of 2014 shows was chosen by Gersten before she left last winter. And so it will be the 2015 season when Greenfield gets a chance to show her stuff and create her first season at the venerable Western Massachusetts theatre festival.

Given Greenfield’s strong connections to Off Broadway, the change in leadership looks extremely promising. It seems likely that WTF will feature more new plays in future.

And perhaps she will restore some of WTF’s previous luster as THE place to go in New England for top notch summer theatre.

Look for some exciting stuff in here next summer.  The '62 Center for Theatre & Dance at Williams College, annual summer home home to the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
Look for some exciting stuff in here next summer. The ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance at Williams College, annual summer home home to the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

WTF is happening in 2013

People in western Massachusetts have known WTF is happening since 1955.
People in western Massachusetts have known WTF is happening since 1955.

That’s short for Williamstown Theatre Festival, one of the country’s most venerable summer theatre festivals, hidden away in bucolic western Mass.

WTF has announced their 2013 season.

MAIN STAGE

June 26 – July 14, 2013
ANIMAL CRACKERS
Book by George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind
Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby
Adapted and Directed by Henry Wishcamper

Hooray for Captain Spaulding! The intrepid African explorer, inveterate womanizer, and interminable jokester hobnobs with high society as the guest of honor at a swanky soiree. But when a priceless painting is pilfered, he and the guests are swept up in a screwball search for the thief. This new interpretation of the Marx Brothers’ hit Broadway musical and classic film overflows with mirthful melodies, dynamite dancing, and seriously silly slapstick.

July 17 – 27, 2013
PYGMALION
By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Nicholas Martin
With Robert Sean Leonard

“You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being.” With all the parallels of a modern reality-show makeover, an impoverished flower seller is taken in hand by a linguistics professor who attempts to change her accent and pass her off as the epitome of English society. For a wager. A sharp satire on class and women’s independence, Shaw’s century-old masterpiece features Robert Sean Leonard as Henry Higgins in an uproarious, poignant, and unforgettable battle of wits between two of theatre’s most iconic characters.

August 1 – 18, 2013
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
Book by Marsha Norman
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Bartlett Sher
WORLD PREMIERE

In 1992, a rural American romance by an unknown author became a literary phenomenon. Millions of readers have been captivated by the simple story of Francesca, a beautiful Italian woman who marries an American soldier to flee war-ravaged Italy. Her new life in Iowa is common until she encounters Robert, a loner and artist, whose photography at National Geographic shields him from commitment and connection. Their three days of flirtation, memories of Naples, food, and laughter inspire a timeless love, and an impossible choice. Lushly transforming the best-selling novel into an intimate musical work for the stage, Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown have added new resonance to a lyrical portrait of true love, loss, sacrifice, and devotion.

NIKOS STAGE

June 26 – July 7, 2013
AMERICAN HERO
By Bess Wohl
Directed by Leigh Silverman
WORLD PREMIERE

Three ounces of meat. Two ounces of cheese. Four ounces of lettuce. Seventeen-year-old Sheri and her co-workers at a new submarine sandwich franchise have honed their skills making everything from the Turkey Torpedo to the Big Kahuna Tuna exactly as specified in the corporate manual. But when the franchise owner mysteriously disappears, they are forced to improvise, and Sheri takes charge of the ragtag band of “sandwich artists.” See just how far they’ll go to keep their shop afloat in Bess Wohl’s hilarious, surreal tale of the struggle for optimism in tough times, the power of sandwiches, and the glorious, messy American Dream.

July 10 – 21, 2013
HAPGOOD
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Evan Yionoulis
With Kate Burton

Treacherous twins and double (or triple?) agents abound in a twisty-turny look at the unlikely interrelation of quantum physics and international espionage. Simultaneously channeling John le Carré, Albert Einstein, and Mel Brooks, Tom Stoppard’s Cold-War thriller boasts equal shares of brains, guts, and sly humor. WTF mainstay Kate Burton takes on the tour-de-force title role, the brilliant but eccentric British intelligence chief working to expose a Soviet double agent while attempting to keep her personal life under wraps.

July 24 – August 4, 2013
JOHNNY BASEBALL
Book by Richard Dresser
Music by Robert Reale
Lyrics by Willie Reale
Directed by Marc Bruni

The infamous Curse of the Boston Red Sox is brought to life through the changing fortunes of three orphaned souls: Johnny O’Brien, a hard-luck right-hander on the 1919 Sox; his idol, Babe Ruth; and Daisy Wyatt, a dazzling African-American blues singer and the love of Johnny’s life. The mystical intertwining of their fates reveals both the source of the Curse and the secret to its triumphant end off Big Papi’s bat in 2004. Packing a resonant commentary on social history into a quintessentially American musical, Johnny Baseball will bring cheers and tears to baseball fans and theatre lovers alike.

August 7 – 18, 2013
TBA

The fourth Nikos Stage show, a revival, will be announced soon.

FREE THEATRE

July 10 – 19, 2013
DRACULA
By Bram Stoker
adapted by Steve Lawson

Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel comes alive under the stars in a new adaptation by WTF veteran and Free Theatre co-founder Steve Lawson. One of the most haunting figures of our common imagination, “the Count” has stalked his nightmarish way through literature, art, theatre, and film, never failing to leave an impression, as well as the marks of his fangs. This dynamic new stage version of Stoker’s iconic tale is sure to hold audiences rapt. Leave your nerves at home…but bring the whole family and a picnic. (Garlic provided.)