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There are several aspects of Long Wharf Theatre's 48th season that play a role in the audience's experience there.
First, the renovations to the theater's main stage, lobby, and façade will be completed (starting with the second show).
"It's been important to everyone that every effort be made to preserve what has always been the strength of the main stage-the stage as an actor's stage that celebrates excellence in the craft of acting and the playwright's craft," says Eric Ting, the theater's associate artistic director. "It's not radically different, but there's more legroom, more comfort, so you can focus more fully on what's happening on stage than your knees."
It's also an election year. Ting says that he and Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf's artistic director, absolutely take into consideration what's happening in the world when they figure out a new season.
"We knew we were coming up on an election year and (chose plays) tying into a lot of events that are rising up right now and questions coming up in the national conversation," Ting says. "Questions of race in 'Satchmo at the Waldorf' and 'Clybourne Park'; issues of class and property in 'Clybourne Park' and 'Curse of the Starving Class'; sexuality, freedom of expression and being who you are in 'The Killing of Sister George'; obesity and self-image in 'January Joiner'; and a look at an imagined slice of American political history in 'Ride the Tiger.'"
The season has kicked off with "Satchmo at the Waldorf" by Terry Teachout, directed by Gordon Edelstein (through Nov. 4, Stage II).
The one-person show stars John Douglas Thompson playing two men: Louis Armstrong, the world's greatest trumpet player, and his manager Joe Glazer, with whom he had a complex relationship.
"John gives a kind of tour de force performance; there's no denying his skills to captivate an audience night after night," Ting says.
Next up is "The Killing of Sister George" by Frank Marcus, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by and starring Kathleen Turner (Nov. 28 to Dec. 23, mainstage).
Turner plays June Buckridge a.k.a. Sister George, a woman who tends to the sick and poor by day on the radio hit Applehurst and by night chews on cigars, swills gin and lets nothing and no one stand in her way.
"She's so perfect for this. She is such an artist, such a joy to work with," Ting says of Turner. "This seemed like an obvious choice for her. She has a simultaneous understanding of what is funny and subversive about the play. We're really excited to invite her back to Long Wharf," (at which, 25 years ago, Turner starred in Camille).
Ting directs the third play, "January Joiner" by Laura Jacqmin (Jan. 9 to Feb. 10, 2013, Stage II).
This new comedy is about "campers" at the Total Xtreme Weight Loss Boot Camp trying to live up to the mantras of "Eat less?Exercise more?Make healthy choices?Stop being so fat." But at what cost? it asks.
"'January Joiner' is one of the first plays we've come upon in recent memory that really attempts to deal with obesity and self-image as a 21st-century challenge in this country," Ting says. "What happens when someone we love changes so radically that they become strangers to us? There's something really special about what Laura's play tries to do. She frames it as a horror comedy and gives us a fun, slightly tongue-and-cheek way of confronting an issue that's becoming (increasingly) important in our culture today."
"Curse of the Starving Class" by Sam Shepard is the season's fourth play, directed by Gordon Edelstein (Feb. 13 to March 10, 2013, mainstage).
This modern classic is the first play by the Pulitzer and Tony-award winning playwright to be produced at Long Wharf. It balances dark comedy and biting satire in its look at a family who's dead broke, fighting to stay alive and save each person's piece of the American Dream.
"There's an entire genre of American theater that pivots around Sam Shepard and what he's contributed to the American stage. It's shocking that we haven't done a play by him yet," Ting admits. "But we're excited this is the one. It's a play of the moment, yet again. We've been in such a long recession-drought-in this country. It's the sort of thing that really gets at who we are over time-a question coming up more and more as we get closer to November.
"What's curious about Sam Shepard is he writes plays that transcend what's banal and real and are simultaneously familiar and epic," Ting adds, "and if anyone can give audiences a fully nuanced and moving production of this play, it's Gordon."
Edelstein also directs the next play, "Ride the Tiger" by William Mastrosimone (March 27 to April 21, 2013, mainstage).
This new drama about political intrigue, power and honor shows what happens when John F. Kennedy, in the run-up to his election, Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, and Frank Sinatra become involved with the same ravishing young woman with connections.
"It's a play that excavates certain skeletons from this country's past and asks really provocative questions about major events in our modern history," Ting says. "It makes these people feel very human-not just distant historical figures, but flawed, heroic, conflicted and powerful.
The season closes with "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris, directed by Eric Ting (May 8 to June 2, 2013, mainstage).
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning play, a nervous group of neighbors (in 1959) is trying to talk friends out of selling their home to a black family. Sixty years later, racism rears its ugly head and hilarious sparks fly as a white family attempts to move into the now predominantly African-American neighborhood.
Ting says that the theater tends to shy away from plays like this that have had such recently successful runs on Broadway, but he and Edelstein both thought it spoke very much to the experience of New Haven - especially gentrification and changing neighborhoods.
"Questions of race and class are embedded in with questions of property and neighborhoods and the way they evolve," he says. "Clybourne Park confronts that in a way that is both outrageous and funny. It (raises) questions people often feel uncomfortable talking about and puts it out there in a way that invites a conversation about it."
Ting sums up the new season by saying that it is comprised of "work that is immediate and contemporary. And even the work housed in the patina of the past will very much surprise audiences by how much it resonates with the present."
For more information about the 2012-'13 season or to purchase tickets, visit www.longwharf.org.