Public Theater's new season to bring back masterpieces


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The familiar and the lauded populate the 2013-14 season announced today by Pittsburgh Public Theater, which has distinctive credits that give producing artistic director Ted Pappas license to title it The Masterpiece Season.

It follows on the heels of a season of plays in which "Clybourne Park," "Other Desert Cities" and "Good People" were recent Tony nominees, with "Clybourne Park" winning best play. There's one new play for this new season, and it's based on Homer's "Iliad."

"This is a season of six plays I consider masterpieces, that will last forever and continue to resonate as powerfully as when they first opened," Mr. Pappas said. "It came about because this year we have what we consider four new American plays -- I count 'Thurgood' among them -- that were available and very good. I was in the theater watching them. I thought, I'd like to see that again or I could get a great director for that. But this year, because things are cyclical, I didn't like the new plays. I thought they were auditions for a TV series. I thought they were unfinished. There might be one brilliant scene and six lousy ones. The best of the new plays I read, ironically, was 'An Iliad,' which has so much connecting it to an ancient masterpiece, even though it's a new play."

Mr. Pappas returned to what he considers theatrical masterworks by Sophocles and Shakespeare, Sondheim and Shaw, and he devised a season to remind himself and the audience of "what greatness in art" is.

"Theater matters because it is a place for ideas, for great language, great characters, plots that intrigue us, and ... I was not going to be derailed from the mission of this company by an obsession with newness," he said.

That includes finding meaty roles for artists such as Tom Atkins ("The Chief") and Gretchen Egolf ("Much Ado About Nothing").

With Mr. Atkins as the Stage Manager, Thornton Wilder's seminal "Our Town" launches the 2013-14 season and is the first of three shows Mr. Pappas will direct. "It's the play I consider America's greatest play. I have been wanting to do it for many years, and so has Tom. The script I'm working from is the one he gave me, because he wanted very much for us to do it together. And it seemed like a lovely counterpoint to 'An Iliad.' "

The latter, a modernization of Homer's epic from the time of the Trojan War, has been described by Variety as "a transformative act of theatrical magic."

It's unusual for the Public to have musicals in three consecutive seasons, but then, Mr. Pappas hasn't directed a Stephen Sondheim show in 15 years. He'll helm "Company," the relationships-in-the-city show that kicked off the 1970s, and then go journey back to 1903 for another relationship merry-go-round, the George Bernard Shaw comedy "Candida," starring Ms. Egolf.

The raucous romp "Noises Off" will put a punctuation on the theme of the season.

The questions Mr. Pappas asked of each choice were: "Is it the first of its kind? Is it the best of its kind? Is it the play that breaks all the rules? Is it the play that confirms the rules? In one sense, it's the definitive statement. And for me, 'Noises Off' is the definitive farce. What makes it unique, it's a farce about a farce, it doubles its fun. But what makes it a masterpiece is that it defines the genre completely."

Public Theater 2013-14 season

Sept. 26-Oct. 27, 2013: "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder: Pulitzer winner about an average town's average citizens in early 20th-century New Hampshire, with a narrator -- the Stage Manager -- as the audience's insightful guide.

Nov. 7-Dec. 8, 2013: "True West" by Sam Shepard: Two estranged brothers -- one a writer and a family man, the other a drifter and a thief -- renew their epic rivalry.

Jan. 23-Feb. 23, 2014: "Company" by George Furth (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics). Mr. Pappas directs and choreographs the oft-revived Tony-winning musical about Manhattan marrieds and singles including Bobby, who begins to question his commitment to bachelorhood. Songs include "Being Alive," "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Another Hundred People."

March 6-April 6, 2014: "An Iliad" by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare, based on Robert Fagles' translation of Homer. Combines the majestic language of Homer with the informal way we speak today.

April 17-May 18, 2014: "Candida" by George Bernard Shaw: In the director's words, "Candida was a smash when it premiered in 1903 and is still a triumph of sophistication." Gretchen Egolf, the Public's Rosalind in "As You Like It," has the title role.

May 29-June 29, 2014: "Noises Off" by Michael Frayn. We are the fly on the wall as a troupe of English actors rehearses the sex comedy 'Nothing On' in an atmosphere of chaos and hilarity.

Six-play packages ($138 to $325) are available now at 412-316-1600 or ppt.org/subscribe.

theater

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. First Published February 26, 2013 5:00 AM


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