To honor the past and show the depth and breadth of the present, Pittsburgh Public Theater has gathered "A Season of Legends" for 2014-15 including two comedies -- one a world premiere, the other straight from off-Broadway -- about legendary celebrities. The remaining titles and playwrights in the six-play season need no introduction.
"I listen to our audience, and this season is a result of all those conversations about 'I want to see ...,' " producing artistic director Ted Pappas said, listing patrons' hopes and desires for programming. "So we have August Wilson's final work, the most acclaimed musical of all time ['My Fair Lady'] and Shakespeare, and then 'Buyer & Cellar,' about a legend. Also, it's very exciting to be doing a new play again. It builds muscle for the company, it gives the audience a one-of-a-kind experience, and it's challenging as a director and therefore very exciting."
Broadway rediscovered "The Glass Menagerie" in 2013, and the Public returns to its roots with its own production of the Tennessee Williams' classic as the season opener, 40 years after the play launched the company. The Shakespeare work is "Othello," the first time for the company and Mr. Pappas producing and directing the great tragedy of deceit, jealousy and deadly consequences.
The big musical continues the director's lifelong love of the works of George Bernard Shaw, which includes mounting "Candida" this season. For Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady," a musical ripe with lavish design possibilities, he'll return to the source material, Shaw's "Pygmalion," and build from there.
The Public not only returns to the August Wilson canon next season, but it returns Todd Kriedler, a Wilson protege who worked with the company as an assistant to Mr. Pappas' predecessor, Eddie Gilbert.
The 11th play in Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, "How I Learned What I Learned," makes its Pittsburgh debut with director Kreidler, who recently helmed a production at New York's Signature Theatre. Two years before his death in 2005, Wilson wrote and performed this one-man autobiographical play about growing up in the Hill District and the transcendent power of art.
"I can tell you exactly when this journey to get 'How I Learned What I Learned' started," Mr. Pappas said, and pinpointed Dec. 12, 2004, the day he hosted the playwright's visit to see "The Chief," Tom Atkins' one-man show about Art Rooney Sr. "I told him, 'You're next,' but he was gone within the year. Bringing this show to the Public has been in the works since then."
The Public also will unveil "L'Hotel," a new comedy by actor-playwright Ed Dixon, written with Mr. Pappas in mind to direct, that imagines a heavenly meeting of late, great stars. It answers the questions: "How do Sarah Bernhardt and Jim Morrison end up at the same breakfast table? In a battle of wits, will Oscar Wilde or Victor Hugo triumph? Does the Ouija board favor Isadora Duncan or Gioachino Rossini?"
In the realm of newish, there's "Buyer & Cellar," inspired by Barbra Streisand's coffee-table book, "My Passion for Design." The fictional comedy imagines what goes on in her Malibu estate's basement, which has become an arcade of shops displaying her collectibles.
"It's a smash off-Broadway," Mr. Pappas said. "I had trouble getting a ticket -- I was up top in the last row all the way to the side." The New York Times' David Rooney deemed the play "a seriously funny and remarkably sustained slice of absurdist whimsy on which both Barbra lovers and haters will be sold."
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.