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Letter from the Director: Rep has variety and strength

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 3, 2008 - In the lobby of the Loretto-Hilton Center before the lights come up on stage, in the checkout lane at the grocery, or stopped along the street, I am often asked by patrons of The Rep what the “theme” for the upcoming season will be. What unifying philosophy or common thread is to be found among the many productions we will present over the next eight months?

There isn’t one, I explain, or maybe there is, and it simply won’t reveal itself until April, when we come out on the other side and look back.

Perhaps it’s in our nature, a need to find patterns as a way of organizing our lives and of dealing with the flood of information we confront every day. But when it comes to choosing the plays for a season at The Rep, there are really only three considerations at the fore:

  • Is it good?
  • Will it challenge and entertain our audience, giving them an opportunity to look at and learn about the human experience?
  • And does it speak to this community, in this place, at this time?

For 2008-2009, I think we've satisfied all three, and I can't wait to share our choices with St. Louis, but if you really want to look for common threads, consider:

We open our Mainstage series with Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan’s multiply-honored drama about what went on behind the scenes and in front of the cameras when playboy talk show host David Frost landed the interview of a lifetime with disgraced former President Richard Nixon. We’re extremely honored to be the first theater outside of New York to produce this remarkable play.

Our Off-Ramp series at the Grandel Theatre starts off with a bang — literally — with Martin McDonagh’s bloody, brilliant The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a dark farce about Irish terrorism and the absurdity of politically motivated violence that’s one of the most amazingly funny plays I've ever seen.

So, that's two plays with two very different looks at the extremes to which political vigor and a quest for power can take us. A theme?

How about playing "what if"? In This Wonderful Life on our Mainstage for the holidays, we have the entire town of Bedford Falls, along with Clarence the Angel and old George Bailey, who wonders if everyone would be better off had he never lived — all in the person of one actor, who puts a heartfelt and wry twist on the classic Capra film that's perfect for the family.

Or what if a man could split in two, his goodness and his evil intentions made into two different men? Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who last took us along for Sherlock Holmes' final adventure, provides a sharp and clever take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that may have you looking twice in the mirror.

We have a couple of shows about women who hear voices in their heads. George Bernard Shaw’s witty and provocative Saint Joan on the Mainstage introduces us to a simple country girl who claims to be on a mission from God, guided by divine voices to drive the English from 15th century France. As you'll discover in Souvenir, in our Studio series, the voice that eccentric socialite Florence Foster Jenkins heard was her own, since she believed herself to be a pitch-perfect soprano, when in fact she couldn’t sing a note in tune. The hilarious and poignant true story of her indomitable spirit will have you rolling in the aisles.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of strong and strong-willed women at the heart of this season's shows.

Generations have been smitten by Jane Austen’s meddling matchmaker Emma Woodhouse, from the original novel to the 1995 teen movie romp Clueless, and now the delightful heroine is at the center of a sparkling new musical that'll be the second show on our Mainstage, a charming new adaptation by Tony Award-nominated composer Paul Gordon.

And in February, almost 50 years after its Broadway debut, we’ll produce William Gibson’s inspiring and lyrical The Miracle Worker, the story of young Helen Keller and of Anne Sullivan, the courageous teacher who gave her the world by giving her the ability to communicate.

Or consider Diane, the fiery, feisty Hollywood super-agent in The Little Dog Laughed, our second Off-Ramp show. She's determined to land her up-and-coming young heart-throb client Mitchell the movie role of a lifetime, even if she has to shove him back in the closet and engineer a dozen dirty deals to do it. It's an outrageous and sexy look at the world of celebrity and show-biz politics, and a thoroughly contemporary comedy of manners.

Contemporary issues are at the heart of two other plays in the Studio. In October, we’ll present the world premiere of Evie's Waltz by St. Louis playwright Carter W. Lewis, a look at a couple facing every parent's nightmare: Their son has been expelled for bringing a gun to school and possibly plotting a Columbine-like massacre. In the Olivier Award-winning Blackbird, we'll explore the line between abuse and love with a young woman who has tracked down the man with whom she had a passionate but poisonous relationship 15 years ago, when she was only 12 years old.

That's 11 shows in all, plus three productions by our Imaginary Theatre Company for young audiences, including a world-premiere adaptation of Ruth Stiles Gannett's classic My Father's Dragon.

Is there any one thing that ties them together, that could possibly? I don't know. Ask me again in April, or come to The Rep and decide for yourself, then you tell me.

Of course, that means you'll have to see all of the shows. The folks in our box office will be happy to set you up with tickets, and I'll see you in the lobby!

2008-2009 Season at The Rep

Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center:

Sept 3-28, 2008 - Frost/Nixon
Oct. 8-Nov. 2, 2008 - Jane Austen's Emma - A New Musical
Nov 26-Dec. 28, 2008 - The Wonderful Life
Jan. 7-Feb. 1, 2009 - Saint Joan
Feb. 11-March 8, 2009 - The Miracle Worker
March 18-April 12 - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Off-Ramp at the Grandel Theatre:

Sept. 17-Oct. 12, 2008 - The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Nov. 5-30, 2008 - The Little Dog Laughed

Studio at the Loretto-Hilton Center:

Oct. 22-Nov. 8, 2008 - Evie's Waltz
Jan. 21-Feb. 8, 2009 - Blackbird
March 11-29, 2009 - Souvenir 

Imaginary Theatre Company on the Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center:

Dec. 20, 22, 23, 2008 - The Little Fir Tree
Feb. 28, 2009 - My Father's Dragon

Imaginary Theatre Company on tour only:

Robin Hood

For tickets or information, visit www.repstl.org or call 314-968-4925.

Steven Woolf is the artistic director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the production director of the season-opening Frost/Nixon. 

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