Steppenwolf Theatre has announced its 2015-2016 subscription season which will mark the kickoff of the company’s 40th anniversary. Among the productions to be produced will be a world premiere play by Tracy Letts (of “August: Osage County” fame); a stage adaptation of a John Steinbeck novel by Frank Galati, directed by Terry Kinney; and the Chicago premieres of recent works by Bruce Norris, Annie Baker and Stephen Adly Guirgis.
Now the oldest ensemble theater in the U.S., Steppenwolf was established in 1976 in the basement of a Highland Park, Illinois church by three high school and college friends — Jeff Perry, Terry Kinney and Gary Sinise. The selection of the upcoming season has been overseen by artistic director Martha Lavey who, in August — after two decades of leadership — will hand the reins to fellow ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro.
“I still remember that when I first took on this job, Gary Sinise said to me: ‘We really have to cultivate writers here.’ We have done that, with three of the writers whose work is being presented next season — Frank Galati, Bruce Norris and Tracy Letts — drawn from the ranks of the company. And we need to continue to develop relationships with young writers and actors.”
Steppenwolf commissioned Galati’s adaptation of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden,” and this will mark an artistic reunion of Galati and Kinney, who famously worked together on the award-winning adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” in the late 1980s.
“At first Frank wasn’t sure a stage version of ‘East of Eden’ could be done, but then he said he found the key,” said Lavey.
As for Letts’ world premiere, “Mary Page Marlowe,” Lavey noted: “I think Tracy surprised himself with this play, writing it while he was in South Africa [playing the role of Sen. Andrew Lockhart, the powerful Committee Chairman on the Showtime TV series, “Homeland”]. Tracy’s mother [author Billie Letts] died not long ago, and while this play is not at all about her, it is about a woman’s life from the age of 18 months until the age of 69. Six different actresses will play the role, and the whole story will unfold in non-chronological order, pieced together like a quilt.”
Steppenwolf has produced the premieres of many of Bruce Norris’ earlier plays, though his Pulitzer Prize winning “Clybourne Park” debuted elsewhere, as did this season’s play, “Domesticated,” which opened at the Lincoln Center Theatre in 2013.
“We wanted to commission a play by Annie Baker, but she was just too busy, so we are very happy to do ‘The Flick,’ [which opened at New York’s Playwrights Horizons in 2013 and received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama].
As for Lavey’s own plans, she has had some acting offers, but said: “I hope to take some time to decide what I want to do next, and whether or not I want to do it right away. I don’t think I’m going to charge into some big thing immediately; I need a pause after spending 20 years working on what was a consuming passion.”
Here is the season lineup, with casting to be announced at a later date:
± “East of Eden” (Sept. 17 – Nov. 15, 2015, Frank Galati’s world premiere stage adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel, directed by Terry Kinney): Escaping a turbulent past, Adam Trask is determined to make a new start in California’s Salinas Valley. Adam and his wife Kate settle on a beautiful farm, and soon Kate gives birth to twins Caleb and Aaron. But family history, sibling rivalry and the impending danger of World War I threaten their little piece of paradise and the story ponders this question: Is it possible to escape the mistakes of previous generations and choose your own course?
± “Domesticated” (Dec. 3, 2015 – Feb. 7, 2016), the Chicago premiere of Bruce Norris’ play, to be directed by the playwright): The ninth play by Norris to be produced by Steppenwolf, it homes in on politician Bill Pulver and his wife, Judy, whose marriage is thrust into the public eye by scandal. And it examines “the conflagration of gender, power, sexuality and politics that emerges in a private relationship after a public humiliation.”
+ “The Flick” (Feb. 4 – May 8, 2016), the Chicago premiere of Annie Baker’s play, directed by Dexter Bullard): Set in a run-down movie theater in central Massachusetts, it focuses on three underpaid employees who mop the floors and attend to one of the last 35- millimeter film projectors in the state. “Their tiny battles and not-so-tiny heartbreaks play out in the empty aisles, becoming more gripping than the lackluster, second-run movies on screen, and with keen insight and a finely-tuned comic eye, Baker gives us a hilarious and heart-rending cry for authenticity in a fast-changing world.”
+ “Mary Page Marlowe” (March 31 – May 29, 2016, a world premiere
by Tracy Letts, with a director to be announced): An accountant from Ohio, Mary Page Marlow has led an ordinary life, making the difficult decisions we all face as we try to figure out who we really are and what we really want. As Letts brings us moments—both pivotal and mundane—from Mary’s life, a portrait of a surprisingly complicated woman emerges, “showing how circumstance, impulse and time can combine to make us mysteries…even to ourselves.”
+ “Between Riverside and Crazy” (June 23 – Aug. 21, 2016, a Chicago premiere by Stephen Adly Guirgis, of “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” fame, directed by Yasen Peyankov): Ex-cop “Pops” Washington and his ex-con son Junior are barely holding on to one of the last great rent stabilized apartments in Manhattan. Pops has his hands (not to mention his apartment) full as he navigates a steady stream of sketchy houseguests and sweats out the impending verdict on his law suit against the police department in this “celebration of the glorious contradictions that make up human nature, the slippery nature of justice, and the grit it takes to finally move on.”
Season subscriptions are currently on sale. Packages start at $100. Student, educator and access discount subscriptions are available. To purchase a 2015-2016 subscription, visit http://www.steppenwolf.org or call (312) 335-1650. Single tickets will go on sale at a later date.