Robert Falls will be celebrating his 30th anniversary as artistic director of the Goodman Theatre during the 2016-2017 season. And, to borrow a phrase from “Death of a Salesman” — the Arthur Miller play that remains a hallmark of his tenure — “attention must be paid.” After all, he has been at the helm of this major Chicago cultural institution for nearly one-third of the theater’s 92-year history.
And so it will be, with a lineup of 11 plays (new works, reimagined classics and a grand-scale musical revival) the theater is describing as “essential Goodman.”
Falls himself will return to one of his favorite writers, Eugene O’Neill — this time directing one of that playwright’s rare comedies, “Ah, Wilderness!”
Mary Zimmerman is on board to stage “Wonderful Town,” the playful homage to New York with a winning score by Leonard Bernstein (whose centennial will be celebrated in 2017).
Fans of the current Steppenwolf production of Annie Baker’s “The Flick” will be happy to learn that her adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” will be part of the Goodman lineup. And there will be new works by Andrew Hinderaker (the intriguing writer whose work has been produced here most often on the tiny stage of The Gift Theatre); Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Dael Orlandersmith, Charles Smith, Lauren Yee and Karen Zacarias.
In a prepared statement, Falls noted: “We are undeniably living in a ‘Golden Age’ of playwriting. Not since the 1970s and 1980s have so many bold, extraordinary new voices emerged at once.”
To accommodate all this work, the Goodman will be expanding its subscription season from eight to nine works.
In addition, three annual non-subscription events will be produced, including the New Stages festival of new plays, plus the two familiar holiday offerings (“A Christmas Carol,” starring Larry Yando as Scrooge, and the Second City’s “Twist Your Dickens”).
The lineup on the Albert Theatre’s mainstage will include:
“Wonderful Town” (Sept. 10-Oct. 16): Mary Zimmerman’s take on the dance-filled Bernstein musical, with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and a book by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov. This whimsical love letter to Manhattan follows two sisters — an aspiring journalist and a bombshell actress — who leave Ohio in 1935 and are determined to conquer New York City.
“Gloria” (Jan. 14 – Feb. 19, 2017), the Chicago premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “bitingly comic play about contemporary workplace issues and more” in the Vineyard Playhouse production directed by Evan Cabnet that debuted off-Broadway last year. It looks at a group of twentysomething editorial assistants, all pursuing success at one of New York’s most esteemed cultural magazines, and what happens when “the opportunity to become the next Big Thing” on the highly competitive media landscape comes their way.
“Destiny of Desire” (March 11 – April 16, 2017), the Chicago premiere of Karen Zacarías’ edgy comedy (produced in association with South Coast Repertory), and directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela. An exploration of race, gender and class politics, told through the lens of the Latin American telenovela, it begins on a stormy night in a Mexican hospital where two baby girls are born―one into a life of privilege, the other to an impoverished family — and then deliberately swapped.
“Objects in the Mirror” (April 29 – June 4, 2017), the world premiere of Charles Smith’s play, directed by Chuck Smith, about the refugee and immigrant experience. It tells the story of Shedrick Yarpai, who survived a tumultuous upbringing in war-torn Liberia and found a new home in a sunny, coastal Australian city, but now faces different types of danger — the haunting memories stirring inside him, and the guilt of the survivor.
“Ah, Wilderness!” (June 17-July 23, 2017), with Falls staging this quintessential piece of Americana in which Eugene O’Neill captures the spirit of youthful indiscretion and small town life. A comedy of first love, it chronicles a Fourth of July act of rebellion by 16-year-old Richard Miller, whose father disapproves of his romance with his beautiful neighbor, Muriel.
In the Goodman’s smaller Owen Theatre, there will be four (rather than the usual three) productions mounted. And three of these plays will be world premiere Goodman commissions developed as part of its New Stages program.
The lineup in the Owen Theatre includes:
“The Magic Play” (Oct. 21-Nov. 20), Andrew Hinderaker’s blend of professional magic show and theatrical storytelling, directed by Halena Kays (a veteran of The Hypocrites), and starring acclaimed magician, illusion designer and actor Brett Schneider, looks at what happens when a rising young magician is left by his lover, and his performance begins to unravel.
“Uncle Vanya” (Feb. 11-March 12, 2017), adapted from the Chekhov play by Annie Baker, and directed by Robert Falls, this Russian classic, now imbued with “an American sound,” is set on a secluded country estate whose inhabitants are caught up in unrequited love, old rivalries, and ruminations about roads not taken and passions left unfulfilled.
“The King of the Yees” (March 31-April 30, 2017), Lauren Yee’s world premiere play — a portrait of her father’s world in San Francisco’s Chinatown, to be directed by Joshua Kahan Brody — deals with living in the contemporary world while honoring one’s rich ancestral heritage, and all the conflicts that can ensue. It is being produced in association with Center Theatre Group.
“Lady in Denmark,” (May 19-June 18, 2017), Dael Orlandersmith’s world premiere one-woman play, directed by Chay Yew, that explores the power of Billie Holiday and her music, and serves as a meditation on life, marriage and mortality.
Subscriptions are now on sale; call (312) 443-3800 or visit www.goodmantheatre.org. Select individual tickets will become available in early August.