Griffin Theatre, whose production of “London Wall” received last season’s Non-Equity Jeff Award for best production of a play, has put together a terrifically timely season that will examine the history of immigrants in the United States from multiple perspectives by way of two classics (Maxwell Anderson’s rarely revived “Winterset,” and the hit Broadway musical “Ragtime”), and one world premiere (Bill Massolia’s “In to America!”).
In a prepared statement, Massolia, artistic director of Griffin, noted: “The pursuit of the American dream can remain elusive and mythic to many Americans. These shows reflect our ongoing quest to achieve it regardless of the consequences. I hope these exciting pieces will remind audiences how powerful the human spirit can be.”
Griffin Theatre’s full 2016-17 season will be presented on several different stages at The Den Theatre, 1329-1335 N. Milwaukee in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Season subscriptions and single tickets for “Winterset” go on sale Sept. 5 at www.griffintheatre.com. Single tickets for “In to America!” and “Ragtime” will go on sale Dec. 1.
Here is a closer look at the lineup:
+ “WINTERSET” (Nov. 19 – Dec. 23 in The Den’s Upstairs Main Stage): A play by Maxwell Anderson, directed by ensemble member Jonathan Berry (whose many recent credits include Griffin’s “Pocatello” and Steep’s “Posh”), this production is in keeping with the Griffin’s efforts to explore lost plays like “London Wall” and “Men Should Weep.” The play was inspired by the infamous murder case of the 1920s when the Italian anarchists and immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were arrested, convicted and electrocuted despite the insubstantial evidence against them. Anderson’s 1935 work, written in poetic verse, follows a young man’s quest to prove his father’s innocence years after he was executed for a murder he may not have committed. “Winterset” was the winner of the first New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play.
+ “IN TO AMERICA” (March 18 – April 23, 2017 in the Den’s Bookspan Theatre): This world premiere by Griffin artistic director William Massolia (“Letters Home”), to be directed by Dorothy Milne (artistic director of Lifeline Theatre), traces the American immigrant experience from Jamestown to the present day through the stories of ordinary men, women and children who departed their homelands in the hopes of creating a new life. It’s a story “400 years in the making that transcends time, space and race to reflect the diversity and commonalities of our shared American experience.”
+ “RAGTIME” (May 27 – July 16, 2017 in the Den’s Heath Main Stage): With a book by Terrence McNally (based on the best-selling 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow), lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty, this production, directed by Scott Weinstein (who just did such a sensational job on Griffin’s “Bat Boy: The Musical”), will feature music director Matt Deitchman’s newly orchestrated chamber version of the score. The Tony Award-winning musical will now be performed with two pianos, a wind instrument and 20 actors. Set at the dawn of the 20th century, it weaves the story of the intersecting lives of three distinct American families (black, white Wasp and Jewish) as they search for the American dream. Part history lesson and part family saga, “Ragtime” deals with racism, immigration, social justice, wage inequality and the role of women in society in a changing America.
In addition to this three productions, the previously announced, “The Bristol Sessions” – with a book by Massolia and direction by Kevin Kingston – will have a concert reading in the spring of 2017 (date to be announced). The musical, detailing the “Big Bang Moment of Country Music,” follows record producer Ralph Peer’s series of recording sessions at the Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company in Bristol, Tennessee, which marked the commercial debuts of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and the birth of country music.
Griffin Theatre also will continue to nationally tour its productions of “Letters Home,” “Frindle,” “Ghosts of War.” The Griffin’s national touring productions will reach 100,000 young people and adults during the 2016-17 theater season, with “Letters from Home” touring for a tenth straight season beginning in October with a 10-city tour of the U.S. The show will climax its 2016-2017 touring season with a performance on board the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier on Memorial Day, 2017 in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.