It’s way too early to get any specifics on how Long Wharf Theatre’s new artistic director, Jacob G. Padrón, 38, will transform the New Haven theater and what plays he would pick for the 2020-21 season. Padrón, who starts his new gig Feb. 1, is not choosing the plays for the upcoming 2019-20 season.
To get a sense of his personal taste, I ask the former producing director of the New York City-based Sol Project — which seeks to find artistic homes for Latin playwrights and writers of color — to choose a handful of works that have made significant impressions on him.
“Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez, which, I believe, is the only play written by a Chicano to go to Broadway,” the California native says. “I saw it in Los Angeles and it was such an important moment for our community.
“More recently, Head of Passes, which I worked on with Tarell Alvin McCraney, my classmate at the Yale School of Drama. Then there’s a classical text that continues to be revived: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. David Cromer’s off-Broadway production really breathed new life into that play that I thought was really wonderful.”
Replacing Gordon Edelstein, who was fired last January after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, Padrón has called Long Wharf “one of the most important companies in the American theater.” He has produced more than 100 new plays at The Public Theater in New York, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and is an instructor at the Yale School of Drama.
Musicals also hold a special place in his heart. “One of the pieces that I really responded to was Deaf West Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening a few years ago on Broadway. I found it to be so inventive and deeply moving in the way they used hearing and deaf actors in the way they told that story and to illuminate the human condition.”
How does all this factor into what Padrón has in store for Long Wharf’s future productions?
“When I’m thinking about what plays to put on stages I ask: one, does the story reflect the community I am in and, two, is the story in conversation with the world? Those are the two big questions that will guide a lot of my thinking at Long Wharf. I really want shows that reflect the kaleidoscope of our city and our world and I’m deeply committed to building a more inclusive American theater.”
The last time Zach Appelman played Hartford Stage, it was in the title role in Hamlet. Four years later, his latest character is that of a contemporary hedge fund operator, but like the prince of Denmark, he is surrounded by people with secrets.
The nature of secrets is the propellant that fuels Samuel Baum’s The Engagement Party, which is receiving its world premiere at the theater and running Jan. 10 to Feb. 4. In the play, directed by Darko Tresnjak, Appelman’s self-made millionaire has an engagement party with college and work friends and future in-laws, during which things begin to unravel “fast and furious,” he says.
“I’m used to doing so much classical theater it can feel like these epic marathons and this one really feels like an exciting sprint that starts snowballing and before you know it, it’s over,” Appelman says. “It’s a cool show and a different dramatic arc than the stuff I’m used to doing.
“It’s a play that feels at the beginning like this witty comedy. Samuel’s writing is very sharp, snappy and filled with language-based humor, which I love.”
But Appelman, who was in Julie Taymor’s stage and film production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had a recurring part on TV’s Sleepy Hollow, hesitates to say much more about the new play because of all the plot twists.
“It’s a play that’s built on secrets and lies within close circles of families and friends and what happens when those things no longer can be contained any more and explode.”
After the Slam
In A Doll’s House, Part Two, Lucas Hnath fancifully speculates on what happens to Nora after she walks out on her family in Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House — and more to the point, what happens when she returns years later to knock on the door that she famously slammed when she left.
Earning raves when it was on Broadway two years ago starring Laurie Metcalf, the comedy will receive two productions in Connecticut, first at Hartford’s TheaterWorks Jan. 17 to Feb. 24 and then in a separate production at Long Wharf Theatre May 1-26.
“It’s this great hybrid of modern and period, which is really hard to do but he nails it,” says Jenn Thompson, who directs the Hartford production.
“But you absolutely do not have to know A Doll’s House to get it. Of course, it’s fun if you are familiar with the play because it will deepen the experience a little bit, but Lucas’ play completely stands on its own. I think [TheaterWorks producing artistic director Rob Ruggiero] is planning on doing a reading of A Doll’s House to coincide with our run.”
And what would Ibsen think of Hnath’s take on his iconic female character?
“I hope he would be delighted,” Thompson says. “First of all, to have a play that has resonated for so long that then so seamlessly can jump to 2018 sensibilities, well, that’s the brilliance of both plays. And Lucas doesn’t compromise anything from the original. It doesn’t play loose and fast with the play or ask us to suspend our disbelief that she could be this person. It completely lives when it is set — and it completely lives in the here and now.”
Another Momix Wonderland
It was only a matter of time until Momix would get around to Lewis Carroll. After all, the author’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass tap into the surreal, dreamy and playful world that are hallmarks of the contemporary dance-theater company based in Washington, up in Litchfield County.
“Many people are inspired by Carroll’s works,” says Momix artistic director Moses Pendleton, who has been playing around with ideas for his Alice for a year or so. He points out that his work is not an adaptation of the tales but a jumping-off point for his dance company’s imagination. The new work will premiere in February in Italy but Warner Theatre audiences in Torrington will be the first to get a peek at the show Jan. 12-13.
“And it’s not just Carroll’s words but the wonderful illustrations that were a big part of the books’ initial success,” says Pendleton, whose company is closing in on its 40th anniversary.
For Pendleton and his dance company, visuals are key for them as well, and in Alice they are exploring in metaphorical ways many of Carroll’s characters, including the Mad Hatter, Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and, of course, the title character.
“We discovered all sorts of absurdist, surreal, dreamy things that work well with some of the dumb dances that I’m capable of making that would make perfect sense — and nonsense — here,” Pendleton says.
Have you heard…?
… Jessica Hecht, who grew up in Bloomfield, stars in off-Broadway’s About Alice, a two-character play inspired by Calvin Trillin’s best-selling memoir about his wife, who died in 2001 at 63 while awaiting a heart transplant. Previews begin Jan. 8.
… Sarah Ruhl’s upcoming projects include a new musical with Elvis Costello based on the 1957 film by Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd. And then there’s the Yale School of Drama teacher’s new play Lock Her Up, about a woman in present-day Salem.