Kj_sanchez_copyPlaywright and TRTC associate artistic director KJ Sanchez chats with jazzman Joe Muccioli in the theater lobby last night.


There are radical re-imaginings of two British stage classics. An erotically charged, aerially enhanced production inspired by a famous painting. A modern musical based on a Shakespeare antique, and the world premiere of an ambitious work on the subject of soldiers returning from war.


Coming off its most commercially and critically successful season yet — a year in which more than 10,000 first-time patrons saw such productions as the sold-out blockbuster Macbeth — Two River Theater Company announced its 2008-’09 schedule last night with a catered affair at the Bridge Avenue performing arts facility.

Company artistic director Aaron Posner unveiled (to the delight of a nearly full house) a slate of five subscription-series mainstage productions at the building’s Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theater, as well as four “special event” engagements to be presented inside the black-box Marion Huber performance space. He’ll direct two of the shows.

The brief program also included “Pulitzer Prize,” a whimsical song by TRTC managing director Guy Gsell, in which he shares a “bean counter’s perspective” on the business of selecting plays (“We’ve got Shaw and Shakespeare, but at what cost/We’re head to head against AMERICAN IDOL and LOST”).

If there was one person whose star seemed to shine a little more brightly, however, it was KJ Sanchez, the TRTC associate art director who emerges in 2009 with a pair of high-profile projects as both director and co-writer.

For the work-in-progress entited ReEntry, Sanchez (whose last directorial effort in Red Bank was 2007’s Mere Mortals) and her collaborator Emily Ackerman have tackled a topic that’s proven to be a dicey one with contemporary audiences; that of the challenges faced by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in their attempts to reconnect with loved ones and re-assimilate into a society that seems far removed from their war.

Still being researched and edited as it was announced (plans are for a Jan. 20 opening, the date of the next presidential inauguration), ReEntry has seen its authors travel to military installations around the country to interview hundreds of soldiers and the members of “one memorable family” for a dramatic presentation that’s being formatted as a series of monologues, in much the same way to the acclaimed Laramie Project.

Slated to debut in the Huber Theater space, ReEntry is described as being respectful to the soldiers — Ackerman had two brothers in Iraq, and two of Sanchez’s family members served in Vietnam — while taking an “unflinching” look at some stories to which the media and mainstream America have tended to turn a blind eye.

In search of authenticity, Sanchez tells redbankgreen, she plans to require her actors to attend an authentic boot camp prior to rehearsals. More on this original production as it comes together.

Here’s a rundown of what else is in store from executive producer Bob Rechnitz and company.

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (Huber Theater; July 10-27): This year’s summer show is being counted as the kickoff to the new season, with Chicago-based Greg Allen and his experimental troupe The Neo-Futurists packing 30 all-new, improvised plays into each hour-long performance — a set of skits that you could say has been ripped screaming(with hilarity from today’s headlines. All tix $20.

Garden of Earthly Delights (Huber Theater; September 3-14): Debuting in Red Bank on its way to an open-ended New York engagement, director-choreographer Martha Clarke‘s “sexy and sometimes disturbing” 1985 riff on the provocative Hieronymous Bosch painting features performers who “fly, float and spin through the air” to the original music of Richard Peaslee, along with… well, dig the painting.

Art (Rechnitz Theater; September 30-October 19): A popular item with stage companies across the continent, Yasmina Reza‘s edgy comedy of male friendships strained to the snapping point is directed here by Kirsten Kelly.

Heartbreak House (Rechnitz Theater; November 4-23): George Bernard Shaw‘s 1919 satire likened upper-class European society to an out-of-control ship careening toward certain disaster. Fulfilling his mission to “reimagine classic plays” in innovative new ways, director Posner hints at a production that’s a “new take… you’ll hear it with new ears.” This is TRTC’s first-ever play produced under a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.

A Year with Frog and Toad (Huber Theater; December 9, 2008 – January 11, 2009): An original family-friendly musical (by brothers Robert and Willie Reale) based on books by Caldecott and Newberry award winner Arnold Lobel, and directed by returning Two River veteran Jackson Gay (The Underpants, Bad Dates).

ReEntry (Huber Theater; January 20-February 15, 2009): See above.

Mary’s Wedding (Rechnitz Theater; February 3-22, 2009): The non-linear narrative by Canadian author Stephen Massicotte makes a two-character custom vehicle for the talents of Erin Weaver and Joe Binder, who starred together in TRTC’s people-and-puppets revival of Our Town in 2007.

Melissa Arctic (Rechnitz Theater; March 17-April 5, 2009): Posner directs the premiere of a new musical by veteran TV writer Craig Wright (who penned the past TRTC show The Pavilion), set in 1980s Minnesota and inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

Private Lives (Rechnitz Theater; May 12-31, 2009): KJ Sanchez directs Noel Coward‘s 1930 comedy of divorce, dalliance and deep sentiment featuring a “largely Latino cast” — with the action wrested from its veddy-British origins and deposited in 1929 Buenos Aires.

Single tickets for all productions go on sale beginning July 1. For additional info on season subscriptions, discount plans and the forthcoming Monday Movies series, call 732.345.1400 or visit the Two River website.

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