By TOM CHESEK
The onstage ensemble included a formidable British-born actor who won an Obie award, for playing no less a role than Hamlet. An actor-director-playwright (and cast member of TV’s Castle) with a Tony to call his own. A young actress and singer who’s co-starred on Broadway in Les Miz and Miss Saigon.
Even with all that collected charisma, however, all eyes were on the soft-spoken guy at the podium John Dias, artistic director of Two River Theater Company, and the man at the center of attention as the borough-based stage troupe announced its 2011-2012 season of shows Monday night.
As presented to an audience of invited guests at TRTC’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace, it’s an expanded slate of eight shows that makes use of the building’s mainstage auditorium as well as its companion “black box” space, the Marion J. Huber Theater. Adding to the buzz, of course, was the fact that the upcoming season represents the first full schedule of offerings selected by Dias, who joined TRTC in August of last year.
Praising the Two River Theater as “one of the most glorious performance spaces in the tri-state area” and his Monmouth County neighbors as “an extraordinary community of people who are real theater and art lovers” Dias introduced remarks by company founding father Dr. Robert M. Rechnitz and other TRTC team members (publicity director Deeksha Gaur, education director Kate Cordaro, director of audience services Brian Holland).
The AD, who inherited the current season of shows assembled under the tenure of his predecessor Aaron Posner, also greeted contributions from some special guests, among them Rona Figueroa and Greg Brown respectively the co-star and musical director of the forthcoming Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, about which more to come in the paperless pages of redbankgreen.
A major presence on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages and a sought-after specialist in the works of William Shakespeare actor Michael Cumpsty hailed the Two River Theater as “a singular space” for performing the Bard’s plays in their proper physical dimension and scale, and delivered excerpts that showed Shakespeare’s range of attitudes toward love, from purple proesy to pragmatic plainspeak. Cumpsty, who co-starred in the Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, reunites with that show’s director, Tony nominee Sam Buntrock, for MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (September 10 – October 2, 2011), a centuries-old classic that Dias describes as “very populist in its appeal…it deals with the complications over what it means to fall in love.”
Here’s the rest of the lineup:
IN THIS HOUSE (October 15 November 6, 2011). Described as an intimate chamber musical about two married couples at different stages of life and the chance encounter that brings them together, the show, featuring music by Cincinnatti Bengals tackle turned Grammy-winning country composer Mike Reid and lyrics by Sarah Schlesinger (who wrote the book with Reid and Jonathan Bernstein), goes up in the Huber space, where it was first presented as a reading by TRTC back in March.
NO CHILD… (November 1-20, 2011). Portraying a range of characters from teachers, students, parents and staff, Nilaja Sun delivers a one woman tour de force (based on her time as a teaching artist in the Bronx) with humor, fast-paced language and insight.
HONK! (December 6, 2011 January 1, 2012). Director Matt Pfeiffer returns for a third consecutive go at TRTC’s annual holiday family show; an award winning musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Ugly Duckling that’s laced with good humor and great songs.
JITNEY (January 31 February 19, 2012). Set among an ensemble of gypsy cab drivers in 1970s Pittsburgh, the play that put the late great August Wilson on the map is directed here by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a Tony winner for his acting in Seven Guitars and as much a specialist in the works of Wilson as Michael Cumpsty is in the works of Shakespeare.
SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND (March 3-25, 2012). Described as an “academic sex comedy” about tangled relationships in a college town, the award winner by Madeleine George will be staged in the Huber space, where it was presented as a reading by TRTC earlier this year.
Maureen McGovern in CARRY IT ON (April 3-22, 2012). The pop singer with the “Stradivarius Voice” (a voice that once classed up the Billboards with her rendition of the theme to The Poseidon Adventure) has enjoyed a “Long and Winding Road” (this show’s original title) of a career and in this one woman “musical memoir,” she shares her story through the words and music of her era’s greatest songwriters, from the Beatles and Carole King to Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
MY WONDERFUL DAY (May 15 – June 3, 2012). Acclaimed director Nicholas Martin takes on TRTC’s first-ever production of a play by Alan Ayckbourn; a 2009 comedy in which a school essay assignment by the nine year old daughter of a cleaning woman becomes an acerbic commentary on the state of the British middle class.
Subscriptions and individual tickets for the 2010-2011 season (as well as for Jacques Brel) are available now via the TRTC website; tickets for Honk! are sold separately from the season subscription package.