TRTC’s 20th SEASON: AS YOU LIKE IT

Tony nominee Michael Cumpsty, Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey, and Jade King Carroll make their Two River Theater directorial debuts during the just-announced 2013-2014 season.

By TOM CHESEK

As John Dias tells it, “We want to make sure we’re doing work that you want to see.”

The nationally renowned producer and artistic director of Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company was at the podium Sunday night, addressing an audience of supporters during an event that’s become a highly anticipated rite of spring: the announcement of TRTC’s next season of mainstage presentations.

The 2013-2014 schedule that begins on September 14 marks a genuine milestone, as it represents the 20th anniversary season for the troupe founded by Robert M. and Joan Rechnitz, a company that staged its first productions at Monmouth University before spending several years at Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre and eventually moving into its own branded Bridge Avenue building in May of 2005.

Introducing his third season’s selection of classic comedies, modern American dramas and original musicals, Dias praised the slate as one that meets three crucial criteria: honoring the theater’s mission, bringing in “some of the exciting artists working in the theater today,” and reflecting the two-decade history of TRTC. The 20th Anniversary season, for which subscriptions will soon be made available, unfolds just around the corner.

On Borrowed Time (September 14 – October 6, 2013). In 1941, Paul Osborn’s play became the first professional project for a nine year old performer named Joel Grey — and in 2013, the 81 year old actor, singer and dancer (who won both a Tony and an Oscar for his role as the master of Ceremonies in Cabaret) returns to this Americana fantasy as the director of the Two River Theater production. The moving story of life, love, death and devotion — in which a grandfather’s concern for his orphaned grandson leads him to play a trick on Death himself — was made into a memorable film with Lionel Barrymore, and is not soon forgotten by audiences who discover its sentimental charms.

The Tricky Part and All the Rage (October 26 – November 17, 2013). In a first for the Two River team, the company pairs Obie winner Martin Moran’s autobiographical solo piece — a humorous and touching meditation on redemption and forgiveness, based on an incident in the author’s childhood — with select performances of the playwright’s new companion piece. Inspired by real-life reactions to “The Tricky Part” by audience and author alike, Moran’s 2013 award winner “All the Rage” plays in repertory as a special ancillary event to the TRTC subscription production. Director Seth Barrish returns to Red Bank for the first time since “Waiting for Godot” in 2006.

A Wind in the Willows Christmas (December 7-29, 2013). Returning for a second consecutive year as TRTC’s annual holiday presentation for family audiences — with  “a lot more holiday spirit,” and redesigned costumes that highlight (by popular demand of the show’s young audiences) “ears and tails and fur” — the custom-crafted musical teams Mr. Toad, Mr. Badger, Mole and the other beloved characters of Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic with the music of Grammy winning Nashville songsmith (plus ex-NFL defensive tackle) Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger. Daniella Topol directs.

As You Like It (January 25 – February 16, 2014). The Shakespeare Society‘s Michael Sexton and Jacob Fishel — the director and star of last fall’s “tempest-tossed” (and Sandy-interrupted) production of “Henry V” at Two River — were on hand Sunday to preview a new look at the Bard’s comedy of a young nobleman exiled to the Forest of Arden; a centuries-old work that, in the words of John Dias, reminds us that “we have much to learn from the adversities in our lives…the trouble that nature brings to us.”

Pinkolandia (February 22 – March 23, 2014). From the annual Crossing Borders Festival of Latino-themed plays in Red Bank comes this fully staged take on Andrea Thome’s tale of two sisters — exiled from Chile with their family to “the strange new land of Reagan-era Wisconsin” — who create their own imaginary world, while their parents struggle with their own place in the American Dreamscape. Jose Zayas directs the third of four “rolling” premiere productions (following the play’s engagements in New York and Chicago), inside Two River’s Marion Huber “black box” space.

Trouble In Mind (April 5-27, 2014). The work of the late African American novelist and playwright Alice Childress is given a fresh look by director Jade King Carroll, with a production of her 1950s comedy that centers on the conflict between a black actress and her white director — a “backstage” story that encapsulates a fast-changing era with “warmth and razor-sharp humor.”

Third (May 31 – June 22, 2014). Two River Theater Company wraps its 20th anniversary season with a revisit to a playwright whose work was part of the inaugural TRTC schedule — the late Wendy Wasserstein, a celebrated voice who, as Dias tells it, “takes a hard look at a particular kind of New Yorker, for whom Lincoln Center is ground zero.”

The Pulitzer Prize winner’s final play — a portrait of a female professor whose assertion that a student has plagiarized his thesis carries repercussions for the both of them — marks the mainstage directorial debut of Michael Cumpsty, the Tony nominated actor who’s currently starring in Nöel Coward’s “Present Laughter” on the Two River stage (and who hailed the theater’s technical aspects as “good as the most superior things I’ve ever been involved with”).

All dates are subject to change (it has not been unheard of for two shows to swap places on the schedule in recent seasons). Meantime, take it here for individual tickets to “Present Laughter,” and here for tickets to “Frasier: Unplugged,” a salute to the classic sitcom featuring series co-stars David Hyde Pierce and Peri Gilpin. Check trtc.org for updated info on new season subsciptions and show details, as well as updates on other summertime events at Two River, including the annual Crossing Borders festival, and Joe Muccioli’s Summer Jazz Cafe Series.