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Sunday, October 7, 2018

URI Theatre plans ‘diverse season’ – from Greek tragedy to contemporary teenage commentary to Sondheim

Opens Oct. 11 with ‘Women & War’ as part of Honors Colloquium
Lorraine Guerra and Ariana Pacheco
Lorraine Guerra, left, of Cranston, plays Lysistrata and Ariana Pacheco, of North Kingstown, plays Calonice in URI Theatre’s production of “Lysistrata.” Photo by Michael Salerno

The University of Rhode Island Theatre Department raises the curtain next month on a 2018-19 season that will offer a wide range of theater experiences –from Greek tragedy, to soccer teens kicking around contemporary problems, to a multilayered farce, to one of Stephen Sondheim’s longest-running Broadway musicals.

“It’s a diverse season,” said David T. Howard, the new Theatre Department chair. “It has an incredible amount of variety not only for our students to participate in, but for the theater-goer as well.”

Howard takes over the reins from Paula McGlasson, who led the department for 18 years and will stay on as professor of acting and stage management, along with directing the season finale, “A Little Night Music.”

A professor of costume design at URI for 21 years, Howard said that becoming chair of the department was a unique opportunity to try something new. Being part of a small department with a core group that has worked together for about 20 years has made the transition smooth.

“The season is a carry through of a lot of the things Paula has set up,” said Howard. “She was an incredibly good chair, an incredibly good administrator and manager.”

Howard’s first season as chair opens Oct. 11 with “Women & War,” a double bill of Greek classics that are co-sponsored by the URI Honors Colloquium in its presentation “Reimagining Gender: Voices, Power, Action.”

“Lysistrata,” written in 411 BCE, opens the night on a light note. The women of Greece are hatching plans to withhold their favors from their husbands to force them to stop waging war. The mood shifts in “Trojan Women.” 

Written by Euripides and staged in 415 BCE, the play reveals the fate of the women of Troy after the city is sacked, their husbands killed and others carted off as slaves.

“They give a sort of bookends to this idea of women and war,” Howard said. “‘Lysistrata’ is very silly, it’s burlesque, it’s crazy. 

‘Trojan Women’ is a very contemporary and resonant play. It was written a long time ago and yet it still speaks to the trauma and the tragedy that besets the families at home after war.”

The plays will be staged in URI’s 180-seat, black-box J Studio, and audiences will see that transition as the set and costumes change from a traditional Greek staging of “Lysistrata” to a more contemporary “Trojan Women.”

“The actors are going to be in their Greek costumes, and then the minute intermission starts, people are going to start changing clothes and the sets are going to start changing to give us a feeling by the time we start ‘Trojan Women’ that we’re in a very different place. It’s not whimsical, it’s not silly. Now it’s very serious,” said Howard, who designed the costumes for “Women & War.”

Adaptations of both plays were written by American playwright Ellen McLaughlin, adding to the connection between the two, Howard said. Kira Hawkridge ’12, founder of the OUT LOUD Theatre in Providence and a regular visiting artist at URI, will direct both performances.
“Women & War” runs Oct. 11-14 and Oct. 18-21.

At the end of November, the scene and mood totally shift. Opening Nov. 29, Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” presents a farce within a farce within a farce. The play moves from rehearsals for a fictional play within a play, a sex comedy called “Nothing On,” to backstage a month into production, to the chaos of the final performance.

“It’s a hilarious farce,” Howard said. “It’s not heady, it’s just silly and enchanting. And especially for those people who like theater, it gives you a view of what it’s like.”

Visiting artist Christopher Simpson, artistic director of South Kingstown’s Contemporary Theatre, will direct “Noises Off,” which will be performed in the Robert E. Will Theatre with its 55-foot wide stage. Simpson used the play in a project at URI, but this will be his first time staging it on such as massive set, Howard said.

“The whole play is about doors and windows and staircases,” Howard said, “so this is the set of all sets.”

“Noises Off” runs Nov. 29-Dec. 2 and Dec. 6-9.

URI Theatre will open the spring semester Feb. 21 with the all-woman play “The Wolves,” directed by Rachel Walshe, now a permanent lecturer of acting and playwriting in the Theatre Department. 

“The Wolves,” a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, reveals the unfiltered world of teenage soccer players navigating life’s mysteries, large, small and personal.

“’The Wolves’ was just in New York last year,” Howard said. “We’re very lucky to get the rights for it.”
“The Wolves” runs Feb. 21-24 and Feb. 28-March 3.

URI Theatre wrapped up last season with the family musical “Mary Poppins,” a show with lots of scenery, lots of costumes and lots of actors. “Poppins,” which sold out each night in the 550-seat Robert E. Will Theatre, was a “rousing success,” Howard said.

This year’s musical, Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” winner of five Tony Awards and a Grammy, aims for a more intimate feeling in the smaller J Studio, including a downsized orchestra that will still have the power to capture an award-winning score best known for “Send in the Clowns.”

“It is a play about relationships and about how people perceive what relationships are and then what relationships really are,” Howard said. “It’s about marriage and love, and it’s about wanting. It’s very romantic, but it’s very different from the season’s other plays.”

“A Little Night Music,” directed by McGlasson, runs April 18-20 and April 25-28 (there is no show April 21).

Auditions for the spring semester plays will be held in December.

For each production, Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are 7:30 p.m.; Sunday shows are 2 p.m. For “Women & War,” “Noises Off,” and “The Wolves,” tickets are $20 for the general public; $15 for URI faculty, staff and students and seniors. For “A Little Night Music,” tickets are $20 for the general public; $18 for URI faculty, staff and students and seniors.