by Curt Holman
(Image courtesy of Cartoon Network)
It seemed like it was only yesterday (actually, it was Tuesday) that I said âGem of the Ocean and Radio Golf are the two plays of August Wilsonâs 20th-century play cycle that have not yet received Atlanta productions." Turns out that both plays will receive high-profile productions during the Alliance Theatreâs newly announced 2008-2009 season.
In addition to the Stephen King/John Mellencamp musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County (a world premiere with Broadway aspirations), the most exciting news of the Allianceâs new season is that it will open with a repertory production of Gem of the Ocean, directed by True Colors Theatre Company artistic director Kenny Leon (who became one of Wilsonâs go-to directors of his work before his death in 2005), and Radio Golf, directed by Alliance associate artistic director Kent Gash. Chronologically, the plays bookend Wilsonâs 10-play cycle of African-American life in Pittsburgh, with Gem taking place in the 1900s and Radio Golf in the 1990s. The pairing evokes the Wilson team-up of 2003, when Leon directed Fences as True Colorsâ inaugural production, while Gash directed King Hedley II.
At first glance, the Allianceâs 2008-2009 season boasts the single freshest lineup of plays Iâve ever seen at the theater: no Sleuths, Crimes of the Hearts or other theatrical chestnuts this time (the perennial production of A Christmas Carol notwithstanding). Expect local interest to be sky high for Class of 3000 Live, the Alliance Childrenâs Theatreâs stage interpretation of the Cartoon Network series "Class of 3000" (pictured). OutKastâs Andre Benjamin co-created the show and provides the voice of its main character, but I wouldn't expect to see him on the Alliance stage next February, although the play is produced in association with the Cartoon Network and Moxie.
In another intriguing team-up, the Hertz Stage presents an original take on Atlanta called The Second City: Too Busy to Hate ... Too Hard to Commute, a humorous revue created in partnership with Chicagoâs legendary Second City comedy troupe. (I wonder how married they are to that unwieldy title?)
Along with Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the slate of world premieres includes Managing Maxine, a comedy about romance late in life by Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer; Smart Cookie, the fifth winner (and first comedy) from the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition; and 26 Miles by Quiara AlegrÃa Hudes, who wrote Eliot, A Soldierâs Fugue, which the Alliance produced in 2006. The Alliance will also present Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL, Louis St. Louisâ reinterpretation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber New Testament rock opera, as well as the Alliance Children's Theatre's take on the classic kids' book Goodnight Moon.
Overall, the Alliance's 2008-2009 season looks to be the best expression yet of artistic director Susan V. Booth's creative instincts and passion for new work, and suggests that the Alliance is capitalizing on the cred provided by its recent Tony Award for Best Regional Theater.
Specific dates are to be announced.