Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre will start its “Lucky 13” season “trampling out the vintage” with the American classic “The Grapes of Wrath” and end it frolicking down “Avenue Q,” one of the most popular and outrageous musicals of the past decade.
In between, the professional theater company will stage three hot new plays — the intimate comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the Martin Luther King drama “The Mountaintop” and the one-woman tour de force “The Amish Project” — as part of its ongoing mission to offer a full spectrum of theatrical experiences.
“We are sort of the flagship regional theater for our state,” said founding artistic director Donald Jordan, adding the company is the only state theater that is a member of Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the American theater.
“Part of our guiding principle as a regional theater is that we actually pick a very eclectic season rather than a theme season. That is constant. If we need a moniker to hang on it, this is our 13th season. So, we’re calling it ‘Lucky 13.’”
The 2014-15 run will be a season of city, state and regional premieres for Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, or CityRep, but business manager Jon Haque said the focus is always on making its productions relevant to Oklahomans. For instance, CityRep will stage the fact-based, school-shooting drama “The Amish Project” around the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
“‘The Amish Project’ is a great story about incredible tragedy followed up by incredible generosity of the spirit ... which is like Oklahomans (when) we went through the bombing,” he said. “I think Okies have always been strong and resilient. Like ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’ we went through that terrible time. And Okies just kind of became closer through that.”
CityRep will open its season with the first professional production in the state of “The Grapes of Wrath,” to mark the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl epic about an Oklahoma farm family driven from its homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California.
Although it has been previously performed by Oklahoma school and community companies, Jordan said CityRep’s Sept. 26 through Oct. 5 staging will be the state’s first production of “The Grapes of Wrath” by an Actors Equity Association theater. A co-production with the Oklahoma History Center and Oklahoma City University’s School of Theatre, it will feature a cast of 40 performing at OCU’s Burg Theatre, making it one of the biggest endeavors in CityRep’s history.
“It’s the Tony Award-winning adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by the Noble Laureate author, considered one of the 10 greatest books in the American canon. It’s uniquely tied to the Oklahoma literary heritage and experience, and there’s never been a professional Equity production (in the state),” Jordan said.
“On this 75th anniversary, the whole nation is now turning its eyes to us and our production while we recognize and celebrate that enduring part of the Oklahoma heritage: courage, persistence, common decency, love for our fellow man.”
The National Steinbeck Center in California has made the production an official part of its “Grapes of Wrath” 75th anniversary celebration, Jordan said.
“It’s just inherently Okie, whether you agree with the novel or not,” Haque added. “What you get out of the whole experience of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is these people take care of each other. And they don’t know each other. I think that mentality has carried over even to today ... that Okies are always known to be just the nicest people on the planet.”
CityRep is keeping current this season with the Oklahoma City premiere of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and the state premiere of “The Mountaintop,” two titles Jordan said are among this year’s top five most-produced plays in the nation among professional Theatre Communications Group theaters.
The company will stage “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” Nov. 13-23 inside the Civic Center Music Hall’s intimate CitySpace Theatre. The absurdist romp is about a pair of siblings — Vanya (Shawn Churchman) and Sonia (Wendy Welch) — who have never left the confines of their childhood home but have their lives upended when their movie-star sister Masha (Broadway leading lady Stacey Logan) and her boy-toy Spike (Haulston Mann) make a surprise visit. It played on Broadway last year, where it won the Tony Award for best new play.
“This is us being current here in Oklahoma City,” Jordan said. “This is one of the great new plays in the American canon.”
“We’d want to do it whether it was fresh or not. Christopher Durang is the playwright, and he’s bulletproof as far as comedy on stage goes. It’s hilarious,” Haque added.
CityRep is co-producing “The Mountaintop,” the 2010 Olivier Award winner for best new play, with Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre and Oklahoma City’s Poteet Theatre. The Feb. 6-28 run will be split between the Civic Center’s Freede Little Theatre and the Pollard Theatre.
Pollard Artistic Director W. Jerome Stevenson will play Martin Luther King Jr. in writer Katori Hall’s reimagining of the last night in the life of the civil rights leader.
“She was 26 years old when she wrote it. That is to say, she was born after Martin Luther King died. It’s an exceptional, extraordinary piece of theater,” Jordan said. “This is all history to her ... yet it humanizes one of the iconic giants of American history, which in the end makes you recognize even more so how singularly great his contribution to our culture was.”
Theater for grown-ups
CityRep will stage the regional premiere of the acclaimed off-Broadway title “The Amish Project” April 17-19 in the Freede Little Theatre.
“It’s a theatrical tour de force: It is a one-woman play, and that’s just always extraordinary to watch for one actor to inhabit the whole stage,” Jordan said. “She plays the kids, she plays the shooter, she plays the shooter’s wife.”
Jessica Dickey’s drama is a fictionalized exploration of the 2006 Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting in Pennsylvania’s Amish community.
“It’s not just about the tragedy. It also gets at the humanity,” Haque said.
The season will close June 11-21 with “Avenue Q,” which has been staged by community and university theaters but is getting its first professional Oklahoma City production. The R-rated 2003 Broadway hit must be one of the least child-friendly productions ever to feature puppets, Jordan said.
“It’s part flesh, part felt, part foul,” he said with a laugh. “It won the Tony triple-crown. It didn’t just win the Tony for best musical. It won best musical, best score and best book, which is really a rare occurrence. It’s really extraordinary. It’s one of the most successful shows of the decade in American theater.”
Just don’t bring the kids.
“This is really an adult season of adult theater for adults,” Jordan said.
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre 2014-15 season
‘The Grapes of Wrath’
‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’
‘The Amish Project’