DC's Arena Stage announces 2013-2014 theater season

War, politics, controversy, big name stars to headline. Photo: Arena Stage

WASHINGTON, February 26, 2013 – Arena Stage today announced ten productions for the company’s upcoming 2013/14 season, all to be staged at its Mead Center home. Arena’s brilliantly re-imagined space is still a stunning addition to the city’s Southwest waterfront even as it approaches its fourth year there, and the theaters within are among the finest performance spaces in the country today.

Arena’s new season boasts a laser-like focus on politics, war, and remembrance. “Perhaps it’s because of the anniversary of the Civil War that you’ll find our season is soaked in history,” notes Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith in today’s information release. “Somehow the arc of history—the demands of history—are acted out in sharp relief,”  with many of the human stories we’re telling next season, from the Civil War battlefield to Camp David to contemporary stories about our lives today.

“From Afghanistan to the Apollo Theater, our stories are personal and human and funny and moving. People such as Paul Robeson, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller span America’s 20th century and come alive through this season.  We’re pleased to be partnering with so many talented artists—Moisés Kaufman, Kenny Leon, Liz Lerman, Estelle Parsons, Bill Pullman, Charles Randolph-Wright, Kathleen Turner, Lawrence Wright—just to name a few. It’s definitely a season filled with ideas and stories that will powerfully remind us what it is to be human.”

Arena’s upcoming season—its 64th—includes four world premiere theatrical works: Love in Afghanistan by American Voices New Play Institute Resident Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright; Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright’s Camp David; Liz Lerman’s theatrical dance piece Healing Wars with noted actor Bill Pullman (Independence Day, 1600 Penn) featured as narrator; and Tectonic Theater Project’s production of The Tallest Tree – A Portrait of Paul Robeson, written and performed by Daniel Beaty.

Also on tap: the pre-Broadway production of The Velocity of Autumn with Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons; the return of Kathleen Turner in a new production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children. Both productions will be directed by Ms. Smith.

Other American-oriented productions include Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by Kenny Leon; Tappin’ Thru Life with area favorite Maurice Hines; and a return engagement of writer/director Randy Johnson’s One Night with Janis Joplin as well as a new production of the musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café.

Main entrance, Arena Stage/Mead Center theater complex. (Credit: Arena Stage.)

The following specifics on this year’s productions were provided to WTC via today’s Arena Stage news release:

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater 2013/14 Schedule*

One Night with Janis Joplin. Created, written and directed by Randy Johnson. Starring Mary Bridget Davies.
A co-production with Pasadena Playhouse and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
June 21–August 11, 2013

in the Kreeger Theater.

Get ready to relive the summer of love! Back by popular demand, One Night with Janis Joplin returns to rock Arena Stage for another round of “exhilarating” (Washington Post) performances packed with classic songs like “Piece of My Heart, “Summertime” and “Mercedes Benz.” Mary Bridget Davies “brings the house to its feet” (Washingtonian) as one of America’s greatest rock ’n’ roll originals, and “delivers no-holds-barred vocal fire through one classic song after another” (TheaterMania).

The Velocity of Autumn. Exclusive Pre-Broadway Engagement
By Eric Coble. Starring Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons and two-time Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella.
September 6–October 20, 2013 in the Kreeger Theater.

In a simple Brooklyn brownstone, 79-year-old Alexandra lives a solitary existence with her fleeting memories and enough explosives to take down most of the block. At an impasse with her family over how she should spend her autumn years, Alexandra’s long-absent son enters as a most unlikely mediator, to try and save his mother’s life as much as his own. Funny and sweet, aching and revelatory, this perceptive play reveals both the fragility and ferocity of life. Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde, Roseanne) and two-time Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella (Angels in America) make their Arena Stage debuts.

Love in Afghanistan. World premiere by Resident Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright.
October 11–November 17, 2013 in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle.

From resident playwright Charles Randolph-Wright (Blue, Cuttin’ Up) comes a daring world premiere drama set to take audiences on a thrilling, romantic adventure in a chaotic land. Meet Duke and Roya, two fantastically different people discovering love in the most unlikely of places: war-torn Afghanistan. One, an emerging hip-hop artist, the other, a high-level Afghani interpreter, both fight to navigate the pitfalls of romance amid the cultural land mines of religious differences and political unrest.

Tappin’ Thru Life. Created by and starring Maurice Hines. Directed by Jeff Calhoun.
A co-production with Alliance Theatre and Cleveland Play House.
November 15–December 29, 2013 in the Kreeger Theater.

Broadway legend and Tony Award nominee Maurice Hines (Sophisticated Ladies) returns to Arena Stage to tap us through his incredible 40 years in show business. With song and dance, Hines pays tribute to his brother, Gregory, and the singers who have inspired him, from Frank Sinatra to Lena Horne. To help bring the history of American tap to life, Hines brings The Diva Orchestra, an all-female nine-piece big band. Get ready to laugh, smile and tap your feet to the infectious song and dance of Maurice Hines!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. By Todd Kreidler. Based on the screenplay by William Rose. Directed by Kenny Leon.
November 29, 2013–January 5, 2014 in the Fichandler Stage.

Broadway and Arena Stage favorite Kenny Leon (every tongue confess) returns to direct a new adaptation of the beloved film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. A progressive white couple’s proud liberal sensibilities are put to the test when their daughter, fresh from an overseas romance, brings her African-American fiancé home to meet them. Personal beliefs clash with the mores of the late 60’s in this warm and witty exploration of family and culture and knowing which of them has the greater hold on our hearts.

World premiere production of Tectonic Theater Project’s The Tallest Tree—A Portrait of Paul Robeson. By Daniel Beaty.
Directed by Moisés Kaufman.
January 10–February 16, 2014 in the Kreeger Theater.

Bursting with soulful music and poetic storytelling, The Tallest Tree—A Portrait of Paul Robeson combines the theatrical talents of award-winning artist Daniel Beaty (Emergence-See!) with acclaimed director Moisés Kaufman (33 Variations, The Laramie Project). Discover the true story of Paul Robeson, hailed as the ‘best known black man in the world’ for his incomparable singing and acting, brought low by accusations of disloyalty to America. Backed by a live band, Beaty brings “his signature wit, grit and piercing lyricism” (New York Times) to more than 20 characters, asking the question, how does a man remain an artist when his soul cries out to be an activist?

Mother Courage and her Children. By Bertolt Brecht. Directed by Artistic Director Molly Smith.
Starring Academy Award & Tony Award nominee Kathleen Turner.
January 31–March 9, 2014 in the Fichandler Stage.

Tough-as-nails matriarch Mother Courage profits off the very war that steals her children from her one by one. But will the cost of war be higher than she’s prepared to pay? Artistic Director Molly Smith helms this unique in-the-round staging of Brecht’s powerhouse anti-war play fusing politics, satire and music into an epic theatrical experience. Kathleen Turner returns to Arena Stage after her sold-out run of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins to star in the mother of all roles.

Camp David. World Premiere by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright. Directed by Artistic Director Molly Smith.
March 21–May 4, 2014 in the Kreeger Theater.

Sixty-two miles north of Washington, D.C., nestled in Catoctin Mountain Park, lies the clandestine retreat known as Camp David. For 13 tumultuous days, President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn host Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in an attempt to create the impossible: peace in the Middle East. How could such a massive thing be done in such a short amount of time? Artistic Director Molly Smith directs the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright’s incredible new play based on incredibly true events. Camp David is part of Arena Stage’s distinctive American President’s Project, which investigates the lives and legacies of our nation’s Presidents and their families.

Smokey Joe’s Café. By Jerry Leiber and Matt Stoller. Directed by Randy Johnson.
April 25–June 8, 2014 in the Fichandler Stage.

Staged by Randy Johnson, the visionary behind One Night with Janis Joplin, Smokey Joe’s Café transports us to the Golden Age of Rock, Rhythm and Blues showcasing nearly 40 popular hits from Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame legends Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Bursting with infectious tunes like “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” “Love Potion #9” and “On Broadway,” it’s no wonder this electrifying show received seven Tony Award nominations and became the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history. Get ready to raise the roof at Smokey Joe’s Café!

Healing Wars. World premiere, created and directed by Liz Lerman.
Featuring Bill Pullman.
June 6–29, 2014 in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle.

A pioneer in the world of contemporary dance, Liz Lerman’s newest theatrical dance piece explores the experiences of the healers tasked with treating the physical and psychic wounds of battle. Joined by Bill Pullman (Independence Day, 1600 Penn), an ensemble of dancers represents medics and soldiers from the Civil War to today. Called “the source of an epochal revolution in the scope and purposes of dance art” (Washington Post), Lerman’s work has been performed throughout the U.S. and abroad. After 34 years as founding artistic director of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Lerman presents her singular aesthetic to audiences in this exciting world premiere about how we experience and recover from war.

*Plays, artists and dates are subject to change.

Subscription packages are now on sale and may be purchased by calling the Arena Stage Sales Office at 202-488-3300 or by visiting arenastage.org.

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times (1994-2009). 

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