Thursday, March 6, 2008

A new season

I couldn't believe it when I read about next season's lineup at Trinity Repertory Company, which was announced this week by artistic director Curt Columbus, pictured above.

On the schedule for Dec. 5 to Jan. 11 is a play by Adam Bock, The Receptionist. Given that I haven't been a regular theatergoer for very long, what are the chances that they'd pick a play I've seen? I took in The Receptionist last fall at the Manhattan Theatre Club. I didn't realize this, but Bock has an MFA from Brown University and worked for Trinity for awhile, so I guess it makes sense.

I have to admit I didn't absolutely love The Receptionist. It was good, but it just seemed somewhat underdeveloped. The story of the mysterious goings on at the Northeast office of an unnamed company was a little vague. I got impatient with all the small talk. The resolution wasn't quite satisfying, and I left the theater a bit confused about what it all meant.

But Bock has written some great characters and injected lots of humor. It'll probably remind you of some offices you've worked in. I loved Jayne Houdyshell's wonderfully funny yet spot-on performance in the title role. I said in my review: "She's efficient, overprotective of office supplies, motherly, humorous and has plenty of advice to dispense, whether you want it or not."

I'm looking forward to giving The Receptionist a second chance. Hopefully, I'll gain a deeper appreciation for the play. I'll be able to pick up on all the little clues I missed the first time around. And the best thing about Trinity's staging is I'll be able to go to the talkback afterward and say in by best theater-snob voice: "Well, when I saw it in New York ...."

From what I've seen, Columbus puts together a good mixture of classics and new works. And Trinity always manages to put its own spin on the classics. Our Town, from a couple seasons back, is a great example. While it was pretty traditional, there was also a little something that made it unique: in this case, a two-level stage that allowed the audience to watch the actors get ready for the performance.

This is Columbus' third season at the helm. He came to Providence from Chicago's esteemed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. My regular trips to Trinity coincided with his arrival, so I feel like there's a special connection between the two of us. He hosted the talkback held after the first show I saw at Trinity in decades: Hamlet. (And yes, someone at the session did preface their comments by saying, "When I saw it in New York.")

Columbus likes to arrange his lineup around a theme. Next season, it's personal change. Associate Director Craig Watson says: "We wanted to look at plays that spoke about hope, and all the possibilities hope can bring."

One of the shows I'm most looking forward to seeing in the new season is A Raisin in the Sun, which runs from Jan. 30 to March 8. I just watched it on ABC last month, with Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald reprising their Tony-winning roles from the Broadway revival. They were just terrific, so compelling and believable. I think the play, about an African-American family in Chicago in the 1950s and their dreams of a better life, has great resonance today.

Raisin will be the centerpiece of Trinity's Project Discovery Plus program, which brings students to the theater and cast members to schools for workshops with students. "These themes of race and class really resonate with students who live in our cities," Watson said. "They’re dealing with these issues on a daily basis."

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