DUTY VERSUS DESIRE
It has been a cliché of the COVID era that we are living in “unprecedented times.” But in fact, little in human experience is without precedent. While history never repeats itself exactly, it does present us with endless variations on recurring themes.
Since the dawn of drama, artists have explored those themes on stage. New plays examine who and where we are at this particular time; the classics remind us that we’ve been here before, that our present experience is part of a larger patter that can be wonderful or profoundly disturbing.
While spanning different centuries, the works on our 2023 playbill all seem to me to reflect in some way the mood of the moment. In particular, they examine an age-old tension highlighted anew by the challenges of the pandemic era: the tension between duty and desire.
That dichotomy is obvious in King Lear which features a monarch whose personal agenda conflicts with his responsibilities to the state — just as we today have had to weigh the desire to follow our hearts against our duty toward our community.
Those who put their responsibilities ahead of their own wishes win our admiration. But sometimes what society demands is unreasonable, inappropriate and even destructive, as in Much Ado About Nothing, where Benedick, rather than dutifully supporting his Prince and his comrades in the unmerited condemnation of Hero, follows his own sense of moral duty, impelled by his desire for justice (and, of course, for Beatrice).
Societal expectations are confounded in shows like A Wrinkle in Time which invites us to ponder the duties attendant upon the scientific pursuit of knowledge, while Monty Python’s Spamalot satirizes romanticized notions of knightly duty — along with pretty much anything else it can lay its gauntlets on.
Perhaps, as we navigate a world reshaped by the past years of devastation and dislocation, these plays may help clarify for us the importance of finding a balance between pursuing our own wants, needs and dreams and helping others fulfil theirs. Because, to borrow another cliché of our times — and this one surely cannot be denied — we’re all in this together.
DIRECTED BY KIMBERLEY RAMPERSAD
Perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, King Lear is the story of an aging king, who, in demanding a show of devotion from his three daughters, leaves his kingdom divided, his family destroyed, the faithful banished and the hateful left to wreak inhuman havoc in the realm.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
ADDITIONAL TEXT BY ERIN SHIELDS
DIRECTED BY CHRIS ABRAHAM
The story follows Beatrice and Benedick, two quick-witted and sarcastic individuals who are happily single, but whose friends believe they would make a great romantic match. Set in the Early Modern world, an era of ever-changing attitudes towards marriage and power, the play presents a society at once filled with progressive feminist impulses and countervailing forces rooted in traditional patriarchal values. With his astonishing wit and insight, Shakespeare explores the complexities that underlie these growing social tensions.
A WRINKLE IN TIME
WORLD PREMIÈRE ADAPTATION
ADAPTED FOR THE STAGE BY THOMAS MORGAN JONES
DIRECTED BY THOMAS MORGAN JONES
This new adaptation directed and written by Thomas Morgan Jones is based on the classic fantasy by Madeleine L’Engle, in which a young heroine leads her brother and a friend on a spectacular journey through space and time, from galaxy to galaxy, to save the world and rescue her father who mysteriously disappeared while working on an astounding scientific concept.
MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT
CHOREOGRAPHED BY JESSE ROBB
Monty Python’s Spamalot offers up a hefty share of irreverence in a hilarious spoof of the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they go in search of the Holy Grail. This outrageous musical comedy by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, lets us look at our flaws and foibles and in doing so allows us to laugh at the things that make us human.
BOOK, MUSIC AND LYRICS BY JONATHAN LARSON
DIRECTED BY THOM ALLISON
CHOREOGRAPHED BY MARC KIMELMAN
Set in Manhattan in the 1990s and inspired by Puccini’s opera La Bohème, this rock musical by Jonathan Larson follows a group of young East Village artists, performers and philosophers as they struggle through the hardships of poverty, societal discord and the AIDS epidemic in the search for life, love and art. With a song list that includes the iconic “Seasons of Love,” Rent tells a story as relevant today as when it took Broadway by storm more than 25 years ago.