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Spring Awakening

A preview of the upcoming theater season in Richmond.

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For the uninitiated, it may be surprising to learn that Richmond has a large and vibrant theater scene for a city its size.

Each year, local companies stage upwards of 50 plays and musicals, meaning that Style’s theater critics, Claire Boswell and Rich Griset, spend a lot of time working. Now that the season has hit the halfway mark, Style asked its critics to weigh in on what they’re most looking forward to the spring and summer.

This is the result, written in a mock-conversation format.

Claire: This spring, we’ve got a showcase of classic American theater playing across town, beginning with 5th Wall Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” opening Jan. 23 and continuing at Swift Creek Mill Theatre with “Daddy Long Legs,” the stage version of Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel. In February, Virginia Repertory Theatre brings us August Wilson’s classic “Fences,” and Cadence Theatre Company offers Sam Shepard’s “True West,” in May. And of course, Virginia Rep’s “Chicago,” coming this summer, is also a true American classic.

But there’s also, of course, always something newer in the works, like Bo Wilson’s “Bonnie and Claire,” coming May 15 to Hanover Tavern, or Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” coming to Virginia Rep on April 10.

Which shows are you looking forward to most?

Rich: Man, where to start? First off, I’m a sucker for anything by August Wilson or Sam Shepard, so “Fences” and “True West” are top of mind. Also, I’m sure Virginia Rep will bring the old razzle dazzle with a flashy staging of the satiric musical “Chicago.”

Richmond Triangle Players’ next two shows look interesting as well. First is “The Cake,” a dramatic comedy regarding religious objections to baking wedding cakes for same sex couples. Next is “Sugar in Our Wounds,” a play about a romance between a same-sex enslaved couple in the antebellum South.

What are some of the shows you’re looking forward to?

Claire: “A Doll’s House Part 2.” We’ve seen Hnath’s work before, with “The Christians,” at Cadence Theatre Company in 2018 and HatTheatre’s 2017 production of “Hillary and Clinton.” Both were excellent local productions, and Hnath is a playwright worth watching, one whose work explores modern society with humor and honesty. “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” coming to Virginia Rep in April, sees Hnath picking up where Henrik Ibsen left off at the end of his 1879 play “A Doll’s House.” This feels nicely timed, with TheatreLab’s production of “A Doll’s House,” still fresh from last year. I look forward to seeing what this playwright has to say with this piece, and how Virginia Rep stages the play.

Rich: If I can deviate from locally produced shows for a moment, I’d like to give a shoutout to Manual Cinema’s “Frankenstein,” which comes to the University of Richmond in late March. This Chicago-based performance collective combines elements of film, theater and puppetry to create wholly original works. I saw another one of its shows a couple years ago and I wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks.

Claire: Coming back to locally produced work, in January, Quill Theatre takes us behind the scenes to spend some time with a few side characters in Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” In this absurdist play that’s been compared to Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” we see the events of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from the perspective of two of Hamlet’s childhood friends who barely factor into the drama.

Rich: And that’s got a great cast. I’m sure lead actors Tyler Stevens and Adam Turck will have ample opportunity to showcase their comedic chops in that one.
I’m also looking forward to Virginia Commonwealth University’s staging of “Machinal,” a 1920s expressionist play about a woman who’s driven to kill her husband. Similarly intriguing is HatTheatre’s “The Atheist,” about a crooked, career-focused journalist.

Coming off its riotously good “Urinetown,” I’m hoping TheatreLab’s momentum will carry into its next few shows. First up is “The Revolutionists,” a cheeky female-focused comedy set during French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, then Amiri Baraka’s “Dutchman,” a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve where the man is a naive, bourgeois black man who is ensnared by a devious white seductress. And this summer it’s staging “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a comedic, historic rock musical about America’s seventh president, in co-production with 5th Wall.

Claire: Similarly, TheatreLab’s summer offering, “Puffs: or, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic & Magic,” lets audiences look in on all the kids who stood by, uninvolved, as a certain famous wizard boy did certain famous wizard things. It sounds like a lot of fun, especially with Katrinah Carol Lewis directing.

Well, I think that does it for us.

Rich: See you in the theater.

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