Masters of the Mix

Masters of the Mix
Masters of the Mix
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In the midst of a media world preoccupied with bracketology and Malaysian mysteries, Virginia Repertory Theatre dropped a big juicy gift into Richmond’s collective lap this week, a bonanza that has largely gone unheralded. In announcing its 2014-15 slate of shows, the big kahuna of the local theater scene essentially guaranteed that next season will be one of the most interesting years on Richmond stages in recent memory.

 

The headline stars are certainly impressive –Skinner! Cabaj! Wichmann! – but a peak behind the big marquee names reveals an intriguing mix of titles signifying that the company has a strong understanding of its place in the community. Certainly the big names will bring in the crowds, but the variety of offerings indicates a willingness to push beyond the easy choices, challenging local patrons to embrace some artistically ambitious productions.

 

In a town where the number of locally-produced shows typically runs just north of 50, the 17 shows announced Tuesday (including the Cadence season at Theatre Gym) represent almost a third of what will be available next season. For a quick look at what’s in store, here’s an annotated list:

 

Equivocation: Starting off with a bang, Va Rep will do two things that would be anathema to other big companies in other towns: 1) partner with another company (Henley Street/Richmond Shakespeare) and 2) venture into risky political territory. Sure, “Equivocation” is a fictional take on the Shakespeare’s life but one where he gets involved in arguments about government-sponsored torture, among other hot-bottom issues.

 

Mame: You really don’t need to go much further than the big voice of Emily Skinner to deem this choice a winner, but you could also consider supporting player Desiree Roots-Centeio and accomplished director Patti D’Beck. Skinner alone is great; Skinner with strong support could be amazing.

 

The Whipping Man: Set in Richmond just after the Civil War, this show’s main characters are African-American Jews. That’s enough dramatic juxtaposition for any show right there.

 

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike: Staging the wacky absurdity of Christopher Durang can be a dicey business, another reason why this spring offering shows a company willing to step outside a big-company comfort zone.

 

South Pacific: “Classic” doesn’t always translate into “compelling.” How to insure that it does? Bring back Stacey Cabaj who made “Sound of Music” such a treat and ran away with “My Fair Lady.”

 

The Hanover season: Two Neil Simon shows (“They’re Playing Our Song” for the holidays and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” in the spring) should provide comfortable feel-good entertainment for the traditional theater lovers in the ‘burbs. But starting off with “Becoming Dr. Ruth” throws a fun curve-ball into the mix and, providing that an adequately antic Snoopy is found, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” should heat up the winter months nicely.

 

The Cadence season: In its short tenure in Richmond, Anna Johnson’s Cadence Theatre Company has presented some of the most consistently compelling work in town. I’ve wondered for years when someone was going to tackle the musical “Caroline, or Change” and recruiting Chase Kniffen bodes well for a good treatment of this civil rights story. I don’t know much about their fall offering, Donald Margulies’s “Sight Unseen” but the inclusion of gritty family drama “A Lie of the Mind” by Sam Shepard has me yearning for spring…of 2015.

 

See a complete list of shows in the SIFTER story released last week.

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