Fans of City Repertory Theatre may ponder what is the most discombobulating aspect of the Palm Coast troupe’s 2019-20 season.
Yes, this season will feature three tales of adolescent love/lust – an unintended, or perhaps purposefully designed “trilogy” that runs from Shakespeare, to a fin de siècle German drama reimagined as a 21st century rock musical, to a contemporary #MeToo date-rape drama.
That lineup is not so surprising, however: In past seasons, City Rep has always been willing to eschew the boffo box-office hits that are sure to put asses in seats for dramas that may make patrons squirm over issues of sex (David Ives’ “Venus in Fur”), race (David Mamet’s “Race”) and-or religion (Robert Askins’ “Hand to God”).
Perhaps more gobsmacking, however, is this: City Rep will be staging two – egads, two! – Neil Simon plays, including “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” the season-opening autobiographical comedy/roman a clef that runs Friday Sept. 20 through Sunday Sept. 29. Also on the bill this season is “They’re Playing Our Song,” a musical with a book by Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch, and based the real-life relationship of Hamlisch and Sager.
The Simon plays, says City Rep director and co-founder John Sbordone “are the lightness of our season.”
The heavier side of the season includes that teen-sex “trilogy”: Shakespeare’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers, “Romeo and Juliet,” which will be staged as a theater-in-the-park production; “Spring Awakening,” that 1891 drama of sexual repression by German playwright Frank Wedekind, re-imagined as a rock musical in 2006 with music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater; and “Actually,” Anna Ziegler’s 2017 drama about two Ivy League freshmen – a young black man and a young white woman — who become mired in a he said/she said, was-it-date-rape scenario.
City Rep’s season concludes with two classic heavyweights of 20th-century American drama: Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” a 1947 drama about a military aircraft coverup which was recently revived on Broadway, and a staged reading of Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana,” a 1961 drama about a disgraced minister who faces temptations of the flesh at a run-down resort hotel in Mexico.
As for the double-shot of Simon, the Bronx-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who died a year ago at age 91, Sbordone says, “I don’t know how it happened. I laugh about it myself. But ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ hasn’t been done in the area forever, and I had so many actors who wanted to do it.”
Simon’s 1993 play goes behind the scenes and into the writing room of a TV comedy-variety show in the 1950s, and was inspired by Simon’s own early career as a junior writer for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” Along with Simon and Caesar, that real-life writing room included Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart (of TV’s “M*A*S*H” fame), and other notables.
Simon wrote himself into his play as Lucas Brickman, who will be played by Beau Wade in the City Rep production. The Max Prince character, played by Earl Levine, is based on Sid Caesar. The Ira Stone character, played by Paul Van De Graaf, is inspired by Mel Brooks. The Kenny Franks character, played by John Pope, is the doppelganger of Larry Gelbart.
Sbordone confesses that “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” “will be an education for a young audience – that’s for sure. But the humor is universal. We talk about it all the time at rehearsals that Sid Caesar’s ‘Your Show of Shows’ was really the model for what Lorne Michaels chose to do with ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Caesar was one of the great sketch comedy actors and writers of the last century. He and Imogene Cocoa (his frequent comedic partner on ‘Your Show of Shows’) were absolutely brilliant. That writing staff controlled the arc of comedy for the next 30 years. That writing room was a zoo! (laughs).”
For anyone who believes City Rep’s sex “trilogy” (including Shakes’ “Romeo and Juliet”) is pushing boundaries, Sbordone puts the matter into perspective: “Pushing boundaries for Flagler County? Yes. But these are established dramas and musicals — this is Broadway stuff. ‘Oedipus Rex’ (that Greek tragedy by Sophocles first staged in 429 B.C.E.) is love and sex — come on! It’s a universal theme.”
The crux is “how it’s handled,” Sbordone says. How sexual mores are viewed over the centuries “is what is extraordinary. We live in a society where when I was growing up, a Victoria’s Secret commercial on television would’ve been considered pornography.”
As for “Romeo and Juliet,” any Shakespeare that rears its Elizabethan head in a community theater’s season is going to be the 800-pound gorilla on the stage – but the Bard has become a familiar presence for City Rep. This will be the third season that the company is partnering with the Palm Coast Arts Foundation to present Shakespeare in the Park. As with “Macbeth” and “The Taming of the Shrew” during the past two seasons, Shakes’ famous love story will be presented on the outdoor stage, under an enclosed tent, at PCAF’s pavilion in Town Center, 1500 Central Ave., Palm Coast. Five shows will be staged Feb. 27-March 1.
“The audience response has been fabulous,” Sbordone says of the Shakespeare in the Park productions. “We have sold out everything we’ve done so far. This year were going to five performances” (up from four during each of the past two seasons).
Expanding the City Rep/PCAF Shakespeare collaboration comes with a cost – literally, Sbordone notes. Productions staged at City Rep’s black-box venue in City Marketplace are one thing – taking the show on the road to PCAF’s pavilion seven miles to the south is another.
“For instance, professional lighting brought in from Orlando for one week last year was over $3000 for the Shakespeare production,” he says. “That’s a lot of tickets (to sell to cover the expense). We have this wonderful thing and it’s extraordinarily well attended. For those who are loving it and want to support it, donations beyond the tickets would be very, very welcome and help us to do more things” – including adding additional performances in future seasons.
All City Rep performances except “Romeo and Juliet” will be staged at CRT’s home venue in City Market Place at 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Season tickets are $160 (which includes “Romeo”). Individual adult tickets (except for “Romeo”) are $25 for non-musicals and $30 for musicals. Students tickets are $15 for all productions except “Romeo.”
For more information or tickets (except for “Romeo”), call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or go online at crtpalmcoast.com.
Fiver performances of “Romeo and Juliet” will be presented Feb. 27-March 1 on the outdoor stage, under an enclosed tent, at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s pavilion in Town Center, 1500 Central Ave., Palm Coast. Ticket prices and show times are t be determined. For more information call the Palm Coast Arts Foundation at 386-225-4394 or go online at palmcoastartsfoundation.com.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” by Neil Simon, directed by John Sbordone, staged by City Repertory Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20-21 and 27-28, plus 3 p.m. Sept. 22 and 29. $25 adults, $15 students. Performances are at CRT’s venue in City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Tickets are $20 adults, $15 students. For more information or tickets, call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or easily book tickets online here.
Here are the details of City Rep’s 2019-20 season:
- “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” – 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20-21 and 27-28, plus 3 p.m. Sept. 22 and 29. $25 adults, $15 students.Neil Simon’s autobiographical play recalls his days in the 1950s as a staff writer for Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking television comedy-variety series “Your Show of Shows.” The City Rep cast includes Earl Levine as Max, Beau Wade as Lucas, Peter Gould as Milt, Jim Fellows as Val, Alex Loucks as Brian, John Pope as Kenny, Paul Van De Graaf as Ira, Joanne Van Zyl as Carol and Victoria Page as Helen.
- “Spring Awakening” – 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-26 and Nov. 1-2 and 8-9, plus 3 p.m. Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 and 10. $30 adults, $15 students.Based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, “Spring Awakening” was transformed into a rock musical in 2006 by folkie rocker Duncan Sheik (of “Barely Breathing” fame) with book and lyrics by Steven Sater. The play about teens discovering their sexuality won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor, while its original cast album received a Grammy Award.
- “Actually” – 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12-14, plus 3 p.m. Dec. 15. $25 adults, $15 students. Anna Ziegler’s 2017 drama explores the aftermath of a sexual encounter between two Ivy League freshmen – a young black man and a young white woman: Did she give consent? Was it date rape?
- “They’re Playing Our Song” – 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10-11 and 17-18, plus 3 p.m. Jan. 12 and 19. $30 adults, $15 students. This 1979 musical was based on the real-life relationship – musical and romantic – between composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist by Carole Bayer Sager. The play features the duo’s music, with a book by Neil Simon.
- “Romeo and Juliet” — Feb. 27-March 1 on the outdoor stage, under an enclosed tent, at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s pavilion in Town Center, 1500 Central Ave., Palm Coast. Single ticket prices and show times are to be determined. For information call the Palm Coast Arts Foundation at 386-225-4394 or go online at palmcoastartsfoundation.com.Shakespeare’s tragedy tells the tale of two young star-crossed lovers whose relationship is cast into turmoil by their feuding families.
- “All My Sons” – 7:30 p.m. April 17-18 and 24-25, plus 3 p.m. April 19 and 26. $25 adults, $15 students.Set during World War II and based on a real-life incident, Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” tells the story of an aeronautical corporation that conspires with army inspectors to cover up defective aircraft engines destined for military use.
- “Night of the Iguana” – 7:30 p.m. May 14-16 plus 3 p.m. May 17. $25 adults, $15 students.A staged reading of Tennessee Williams’ 1961 drama about a disgraced minister who sees God as a “senile delinquent” and, while working as a tour guide in a dilapidated Mexican resort, is accused of statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl.
–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive