The 11th season of Palm Coast’s City Repertory Theatre will include what director and co-founder John Sbordone calls, along with many theater historians, “one of the greatest plays of the 20th century” – “Waiting for Godot,” the 1953 absurdist work by the Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer Samuel Beckett.
City Rep’s season also includes “The Revolutionists,” a skewed period piece set during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and whose author Lauren Gunderson dares to describe with the “F” word – “feminist.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Billie Holiday, a vengeful dead wife, a blind woman battling murderous intruders in her home, and a rebel fighting the tyranny of pay toilets in a dystopian world all will be gracing City Rep’s stage during its 2021-22 season. The season opens Sept. 17 with “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” and concludes in April and early May with the run of “Waiting for Godot.” (See below for a detailed rundown of the upcoming CRT lineup.)
But that 800-pound gorilla that will be an unwelcome guest at all CRT performances in the foreseeable future also needs addressing: the resurgent Covid pandemic which, as of this writing, has Florida, including Flagler County, ensnared as one of the country’s hotspots.
“Things are so fluid,” Sbordone says, a sigh coloring his voice during an interview two weeks before the opening of “Lady Day.” “No performer works now at CRT who is not vaccinated. We’ve been in constant touch with Dr. Steve Bickel (medical director at the Flagler County Health Department).”
City Rep’s small, black-box venue in City Marketplace in the heart of Palm Coast was scrubbed clean and parts were repainted after the summer production of “Twisted,” Sbordone says, and for upcoming productions the theater will “stay on top of all of the recommendations that are coming out of the county” concerning masks and social distancing.
CRT so far has survived the economic pillaging of Covid, which has shuttered numerous theaters, concert halls, nightclubs, restaurants, arts venues and other organizations across the country, which all depended on crowds of people with disposable income seeking good times and a bit of respite from the everyday world.
In a statement posted on City Rep’s website and Facebook page, Sbordone wrote that “our 11th season needs to reestablish our goals while providing access to funds so that we may survive financially.”
“We were the only theater functioning throughout the pandemic in Flagler County,” Sbordone says. “We did that by moving the operation under the tent outside (at the outdoor pavilion of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, CRT’s frequent collaborator for Shakespeare in the Park and other ventures) for the entire season. And we went to Flagler Auditorium and its black box for our last show. We didn’t make any money, but we were able to keep our heads above water because of that and, well, because we are the guys who do things differently.
“We would love to fill the coffers with 100 season tickets, but at this point it doesn’t look like we are going to get anywhere near that. It’s the upfront money. God knows what’s going to happen in January.”
And what about the emotional toll of battling the Covid gorilla, whose caprice could destroy the decade-long endeavor by Sbordone and colleagues to build a community theater whose mission, the director wrote, “includes provoking the mind and the spirit and providing challenging acting vehicles for the dedicated actor/artists who choose to work with us.”
“I tend to be an eternal optimist,” Sbordone says. “I think you have to be when you’re trying to run alternative theater in a small town. I just believe that those of us who work at this, who love it, who keep it going just try to take care of business, the Covid business, and just keep going and doing the thing we love. I tend myself not to get bogged down in fatalistic thoughts of what could happen. I tell my friends all the time: Don’t shake hands with the devil until you have to.”
One casualty, at least for this season, is Shakespeare in the Park, which CRT, in partnership with the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, had established as a nascent tradition – until Covid hit, forcing the cancellation of the annual February production earlier this year and again in 2022.
“Our friends at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation also are going through this very, very tough time,” Sbordone says. So the Bard is “kind of in hiatus, let’s say. We did three seasons and I thought it was something exceptional for the county. Hopefully in 2023 it will be something we can bring back. We were looking at ‘Twelfth Night’ pretty seriously for last year, and I think that might be a good one to come back with. We started with the Scottish play (‘Macbeth’), then we went with ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It’s actually time for something a little more lighthearted.”
Here’s a look at City Repertory Theatre’s 2021-22 season. Performances will be in CRT’s black box theater at City Marketplace, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets are $30 adults and $25 students for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” and “Urinetown.” All other shows are $20 adults and $15 students. Tickets are available online at eventbrite.com, by calling 386-585-9415, or at the venue just before showtime. A season pass, which includes six of CRT’s eight scheduled shows, is $120. “The Mountaintop” and “All Together Now!” are not included in the season pass.
Dates in the list below are the opening and final performance of each production.
* “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” – Sept. 17-26. Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play with music is a semi-fictional account of a performance by legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in a seedy Philadelphia bar in 1959, shortly before her death.
* “Urinetown” – Oct. 22-31. This 2001 musical satire with music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, and book by Kotis, is set in a dystopia in which a severe 20-year water shortage has forced the masses to use pay toilets controlled by a mega-corporation and enforced by an authoritarian government.
* “All Together Now!” – Nov. 12-13. Not included in the season pass. Music Theatre International, the company behind productions of such hit shows as “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Mamma Mia,” “My Fair Lady,” “Frozen” and many others, is offering select songs from those musicals and others to theater companies around the world – but without charging any licensing fees or royalties so that all proceeds through ticket sales will benefit local troupes.
“Of course, it helps MTI promote their musicals, and it will be a pure fundraiser for us, so it’s fabulous,” Sbordone says.
* “Blithe Spirit” – Dec. 2-5. Noel Coward’s 1941 comedy tells the story of a writer who, seeking material for his next book, hires a medium to hold a séance. However, the séance summons the ghost of his nagging first wife, who sets about disrupting the writer’s marriage to his second wife – who can’t see or hear the spirit.
* “Wait Until Dark” – Jan. 21-30. Frederick Knott’s 1966 thriller revolves around a blind Greenwich Village housewife who becomes the target of three thugs searching for heroin hidden in a doll – which has inadvertently found its way into the apartment of the woman and her family.
* “The Mountaintop” — February 17-22. Not included in the season pass. In Katori Hall’s 2009 fictional play, what will be Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth takes a turn when a beautiful maid delivers his room service at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
* “The Revolutionists” — March 11-20. Playwright Lauren Gunderson calls her 2017 work a “brutiful . . . feisty feminist comedy” about four women living during France’s Reign of Terror: Playwright Olympe De Gouge, assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen Marie Antoinette and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle.
* “Waiting For Godot” — April 29-May 8, 2022. In Samuel Becket’s 1953 absurdist drama, two men, Vladimir and Estragon, engage in conversation as they wait for a mysterious figure named Godot – but instead a man named Pozzo and his slave Lucky show up.