Chicago-based playwright and Theater Oobleck cofounder Mickle Maher has had his hands full this year with “a number of somewhat peculiar commissions.” The first was a monologue “in the voice of the untitled Picasso sculpture on Daley Plaza,” voiced by Deanna Dunagan. It’s part of the Chicago Statue Stories project, for which Goodman Theatre and Sing London commissioned 30 playwrights to create recorded monologues passersby can hear on their phones after swiping them over plaques on the statues. The second was a short piece written as a tribute to the “incredibly wild and original” architect Stanley Tigerman, commissioned by Steppenwolf and performed in a ceremony in September. Maher is cagey about a third gig: book and lyrics for a new musical assigned by “the general manager of a major American professional sports team.” Among the shows he’s most excited about this season, the author of The Strangerer and The Hunchback Variations singled out Brett Neveu’s new Thanksgiving comedy, now at Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre through Dec. 13 and featuring ensemble members Kirsten Fitzgerald and Michael Shannon.
This past fall, playwright/performer Juliana Francis Kelly appeared as one of four Elizabeths in Karin Coonrod’s texts&beheadings/ElizabethR at Washington, D.C.’s Folger Theatre and at Brooklyn Academy of Music, after which she plunged straight into production on her own play, The Reenactors, at New York City’s Abrons Arts Center, Dec.1–13. She told us that while she was looking forward to watching her husband, David Patrick Kelly, costar with Keira Knightley on Broadway in Roundabout Theatre’s production of Thérèse Raquin (now through Jan. 3, 2016), her 6-year-old daughter is much more excited that Matilda star Gabriel Ebert is in it. Kelly also said she was looking forward to dance/theatre artist Okwui Okpokwasili’s Poor People’s TV Room, a follow-up to her “amazing piece Bronx Gothic,” Jan. 9, 2016, at New York Live Arts.
For the past 10 years, L.A.-based playwright Prince Gomolvilas has had “The Oskar Plays,” a series of pieces about bullying and diversity, tour schools in the San Francisco Bay Area; he recently added Houston and Philadelphia schools, and said he’s been commissioned to write a new one about gender identity, “in response to transgender issues—at the elementary school level, believe it or not.” He said that while he’s sad to see “regime change” at East West Players, as longtime leader Tim Dang steps down, he’s also “excited to see what the next team will envision and achieve.” And he pointed us to a promising development at Houston’s Alley Theatre: that they’ve “just revitalized their new-play development department with the hiring of Liz Frankel from the Public.”
Actor Jason Graae had a busy fall touring with a Jerry Herman symphony concert through Oklahoma, Florida, Wisconsin, and Arizona, and now he’s gearing up to play Scrooge in a world-premiere musical with a company better known for reviving old ones: Scrooge in Love, a new tuner by Larry Grossman, Kellen Blair, and Duane Poole that will play Nov. 25–Dec. 13 at San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon. “I thought I was too young to play Scrooge,”Graae says, until Google informed him that the character is “said to be in his late forties/early fifties, so it turns out that I’m actually too old.”
Apart from helming Don Nguyen’s Sound at Seattle’s ACT Theatre (see “Deaf Talent, Seen and Heard,”AT Nov. ’15), Desdemona Chiang spent her fall teaching at Cornish College and gearing up for an especially busy 2016: Nick Payne’s Constellations at Seattle Repertory Theatre (Jan. 22–Feb. 21, 2016), Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Feb. 24–Mar. 13, 2016), and The Winter’s Tale at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (June 9–Oct. 16, 2016). Like many we spoke to, Chiang cited top transitions at two major theatres—Joe Haj at the Guthrie and Eric Ting at Cal Shakes—as one of her favorite new developments. “I’m excited about the new faces of mainstream theatre leadership,” she told us. With a directing slate like that, we’d count Chiang among them.