Arts + Culture

Ambition, risk mark UCLA Department of Theater's 2008–09 season

Classics, new works by students, two celebrated musicals are scheduled

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A postmodern revamping of an ancient Greek tragedy, a prize-winning modern classic, one of Shakespeare's most delicious romantic comedies and a time-bending musical about a beleaguered five-year relationship are among the works included in the UCLA Department of Theater's wide-ranging new slate of stage productions.

Standouts include Charles Mee's "Big Love," Lanford Wilson's "Book of Days," Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Days" and the Cole Porter classic "Anything Goes," this season's Ray Bolger Musical Theater Production.

"We try to do material that is intellectually stimulating, that an audience can't get to see most places, that challenges our students in terms of their growth and development, that sharpens the skills and techniques of our students, and that has a diversity of repertoire," said UCLA theater professor Mel Shapiro.

The season opens in November with Mee's "Big Love" (Nov. 12–22), based on Aeschylus' "The Suppliant Women" and directed by visiting assistant professor Mary Jo DuPrey, a UCLA theater alumna. The story of 50 brides who rebel against their arranged marriages of political convenience, the play is an original, outlandish work that retains Aeschylus' framework but reinvents the classic tragedy as a postmodern tragic-comedy.

"Big Love" will run in repertory with Wilson's "Book of Days" (Nov. 12–22), directed by visiting professor David Bridel, author of last year's successful offering "The Death of Mayakovsky." Wilson's play, which depicts the effects of a shocking murder on the idyllic small town of Dublin, Missouri, is an intense study of character revealed under pressure, as long-buried secrets rise to the surface.

November also marks the return of the popular New Play Festival (Nov. 13–15 and Nov. 20–22), featuring three original works by students in the theater department's M.F.A. Playwriting Program. "Lot Sand Found," coordinated by M.F.A. candidate Adam Simon, is a "headphones tour," a concoction equal parts theater, installation art and audio tour that takes in all we know of being lost, getting found and being caught in the shuffle. "The House of Dinah or The Black Queens," by M.F.A. candidate Jerome Augustus Parker, is a tale about a waitress in a diner, a woman seeking refuge there and the enslavement of both under three fierce managers. Part drag show, part fantasy — all the roles are played by black men — the play trails through race, gender, history power and time, with blues and jazz singer Dinah Washington, her spirit and music, guiding the trip. "English Only: A Fight for Words in America," by M.F.A. candidate Annette Lee, takes us back to 1986, when everything is big — the hair, the shoulder pads, the prom dresses. But nothing is bigger to 17-year-old Scarlett Wong than what is going on at City Hall in this look at race, culture and the English-only referendum in Monterey Park, Calif.

The New Play Festival will be reprised from Dec. 5 to 7 at the New Los Angeles Theater Company (LATC) in downtown Los Angeles. Visit www.tft.ucla.edu/calendar/performance for additional news and profiles related to the UCLA Playwriting Program.
 
Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Years" (Dec. 4–6), directed by M.F.A. candidate James Darrah, is the musical story of a five-year relationship between a rising novelist and a struggling actress. The characters move through time in opposite directions, their plot lines intersecting only during the performance of a single wedding song.

Additional theater events, scheduled for UCLA's winter quarter, include Stephen Adly Gurigis' "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" (Feb. 26–March 7, 2009), directed by M.F.A. candidate Richard Martinez. The play is a satirical courtroom drama in which attorneys argue over whether the betrayer of Jesus Christ should be admitted into heaven, calling Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud and Satan as witnesses.
 
"Judas" plays in repertory with Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Feb. 26–March 7), directed by visiting professor Joel Bishop.

Works scheduled for production during the 2009 spring quarter include John Whiting's "The Devils (April 17–25), directed by M.F.A. candidate and recent Princess Grace Award–winner Patrick Kennelly; Henry Purcell's Baroque opera "Dido and Aeneas" (April 22–25), directed by M.F.A. candidate James Darrah; and this year's Ray Bolger Musical Theater Production, Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" (May 28–June 6), directed by adjunct assistant professor Jeremy Mann.
 
For a schedule of upcoming theater performances, visit www.tft.ucla.edu/calendar/performance. For ticket information for all performances in the theatrical season, call 310-825-2101 or visit www.tickets.ucla.edu.  
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