As is the case with pretty much every large theater company in America, Portland Center Stage is trying to broaden the variety of people whose stories are presented in the plays it produces. For the 2020-2021 season, that variety will include long-haired hippies, passionate painters, Latino wrestlers, German rock singers, ancient African-American healers, Asian-American immigrants, bayou brothers, small-town young lovers, and plenty of whatever you want to call Jane Austen’s characters.
PCS recently announced its programming for next season, and there’s something for, well, perhaps not everyone, but for many sorts of folks.
Looked at another way, the ten productions that will be on offer range from musicals to satires, cultural commentaries to intimate glimpses into history, to whatever you want to call light-hearted adaptations of Jane Austen stories.
Season-ticket renewal is open now, and new season tickets become available Friday, March 13. So here’s a quick look at what’s coming (Note: The dates listed likely refer to the full slate of public performances. Official opening of each production may occur later than the first date indicated here.)
Hair — Aug. 29 – Oct. 11, 2020: By tradition, PCS kicks off each season with a musical. This time it’s the popular, pioneering 1960s rock musical, in a co-production with the Old Globe of San Diego. After a couple of decades of seeming a bit dated, Hair appears to be regaining its hipness in our current era of chaos and idealism.
Frida…a Self Portrait — Sept. 5 – Oct. 18, 2020: Developed at Kansas City Rep, the former home of PCS artistic director Marissa Wolf, writer/performer Vanessa Severo condenses the life of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo into what the Kansas City Star called “a wild, unpredictable ride” and a publication called the Pitch described as “a colorful and imaginative composition of pop-out scenes that flow one to the other… a deeply affecting drama that leaves an ineradicable imprint.”
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity — Oct. 24 – Nov. 22, 2020: Aside from the occasional pop star or pope, who makes more elaborate entrances than pro wrestlers? Written by Kristoffer Diaz, who would later create the wrestling-themed Netflix series Glow, this 2010 Pulitzer finalist looks at racial identities and the promulgation of “American values” through the high-drama narratives of pro-wrestling, serving up, in the words of The New York Times “the delicious crackle and pop of a galloping, honest-to-God, all-American satire.”
Hedwig and the Angry Inch — Nov. 3 – Dec. 20, 2020: The thrilling and touching rock musical by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask was such a hit in a recent PCS production starring Delphon “DJ” Curtis Jr. that the company will remount the show for a good part of the fall.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley — Dec. 5 – 27, 2020: Another PCS programming tendency is to find a good Christmas show and stick with it for a few years. This holiday-themed extrapolation from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a 2016 sequel centered on the aspirations of the Bennet family’s serious-minded middle sister, had its first Portland production this past winter, so it’s at once familiar and still fresh.
Gem of the Ocean — Jan. 16 – Feb. 14, 2021: August Wilson’s celebrated 10-play cycle about African-American life in each decade of the 20th century begins — in terms of its narrative chronology, anyway — with this sometimes delicate, sometimes roiling drama, centered on a man with the painfully apt name Citizen. More so than in any other Wilson play, gritty naturalism and poetic spiritualism meld gracefully here. It’s Wilson at the peak of his emotional and literary powers.
Young Americans — Feb. 20 – April 4, 2021: Playwright Lauren Yee’s surprising and trenchant Cambodian Rock Band, which involves a young woman from an immigrant family confronting the past, is coming soon in this spring’s PCS lineup. That play’s father-daughter dynamic could be echoed in a new play commissioned by PCS and getting its world premiere here, in a comedy set during a cross-country drive from our nation’s capital to — where else? — Portland.
Emma — March 6 – April 4, 2021: Did we mention there’ll be plenty of Jane Austen? Popular Austen adapter Kate Hamill, whose Sense and Sensibility has been a major hit around the country, turns her attention to an only somewhat-less-frequently presented work (there’s a film version in current release). Hamill’s version gets its world premiere next month at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, before this co-production with Seattle Rep.
The Brothers Size — April 17 – May 16, 2021: Tarell Alvin McCraney earned widespread fame and an Academy Award for his screenplay to the 2016 film Moonlight, but the foundation of his exalted reputation in the theater world is The Brother/Sister Plays, a trio of linked dramas set in the Louisiana bayou and influenced by religious stories from the Yoruba culture of West Africa. When Portland Playhouse staged the series in 2012, the most finely focused and emotionally powerful of the three was The Brothers Size, about a man just out of prison and torn between his brother’s guidance along the straight and narrow, and his free-spirited prison-buddy/lover.
Girlfriend — May 29 – June 27, 2021: For Melancholy Play: a Chamber Musical, which Third Rail Rep staged to wonderfully whimsical effect a few months ago, Todd Almond served as composer, bringing an idiosyncratic atmosphere and emotional dynamism to Sarah Ruhl’s text. For Girlfriend, Almond switches roles, crafting a story of young, gay love around the melodically exquisite, emotionally barbed rock songs of Matthew Sweet, the greatest guitar-pop classicist to emerge from the 1990s alternative scene.