Here are some of the plays I'm looking forward to seeing in the 2012-2013 Rochester theater season. The good news is that this season there are more plays I want to see than I have room to write about. (For a full listing of all upcoming area theater productions, check rochestercitynewspaper.com, or the weekly theater listings in each edition of City Newspaper.)
"You Can't Take It with You" (Geva Theatre Center, through October 7; gevatheatre.org) This year's "American classic" at Geva is truly a classic American comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The humor has a small barb behind every sentiment, it embraces comic anarchy as an affirmation of individualism, it punctures the assumptions of what we call the "1 percent," and it even makes room for a love story. I've read it, seen it (on stage and on screen), and taught it — and I can't wait to see it again.
"[title of show]" (Blackfriars Theatre, through September 30; bftix.com) Two struggling playwrights in need of a payday hear about a competition for new musicals, but they have only three weeks to write the book, the music, and the lyrics. It promises to be a make-believe behind-the-scenes look at the gritty but absurd task of creating make-believe.
"Working" (JCC CenterStage, October 13-28; jccrochester.org) Adapted from master interviewer Studs Terkel's conversations with hundreds of working people, "Working" turns the lives of factory workers, waitresses, schoolteachers, contractors, and more into a musical about, as they say, the hopes and fears of ordinary people. You'll be glad to know that even though their lives are tough, their spirits are undaunted. The lively score helps keep the show from turning into a "tribute of the human spirit."
"Freud's Last Session" (Geva Theatre Center, October 16-November 11; gevatheatre.org) This is another one of those gimmicky confrontations between two famous people who never met. Mark St. Germain has put elderly Sigmund Freud in a room with the young writer C.S. Lewis on the eve of World War II. When these plays work — and it takes great skill to pull them off, as in Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," seen at Geva during the 1997-1998 season — they are scintillating and exhilarating.
"Memphis" (Rochester Broadway Theater League, November 27-December 2; rbtl.org) The touring company of the 2010 Tony winner for Best Musical is currently working its way across the country. Set in the 1950's, it's a slick, high-volume crowd-pleaser about the coming of rock and roll, complicated by an interracial love affair that would have been controversial (and, in the South, dangerous). The story is fictional but based on the life of pioneering disc jockey Dewey Phillips.
"The Desk Set" (MuCCC, December 14-23; muccc.org) Few onscreen co-stars played together so long (nine movies over 25 years) or so delectably as stylized Katharine Hepburn and utterly natural Spencer Tracy. They could be deeply serious ("Keeper of the Flame") but mainly they did comedy, portraying characters who were shrewd, witty, generous, competitive, and funny. They were so wonderful that it never dawned on me to ask where the movies came from. Turns out that "Desk Set," one of their best, was a successful Broadway play two years before it was a movie. In a retro mood for the holidays, MuCCC is mounting William Marchant's rarely seen 1955 play about a female researcher and a male expert on what we then called "electronic brains."
"A Life in the Theatre" (Blackfriars Theatre, January 25-February 10; bftix.com) Plays and movies that pretend to offer backstage glimpses have always fascinated audiences. We've had, quintessentially, "All About Eve," as well as dozens of movie musicals and — perhaps best of all — David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre," about two actors, one aging and one young and ambitious. They seem to have a growing friendship based on collaboration and mutual respect. But this is Mamet; other things, like reputation and ambition, soon roil the waters.
"August: Osage County" (JCC CenterStage, March 9-24; jccrochester.org) I was fortunate to see Tracy Letts' Tony-winning play during its initial 2008 Broadway run. It's very funny, very long, and searingly honest in its portrayal of a family. Like nearly every important American play (from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" to "Long Day's Journey into Night" and even to "You Can't Take It with You") this is domestic drama — but it shows little mercy for those who inhabit it, and those who watch it. Performing it with a local cast is not an insignificant undertaking.
"33 Variations" (Blackfriars Theatre, April 12-27; bftix.com) This is a play I haven't seen, but the summary I read suggests that Tom Stoppard's influence is widespread. Moises Kaufman's play portrays Beethoven when he was writing the "Diabelli Variations" between 1819 and 1823, but also the struggle of current musicologist Katherine Brandt to figure out why the master wrote 33 different variations on what one commentator called "a simple theme by a nobody music publisher." In case things aren't complicated enough, she has ALS and a troubling daughter, and he is growing deaf.
"Funny Girl" (JCC CenterStage, May 4-19; jccrochester.org) The well-known show is guaranteed to attract the persistent audience for traditional musicals. The somewhat fictionalized character of Fanny Brice, Broadway's greatest comedienne ("Second Hand Rose") and one of its greatest torch singers ("My Man"), is the kind of part that female actors have been known to poison the popovers (and maybe the producer) to land. The show is tuneful and brassy (score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Merrill also being known for, believe it or not, "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?"), and if the person playing Fanny is good enough, it'll be a delight. If not...
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Geva Theatre Center, May 8-June 2; gevatheatre.org) If you get to see only one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies in a lifetime, this is the one to choose for its complexity and variety: its range of characters; its shifts in tone and language; its high poetry and rowdy joking, and its noble thoughts and comic confusion. Its many faces of love portray a world from four points of view — knockabout working men, young lovers both affable and addled, a ruler and his not-quite-submissive Amazon conquest, and the king and queen of the fairies, complete with magic potions. I've never seen a performance that got all of it, but how wondrous to watch the try. As always with Shakespeare, this is theater relishing being theater.