Cock, Busch, R&J, Q & more
by Richard Dodds
New Conservatory Theatre Center will open its 2014-15 season with a play that dared newspapers to speak its name. Despite a rave review in The New York Times, its critic had to go with a widely employed default title even if it contained the original offending word. They say tomato, we say to-mah-to; they say The Cockfight Play; we say Cock. It will be followed by seven more productions whose stories range from 17th-century London to the latest complications of gay life. Subscription tickets to the season recently announced by Artistic Director Ed Decker are now on sale, with the eight shows profiled below.
Cock (Sept. 5-Oct. 12) debuted in 2009 in London, where Michael Bartlett was already well established as a playwright. No doubt the coyly treated title upped its publicity value when it came to New York in 2012, but the story of a love triangle between two men and a woman, presented with an aura of a gladiator ring, won the same lauding reviews as it did in England.
Die! Mommie! Die! (Oct. 3-Nov. 2) was first a 2003 movie before it became a 2007 play, both written by and starring Charles Busch (Psycho Beach Party, The Divine Sister) as an amalgam of screen divas who turned to shocksploitation movies as their careers waned. In the case of Angela Arden, living comfortably enough in 1967 Beverly Hills with her gnarly husband and bratty daughter, she thinks widowhood may a key to rejuvenation, especially with her "tennis instructor" waiting courtside.
Shakespeare's R&J (Nov. 7-Dec. 14) marks a return to Joe Calarco's play for NCTC, which first presented this modern spin on Romeo and Juliet in 2002. Reflecting how times have changed since then, the setting has been moved from a strict parochial school in the U.S. to one in a developing country where four schoolboys decide on playing out the principal roles in the world's most famous romantic tragedy – a lark that becomes increasingly intense.
Avenue Q (Dec. 5-Jan. 18) marks a much quicker revival of a show previously seen at NCTC. It was just a few months ago that the Tony Award-winning musical that takes a Sesame Street-type stroll through adulthood (and puppethood) turned out to be a record-breaking hit for the theater.
Harbor (Jan. 23-March 1) watches as a couple living the contemporary dream gay life – newly married, tastefully housed, socially embraced – find their lives upended, both comically and unnervingly, with the arrival of a vagabond sister and her teenage daughter, who provoke unwanted truths all around. Playwright Chad Beguelin is best known as a lyricist-librettist, most recently for Disney's Aladdin .
Other Desert Cities (March 6-April 5), like Harbor, is also a look at apparent familial contentment upended by the arrival of an errant relative. Written by Jon Robin Baitz (The Paris Letter ), the setting is the Palm Springs home of a Reagan-esque couple with a dark stain on the family's name that the wife's wayward sister plans to reveal in her memoirs. The time of year is, what else? – Christmas.
From White Plains (March 20-April 26) looks at teenage bullying, but years after the abuse and with a twist. When the victim of high school abuse wins an Oscar, he uses his acceptance speech to out his main tormentor, and the roles of bully and bullied are gradually reversed as the quest for vengeance snowballs. Playwright Michael Perlman wrote From White Plains, first seen in New York in 2012, in collaboration with the original four cast members.
Compleat Female Stage Beauty (May 15-June 14) found wide audiences when Jeffrey Hatcher adapted his play for the movie Stage Beauty. It's a fictionalized look at the life and career of Edward Kynaston, whose stardom playing female roles in 17th-century London came to a staggering end when a woman snuck into a production attended by King Charles II, who promptly revoked the law forbidding women to appear on stage.