Miss either of Soulpepper’s marathons – Tony Kushner’s Angels in America or Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests – this year? Not to worry – the Toronto theatre company is bringing back both of these acclaimed sets of plays for a second lap next season due to popular demand, artistic director Albert Schultz revealed on Tuesday.
“These multiplay experiences have certainly been the two biggest draws for us this year – there’s something about the event of it,” Schultz said. “2012 was our best season ever as far as attendance and this season is on track to match it.”
The Norman Conquests – three 1970s comedies starring Schultz as a sister-seducing assistant librarian – will run round the garden again in February, while Angels in America’s two parts will fly back onto the stage in June.
Naturally, Soulpepper will not just be resting on its laurels, but has eight new productions currently on the schedule for 2014. Two very well-known works are slotted for the summer – Reginald Rose’s jury-room drama Twelve Angry Men and Molière’s Tartuffe (which, running in repertory with a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, will create an unofficial mini-marathon of plays about religious hypocrisy).
But the civic theatre company will also be dipping into several lesser-known plays that premiered in the 20th century as well.
Robert E. Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight – a 1936 comedy in which countesses, arms dealers, showgirls and revolutionaries consort at a resort in the Swiss Alps – officially opens the 2014 season in January, kicking off what Schultz describes as a five-year exploration of the dramatic impact of the First and the Second World Wars timed to their respective 100 and 75th anniversaries.
Sherwood’s play depicts Europe on the precipice of war and won the American playwright the first of three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, but it’s also a crowd-pleaser. (“The trouble with me is that I start with a big message and end up with nothing but good entertainment,” Sherwood, later a speechwriter for FDR, once complained to a columnist.)
Also early in Soulpepper’s season are new looks at two 1980s classics by Irish and South African masters: Tom Murphy’s The Gigli Concert and Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca.
As far as Canadian-penned scripts, Soulpepper will revive David Young’s 1992 play Glenn, about the country’s most famous pianist, and premiere Vern Thiessen’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage in its regular season. British playwright Ben Power’s A Tender Thing caps off the bill – an innovative adaptation, it reshuffles the text of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to turn it into a romance between two elderly lovers. Directors and casts of all productions in 2014 are yet to be announced.
Even when the company is not training for marathons, Soulpepper never seems to sit still for very long – and the upcoming season will feature two small but significant shifts in how the company operates.
First of all, Soulpepper has now swallowed up all the extra shows that are programmed at the Young Centre, the theatre that houses the company, under its own brand. That means 2014 visiting productions like Videocabaret’s Trudeau and the FLQ, Judith Thompson’s Borne (featuring a company of actors in wheelchairs), and the return of Why Not Theatre’s international hit A Brimful of Asha will appear under the banner “Soulpepper presents”.
Secondly, in order to build more flexibility in the schedule, Soulpepper is now only announcing nine months of programming in the fall – with the following fall’s programming to follow in the spring. Explains Schultz, “Putting together an entire 12-month schedule a year and a half in advance gives very little space to react to what’s happening creatively within the organization or within the community.”