Come back in a few years and the most-produced playwright at Soulpepper Theatre Company might no longer be Ferenc Molnar or Anton Chekhov or Alan Ayckbourn – but African-American writer Suzan-Lori Parks.
The Toronto theatre company has secured the rights to produce the first three parts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's highly acclaimed new spin on The Odyssey set during the American Civil War, Father Comes Home from the Wars.
Director Weyni Mengesha will direct – and the plan is for her to tackle the remaining six plays in Parks's nine-part saga in Toronto after they premiere in the United States.
"We're hoping this will be a three-year investment in this epic piece," said Albert Schultz, Soulpepper's artistic director, who was captivated by the first three parts at New York's Public Theatre a year and a half ago.
On stage at Soulpepper in July, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts I, II, III) – deemed "the finest work yet from this gifted writer" by the New York Times – will feature many of Canada's top black actors, including Walter Borden, Divine Brown, Daren A. Herbert, Lisa Berry and Orphan Black's Kevin Hanchard.
It is the centrepiece of a 2016 lineup to be announced on Tuesday that shows Soulpepper continuing to evolve from a classics-based company to a civic theatre that takes gender equality and cultural diversity seriously.
"I think this season goes in the right direction," Schultz said. "As well as four female writers, three directors of colour and two writers of colour in the season, I think they'll probably be at least 10 actors of colour having a Soulpepper debut this season."
In total, five young directors will be making their debuts with Soulpepper in 2015.
In January, Ins Choi – writer and star of the national hit Kim's Convenience – will tackle Michael Golamco's Cowboy Versus Samurai, a comedy based on Cyrano de Bergerac about the only Korean-American in a small Midwest town.
In March, recent Soulpepper Academy participant Frank Cox-O'Connell will direct Albert Camus's The Just in a new translation by Bobby Theodore, while Erin Brandenburg will helm a new adaptation of Lorca's Blood Wedding by Guillermo Verdecchia, set in rural Ontario.
In May, Gregory Prest, one of Soulpepper's best young actors, will take his first directorial turn at the company with Wendy Wasserstein's Tony-winning comedy The Heidi Chronicles.
And that same month, in what's sure to be one of the most anticipated productions of the season, Aaron Willis will direct Soulpepper founding member Nancy Palk in The Testament of Mary, a Tony-nominated one-woman show about the mother of Jesus penned by Colm Toibin. "Nancy took one season off and it seems like a very long time," Schultz said. "She'll knock this one out of the park."
Rounding out the first part of Soulpepper's 2016 season, Hungarian director Laszlo Marton will direct Ibsen's A Doll's House; the in-demand director Ravi Jain will return to take on a stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps; Leah Cherniak will direct the popular 1987 comedy she co-wrote with Robert Morgan and Martha Ross, The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine; and director Alan Dilworth will tackle Arthur Miller's historical drama Incident at Vichy.
Additionally, three well-received Soulpepper shows will return for victory laps: Dilworth's Dora-winning production of the classic jury-room drama, Twelve Angry Men; Jitters, David French's backstage comedy; and Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.
Amid all this theatrical activity, Soulpepper will also be shooting a television series based on Kim's Convenience from June to August – set to premiere on CBC the following winter. "I think we're the first theatre company [in Canada] to produce a television series," said Schultz. "It's very exciting.
Soulpepper will announce its 2016 fall programming at a later date. (For more information, see soulpepper.ca.)