Update: Oedipus for Kids opens Saturday, August 20; Spring Awakening opens June 15, 2012.)
The Valley theater company that swears its name is not about running around with no clothes on but manages to do it with some regularity nevertheless (and for that, we salute them) has unveiled its latest season including a revival, a neglected play by one of the funniest people on the planet, a limited-run co-production of a yummy recent multi-Tony-winning musical, and a season opener that feels so wrong it tingles. Yay.
So let's grab a snack and a pillow, settle in to our compartment on the Season Preview Express, and superficially analyze four shows that just might make you want to spring for a subscription.
We'll go chronologically. The season opens quite soon, with Oedipus for Kids on Saturday, August 20. If it were just what it sounds like (Greeks, incest, eye-gouging, and kids!), that would probably be cool enough, but this is a play within a play (at least), in which three (adult) actors play people who somewhat tumultuously run a theater company for young audiences that's presenting its new musical to an audience that has the power to grant or withhold funding.
High jinks don't just ensue -- they are the backstory, the subtext, and the gift of the motherfuckin' gods. Plus Johanna Carlisle gets to sing a song: "My Lover Is My Husband Is My Son."
Next up, opening November 18, is The Naked Eye by Paul Rudnick. Mainstream audiences know his writing from I Hate Hamlet and In and Out, and other people also know him from plays like Jeffrey and Valhalla (a 2005 tour de force by Nearly Naked), those vicious Libby Gelman-Waxner "industry" columns in the sadly defunct Premiere magazine, and his spittingly funny Shouts & Murmurs one-pagers in the New Yorker that you can't resist reading aloud to your significant other.
The Naked Eye is really about beauty and freedom and being yourself, but the script is mostly about a political family and a controversial Mapplethorpe-esque photographer. The show was rewritten after its mid-'90s debut as The Naked Truth, when a prominent set piece was a nice, big photo of a penis, which would be handy because NNT can probably just Photoshop one of the many they have cluttering up their press archives. We also hear the show features many juicy comic turns to make actors happy.
Shakespeare's R & J, by Joe Calarco, returns to the Nearly Naked stage on January 6, 2012. It was presented by the company in 2003, which is longer ago than it feels like. Four students from an all-boys' Catholic school meet in private to read a banned copy of Romeo and Juliet. The beauty and rebellion championed in the text (I'm beginning to sense a theme here) possess the young men until they're essentially performing the play.
This adaptation is fascinating for theater people on yet another couple of levels beyond its raw, contemporary relevance that speaks to all audiences. Sure, we get to see men unselfconsciously performing female roles, as was the norm in Shakespeare's time, which also highlights the timeless universality of his writing.
But we can also debate whether this show is the kind of dicking around with Shakespeare that's reverent and enlightening or the kind that's ill-advised and exploitive. (Critical opinion and my disgustingly academically savvy Facebook friends lean toward the former.)
The one show on the schedule that is not recommended for mature audiences only is the one show on the schedule that has not yet been named, so don't buy tickets for your 9-year-old just yet. It opens March 9, 2012, and the rights are still being pursued, or so the enemy would have us believe.
Next comes a Phoenix Theatre co-production of Spring Awakening, the extremely popular rock-musical version of a groundbreaking, filthy, shocking, German proto-Expressionist play from 1906. It shows what happens when you decide it's best not to let your children learn anything about sex.
If you haven't already gotten interested in this show because of the fetishy antique underwear and long woollen socks, I'll remind you that Lea Michele was in this on Broadway before she was cast in Glee, and the score's by Duncan Sheik, who (if you're not already a fan and therefore know this) is far more talented and prolific than his one-hit-wonder ("Barely Breathing") status would indicate. And it runs only two weekends, starting June 15, 2012 -- sounds like a hot ticket.
Call 602-254-2151 for tickets to Nearly Naked's shows, most of which are presented at the Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre, 100 East McDowell Road. ("Spring Awakening" will grace PT's Mainstage at the same address.) Admission prices vary.
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Finally, yes, you have one more chance to see Greg Kotis' The Unhappiness Plays before it travels to the New York Fringe Festival. This Saturday night, August 6, give Space 55 Theatre $20 to help them cover the cost of their trip to NYC and enjoy a show you shouldn't have missed the first time around. I don't often threaten, but your life will be diminished if you miss this. (Not by me personally -- I'm just saying.)