Audiences hungry for live theater will be treated to a bountiful buffet when Harlequin Productions reopens Oct. 22.
Since Covid-19 brought “The Highest Tide” to an early end in March 2020, the company’s State Theater has “essentially been frozen in time,” artistic director Aaron Lamb said Saturday at the company’s virtual season announcement.
That will all change quickly come fall, when the company plans to premiere three plays in three weeks. The shows — two focused on the lives and music of legendary divas Rosemary Clooney and Billie Holiday and the third, “Until the Flood,” an in-depth examination of the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — will play in rotating repertory, with Lamb’s own adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” joining the rotation on Nov. 28.
“We wanted to create more opportunities for people to see theatre post-pandemic,” Lamb told OLY ARTS. “We sense that people are eager to participate in live events as never before, and we want to feed that excitement with a big reopening and the chance for patrons to see more than one show a month.” He said he doesn’t expect repertory theater to become a regular part of the company’s offerings.
The shows opening this year were chosen in part to facilitate any possible need for physical distancing. Both “Tenderly,” about Clooney, and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” about Holiday, are one-woman shows. “Flood,” by Dael Orlandersmith, is structured as a series of monologues; it was created as a one-woman show, though Harlequin plans to stage it with a cast of five or six. And “Carol,” which the company plans to make an annual tradition, will be presented this year with a scaled-down cast.
“We planned the season and applied for rights and Actor’s Equity approval a few months ago, when it was still very unclear what would happen in the fall,” Lamb said. “Just to be safe, we planned for smaller casts to facilitate rehearsals, back stage safety, etc. We assumed that regulations would still be in place through 2021 and have tried to guard against the unknown as best we can.”
The repertory offerings and the slowly increasing size of productions aren’t the only changes the pandemic has wrought for Harlequin. “The ability to stop the whirlwind and see the world around us has given us an opportunity for reflection,” Lamb said at the season announcement. “(All of us had) an opportunity to begin to recognize the little and sometimes not so little inequities and injustices that surround us every day and to recognize ourselves as complicit. … This is the gift wrapped in the absolute hell that 2020 and 2021 have so far given us.
“We have an obligation — as a community and as an organization — to make sure that we do not restart our world … in a manner that allows the same inequities and injustices to continue,” he said. What Harlequin is aiming to do is to show on its stage the world as it is and to tell stories about all kinds of people, not just the relatively affluent and mostly white Americans who make up most of the theater’s audiences.
“Flood,” based on interviews with people affected by the shooting in Ferguson and the social uprising that flowed, is one example; another is “Sovereignty,” about a young lawyer’s struggle to restore the legal jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.
There’s been a change offstage, too: The company has merged its box office with the box office at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts – an arrangement that will allow Harlequin to manage with existing front-of-house staff. The box office at the State Theater will still be open before shows at the State Theater, but at other times, staff will work in the center’s box office.
Here’s a look at the full season, which includes 11 shows — including two productions of “A Christmas Carol” — and stretches till January 2023:
“Tenderly” (Oct. 22-Nov. 20): Katherine Strohmaier, who starred with Lamb in 2016’s “The Last Five Years,” plays Rosemary Clooney in a show that combines Clooney’s signature songs with the story of her rise to Hollywood stardom.
“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Oct. 29-Nov. 27): Alexandria J. Henderson of Seattle plays Billie Holiday in a one-woman show set at the seedy Philadelphia bar where the legendary singer gave one of her last performances.
“Until the Flood” (Nov. 5-Dec. 4): Pulitzer Prize finalist and celebrated performer and playwright Dael Orlandersmith explores the aftermath of the shooting of teenager Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, in a show based on a series of interviews with Missouri residents.
“A Christmas Carol” (Nov. 28-Jan. 2 and again November 2022-January 2023: Terry Edward Moore (“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol”) is set to star in Lamb’s original take on the holiday classic. “It will be an exciting, original production, filled with ghosts, special effects, Christmas cheer and yes, some music,” Lamb said.
“Murder for Two” (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): Musical comedy meets old-fashioned murder mystery in this fast-paced whodunit, starring Strohmaier and Seattle actor-pianist Jon Lutyens.
“Endgame” (March 11-April 2): Harlequin opened its third season with Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and this season presents the follow-up piece “Endgame,” which the playwright considered to be his masterpiece. Also on the program is Beckett’s short sketch “Rough for Theatre II.”
“Sovereignty” (May 6-28): Mary Katherine Nagle’s 2018 drama blends personal and political in the story of a Cherokee lawyer working to restore the legal jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation as she confronts the ghosts of her grandfathers.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (June 24-July 30, 2022): The groundbreaking rock musical, which tells the story of a genderqueer East German singer, has won multiple Tony Awards and attracted a cult following.
“This Flat Earth” (Aug. 26-Sept. 17, 2022): Originally planned for the ill-fated 2020 season, Lindsey Ferrentino’s 2018 play follows two 12-year-olds in the wake of a school shooting. This will be the company’s second take on “Earth,” which was part of the radio theater-style season streamed online in the fall.
“Fun Home” (Oct. 7-Nov. 5, 2022): The Tony-winning musical based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel goes back and forth in time as the adult protagonist sees her childhood through grown-up eyes. This show, also originally scheduled to be part of Harlequin’s 2020 season, was a hit when South Puget Sound Community College produced it in 2019.
Harlequin Productions 2021-2022 season
State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Season tickets are on sale now, with single tickets available Aug. 16.
$20-$35 for straight plays, $25-$49 for “A Christmas Carol,” $25-$42 for other musicals