Just last month, fellow blogger Tim Hulsey and I had a wistful conversation, asking each other why nobody has yet produced the full set of August Wilson’s ten plays, set in each decade of the 20th century. Two of the plays, Jitney and Gem of the Ocean, had recent Washington productions (at Ford’s Theatre and Arena Stage). Sometimes called the “Pittsburgh Cycle” because of the setting of nine of the ten plays in the playwright's hometown, Wilson’s works as a whole offer a singular exploration and reflection of the African-American experience.
Or, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it in an obituary tribute to Wilson in October 2005, “In dramatizing the glory, anger, promise, and frustration of being black in America, he created a world of the imagination – August Wilson’s Hill District – to rank with such other transformational fictional worlds as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, Hardy’s Wessex, or Friel’s Donegal.”
Now we have the prospect of having our wish fulfilled. At the announcement of the Kennedy Center’s 2007-2008 season on March 6, President Michael Kaiser revealed that, supported by a grant from the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation, “the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will present August Wilson’s 20th Century – the playwright’s complete ten-play cycle – as staged readings with costumes, lighting, and scenery in the Center’s Terrace Theater” from March 4 through March 29, 2008.
A distinguished cast of more than two dozen actors will appear in the plays, among them John Amos, Rocky Carroll, Keith David, and Phylicia Rashad, The directors of the plays will be Kenny Leon – also serving as the series’ artistic director – Lou Bellamy, Gordon Davidson, Todd Kreidler, and Derrick Sanders.
The Wilson cycle is only one highlight among many in the Kennedy Center’s upcoming season. In late December, a new production of My Fair Lady directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Matthew Bourne (whose ballet, Edward Scissorhands, played the Opera House last month) will arrive for a three-week run. Disney’s The Lion King will open in June 2008, and a new play commissioned by the Kennedy Center and developed by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter (written by Julie Marie Myatt), will premiere in July 2007.
Programming the 2007-2008 season was complicated by the fact that the Eisenhower Theater will be closed for renovations throughout the year. As a consequence, more productions will be mounted in the Terrace Theater (which often is empty in comparison to the larger houses).
Another highlight of the season comes in February 2008, when a multi-disciplinary festival called “Japan! culture + hyperculture” arrives. For two weeks, Kennedy Center audiences will be able to enjoy theater, dance, music, visual arts, and film. There will be exhibits of textiles, design, and technology, as well as manga (graphic novels) and anime. A special offering called “Robotopia Rising” will explore the development of robots in Japan from medieval automatons to futuristic humanoids. (In fact, a Toyota-built robot opened the announcement news conference by playing “What a Wonderful World” on the trumpet, to the delight of the audience in the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater.)
“Ballet Across America” – which will bring ballet companies from across the United States for a five-day repertory season – begins a ten-year commitment to gather America’s best performing arts troupes in Washington. Supported through a grant from the Charles E. Smith Family Foundation, in future years the Kennedy Center will bring theatrical groups, orchestras, choruses, and other performers to the Nation’s Capital to demonstrate the depth and breadth of American artistic endeavor.
The new season also includes a tribute to Leonard Slatkin, in his last year as director of the National Symphony Orchestra, extensive offerings in jazz, and a special program of a capella music, which will include performances by Bobby McFerrin and the Manhattan Transfer, among others.
The foregoing paragraphs only skim the surface of what the 2007-2008 season at the Kennedy Center will include. For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.