Promising no tantrums, no screaming fits directed at the actors or stage crews, the Alley Theatre's new artistic director Rob Melrose, today announced the rest of the Alley's next season, the first of his devising and one that includes a modern retelling of the Don Quixote story, a Lawrence Wright play about the Camp David peace accord and a story about a young father who joins a white supremacist Group.
Moving beyond their initial teaser announcement of five offerings in the 2019-2020 season, Alley Theatre added new plays and world premieres to its lineup, making for a season that should be both reassuring and challenging to audience members.
"I basically had three goals in putting the season together," said Melrose who came to Houston from San Francisco. "The first is just making sure, even though I want to bring my own sensibility to the Alley, I want it to still be like the Alley. So there should still be a mix of classical and new plays. We should still do Christmas Carol and the Summer Chills so that the people who love the Alley will feel like this still feels like the Alley to me.
"My second goal was to bring a greater diversity to the Alley so that the stories we tell and the artists that we bring in to the Alley better reflect the diversity of Houston.
"And then my third goal was to really lean in to the acting company, recognizing that the Alley has one of the last three acting companies in the United States and to make sure they were brightly featured and stretched from genre to genre."
One of the new works added to the lineup is Quixote Nuevo, a modern retelling of the Don Quixote classic by Cervantes, based on the Texas-Mexico border. It's a special co-production with two other theater companies. The playwright is Octavio Solis, who Melrose said, is originally from Texas. "He just wrote a wonderful book of short stories. He's been a playwright in the Bay area for 20 years. He's really having a lot of success right now."
Auditions will start in Houston and the production will appear first in Hartford, Connecticut and and Boston before coming to Houston, Melrose said. He's hoping to pick up at least two cast members from Houston. The Alley was ready to pursue this all by itself but found out Huntington was also pursuing it. Later Hartford chimed in. Director KJ Sanchez made the argument that it would have a much higher national profile if it was done by all three companies together and would keep the people involved employed longer and it would set the show up better for a possible run in New York, Melrose said.
"I also felt like it was important in my first year to show to the national theater community that the Alley wants to play well with others, wants to collaborate. So I thought between KJ's really good argument and kind of ushering in a new era at the Alley, I thought it was a good signal to send the world."
Camp David by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright looks at the Middle East Peace accord hammered out by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, with the help of President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carte. Oskar Eustis will direct.
"We're really excited to have Larry Wright back," Melrose said. "Camp David was supposed to go to Broadway in a four-person version. It didn't wind up in going to Broadway but Larry’s expanded the play to a six-person version. It's also a way for Oskar to explore whether this play might have a life in New York.
The classic 1984, based on George Orwell's original is next in the lineup followed by Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell which despite its title is a comedy.
The world premiere of Amerikin by Chisa Hutchinson examines the consequences when a young father joins a white supremacist group. "I think that's going to have a life after the Alley," Melrose said. It will be directed by James Black who has been the Alley's interim artistic director between the departure of Gregory Boyd and the hiring of Melrose. Black, who selected the 2018-19 season, made significant advances in diversity in casting and play selection — obviously the same approach embraced by Melrose.
Melrose said he's looking forward to what they'll do with Sense and Sensibility is a new adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. "I saw an amazing production of it in New York in a small basement theater. It was really theatrical and lively and playful. It was still true to the period and true to the novel but it was irreverent in its sense of theatricality and and doubling and it was kind of scrappy.
"I feel like a number of theaters have tried to do it on a bigger stage and have kind of gotten stuck in more of a Masterpiece Theatre mode, which I think isn't what the adaptation is and isn't the fun of the adaptation. So I've hired a long time collaborator of mine, Adriana Baer, who I think has the chops to do it on a big stage and keep that sense of playfulness and theatricality.
The season will also include the fifth annual Alley All New Festival early in the year.
These will be in addition to the previously announced Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Vietgone, A Christmas Carol — A Ghost Story of Christmas and Fully Committed.
Melrose is playing with The Winter's Tale a bit, re-locating it to "high-rise Houston" and "cowboy West Texas." He says one important thing about theater is that "it can speak to its city. Texas culture is so rich and delicious and to have a work that reflects Texas culture is really fun. Good theaters really do speak to the town they're in."
"I've just been having such a good time getting to know Texas and getting to know Houston that my first season is a love letter to Texas as well."
Asked about his management style, Melrose said, "It's pretty much the opposite of my predecessor [Boyd]. I'm much more transparent in fact I'm terrible at keeping secrets. It was very hard for me not to tell everyone what the season was."
"The big thing is I believe in collaboration," Melrose said. "I actually see it as the driver of good theater. Once you give over to the collaborative process you realize oh, there's real power here. We as a group just created something together that none of us individually could have ever done. If I only wanted my vision I would have been a novelist because I would have had complete control over what this thing becomes.
"But the reason I like theater is because you get people who are experts in their particular field whether it's sound design or lighting design or set design or acting or play writing and you're all collaborating and working together. Each person is adding their expertise to the mix.
"You’re actually inviting people in to create something together. That's how all the theater I admire was created that way. I happen to think it's a better way of working. It's also a nicer, kinder, more humane way of working because you're not screaming at people, not throwing tantrums. You're trying to draw out the best work of the people around you. That's my management style. It’s the way I am as a director.
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"The Alley staff is really strong and they’re really, really good at what they do."
For more information about the upcoming season, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org.
Once again, the season:
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Adapted by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Rob Melrose
Previews Begin July 19, Opens July 24, Closes August 25, 2019
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a plot-twist masterpiece that has thrilled mystery lovers
from television, radio, and film. Playwright Ken Ludwig (The Three Musketeers) adapts the classic thriller
that features renowned detective Hercule Poirot and a cast of characters sure to have audiences
guessing just who did it.
Shakespeare’s romantic dramedy
THE WINTER’S TALE
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Rob Melrose
Previews Begin September 13, Opens September 18, Closes October 13, 2019
Shakespeare’s whimsical tale of romance, tragedy, and comedy will take center stage in familiar places
for Alley audiences. Set in Texas, this magical tale will be seen through the imaginative eyes of a child
from Houston. This play is a sweeping story of wrath and redemption and of lost and then found love.
Together, the Resident Acting Company will tell Shakespeare’s beloved fable of hard-won joy and the
promise of renewal.
A raucous comedy of two very new Americans
By Qui Nguyen
Original Music by Shane Rettig
Directed by Desdemona Chiang
Previews Begin October 4, Opens October 9, Closes November 3, 2019
It’s 1975. Saigon has fallen. He lost his wife. She lost her fiancé. But now in America, a strange new land
of cowboys, hippies, and bikers, these two Vietnamese refugees just might find each other. Remixing
history and culture into a funny and energetic fantasia, playwright Qui Nguyen creates a contemporary
twist on the boy meets girl story that The New York Times hails as “a raucous, immensely moving
comedy.” Using his irreverent, infectious style, Nguyen takes audiences on a hilariously rip-roaring ride
across 1970s America with a hot soundtrack that serves up hip-hop, sass, and revolution.
Family holiday tradition
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS
By Charles Dickens
Adapted and Originally Directed by Michael Wilson
Directed by James Black
Previews Begin November 15, Opens November 17, Closes December 29, 2019
A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas is a family-friendly re-telling of Charles Dickens’ classic
story, which follows Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey with the three ghostly spirits who visit him on
Christmas Eve. A Christmas Carol instills a powerful message about redemption and the spirit of the
One-man holiday comedy
By Becky Mode
Directed by Brandon Weinbrenner
Previews Begin November 26, Opens December 1, Closes December 29, 2019
Becky Mode’s hilarious and delicious comedy, featuring over 40 characters, comes to life in the hands of
one man. Meet Sam. He works the reservation line at one of New York's hottest restaurants, where the
best food inspires the worst behavior. Coercion, threats, and bribes from a cast of desperate callers, all
brought to life by one man, prove they will stop at nothing to land a prime reservation or the right table.
While juggling scheming socialites, name?dropping wannabes, fickle celebrities, and egomaniacal
bosses, can he still manage to get home for the holidays?
By Octavio Solis
Adapted from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Directed by KJ Sanchez
Previews Begin January 17, Opens January 22, Closes February 9, 2020
Directed by Texas-native KJ Sanchez and starring “Sesame Street’s” Emilio Delgado, Quixote Nuevo by
celebrated playwright Octavio Solis is an inspiring reimagining of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Set in a
fictional modern-day Texas border town, Quixote and his recruited sidekick embark on an adventure in
search of long-lost love. Infused with imagination, Tejano music, and true Texas soul, Quixote Nuevo
shows the challenges of living in this modern world all the while in pursuit of a lost dream. The play is a
co-production with Hartford Stage and Huntington Theater Company.
Power and politics
By Lawrence Wright
Directed by Oskar Eustis
Previews Begin February 14, Opens February 20, Closes March 15, 2020
From the Texas playwright of the world premiere Alley hit Cleo. Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright,
author of God Save Texas and The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, offers a behind-thescenes
look at a historical moment whose legacy continues to resonate 41 years later. In the tumultuous
1970s, Middle East peace seemed nearly as impossible as it does today. Yet during 13 days in 1978,
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, with the powerful help of
U.S. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter, hammered out an agreement that inspired
the entire world. Wright’s play is filled with humor, insights, and a view towards hope.
By George Orwell
Adapted by Michael Gene Sullivan
Directed by Rob Melrose
Preview Begin March 6, Opens March 11, Closes March 29, 2020
Based on George Orwell’s futuristic novel, 1984 brings us the story of Winston Smith and a stark vision of
a world in which freedom of action, word, and thought are controlled by Big Brother. As the story of
Winston’s fight for individual identity unfolds, the vision grows increasingly terrifying as the world it depicts
grows uncomfortably familiar. How far are we from realizing Orwell’s nightmare? Are we already there?
Can there be more than one truth, more than one set of facts? A ferocious and provocative adaptation of
one of the most prescient works of literature of the last century.
Off the wall comedy
DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Brandon Weinbrenner
Previews Begin April 17, Opens April 22, Closes May 10, 2020
An incessantly ringing cell phone in a quiet café. A stranger at the next table who has had enough. And a
dead man. So begins Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a wildly imaginative comedy by Sarah Ruhl (The Clean
House). An off the wall play about the odyssey of a woman forced to confront her own assumptions about
morality, redemption, and the need to connect in a technologically obsessed world.
By Chisa Hutchinson
Directed by James Black
Previews Begin May 8, Opens May 14, Closes June 7, 2020
Developed as part of the 2019 Alley All New Festival. Jeff Browning, a new father desperate for
community, casually follows his buddy’s advice and tries to join a white supremacist group…but the
results of his ancestry test prove surprising. Amerikin follows Jeff as serious consequences come
knocking and the line between "us" and "them" gets incredibly blurry.
Classic romantic favorite
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
By Kate Hamill
Directed by Adriana Baer
Based on the novel by Jane Austen
Previews Begin June 5, Opens June 10, Closes July 5, 2020
A playful new adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the
Dashwood sisters—sensible Elinor and hypersensitive Marianne—after their father’s sudden death leaves
them financially destitute and socially vulnerable. Set in gossipy late 18th-century England, with a fresh
female voice, the play is full of humor, emotional depth, and bold theatricality. Sense and Sensibility
examines our reactions, both reasonable and ridiculous, to societal pressures. When reputation is
everything, how do you follow your heart?
ALLEY ALL NEW FESTIVAL
January 17 – 26, 2020
The fifth annual Alley All New Festival features new plays from some of the most exciting voices in
contemporary theatre. All Alley All New workshop performances and readings are free and open to the
public. Festival packages featuring prime seating, parties with festival artists and meals between
performances, will be available for purchase in May.