Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Mar 19, 2014
12:51 PM
Stage Write

Forward Moves, Um, Forward with "Unhinged" 2014-15 Season

PHOTO BY AARON R. CONKLIN

Forward's 2014–15 slate features a play with multiple teen actors and a Tony-winner.

As season taglines go, you have to admit it’s a pretty intriguing one.

“Unhinged” is the word Jennifer Gray, the artistic director of Forward Theater Company, picked to describe her company’s 2014–2015 season. Standing on the lobby staircase in the downtown offices of Michael Best and Friedrich last night, Gray took the wraps off the company’s sixth season, with an audience of local actors, theater supporters and board members looking on in anticipation. Each of the three plays features a character—or multiple characters—struggling to keep it together in the face of crisis, sometimes poignantly, sometimes tragically and sometimes hysterically.

First up in November is Liz Flahive’s From Up Here, a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family dealing with a troubled teen and the cloudy issues of school violence. The cast will feature four local teen actors, and gives Forward a great opportunity to partner with local groups like the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County to focus on and discuss bullying, violence and what it means to be an adolescent.

“You never actually find out what happened,” says Gray of the event that hovers over the family at the heart of the play. “That gives us the chance to talk about these important issues without getting bogged down in the details of a tragedy.”

In January 2015, Forward will debut playwright Sharr White’s 2011 play The Other Place, a piece that centers on a businesswoman whose rigid control of her life is shaken by a mysterious illness. She proves to be a particularly unreliable narrator, giving the play a serious sense of edge and unease.

Forward’s 2014–15 season wraps up with the season’s big coup: Christopher Durang’s  2013 Tony-winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a work whose original off-Broadway cast included Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. As the names in the title suggest, elements from the works of Anton Chekhov were Durang’s touchstone, but it’s no simple Chekhov parody—TV’s “Arrested Development” is probably the more apt touchstone. Dysfunctional middle-aged siblings Vanya and Sonia have their stagnant worlds rocked by the reappearance of their Hollywood-star sister Masha and her new clothing-averse boy toy, Spike. Arguments flare, old wounds are reopened, and everyone dresses like characters from Snow White. (No, really.)

Local actors like APT’s Sarah Day and Strollers' Theatre's William Bolz read scenes from each of the plays, giving attendees a brief but tantalizing taste of what’s to come. From here, it looks like Forward’s in great position to continue the momentum they’ve been building these last few years. 

For more information, visit forwardtheater.com.

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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