Merrimack Repertory Theatre celebrated the announcement of its 2018-19 season, the company's 40th Anniversary Season, at a party Tuesday evening on the theater's Nancy L. Donahue stage in its Liberty Hall home in downtown Lowell.
It marks the first time MRT has achieved gender parity in its presented playwrights, with five of the seven plays authored by women: Karen Zacarias' "Native Gardens," "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley," by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon," Wendy MacLeod's "Slow Food," Gunderson's "The Heath," and Molly Smith Metzler's "Cry It Out."
The season also features a new adaptation of a lost novel set in Lowell by Jack Kerouac, "The Haunted Life," and a raucous whodunit starring co-writer Joe Kinosian, "Murder for Two."
"As MRT turns 40, it's exciting to see it really coming into its own as a local theater that the world pays attention to," said artistic director Sean Daniels, who begins his fourth year here. "And we are thrilled to have women authoring the majority of this season's plays. Plus, we get to showcase world premieres by Wendy MacLeod, an MRT favorite for "Women in Jeopardy!," and our own Lauren Gunderson, who is now the most produced playwright in America. That's all on top of us premiering a new adaptation of Kerouac -- there's nothing more Lowell than hearing his gorgeous words inside MRT. We have musicals, comedies and the best writers in our country bringing their work here. These are some of my favorite artists that I'm sure, in no time, will be some of yours as well.
The season opens with "Native Gardens" by Karen Zacarias, Sept. 12-Oct. 7, a new comedy about plants, power and privilege that will feature MRT favorites Julia Brothers and Joel Colodner.
It continues with the musical "Murder for Two," with book and music by Joe Kinosian and book and lyrics by Kellen Blair, Oct. 17-Nov. 11. Dubbed "an ingenious miniature musical in the form of a snazzy vaudevillian double-act" by The New York Times, it involves one murder, two actors, six suspects and one piano.
MRT greets the holidays with "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, Nov. 28-Dec. 23. It's a lush period drama that is a holiday treat for Jane Austen fans in a warm-hearted blend of wit and manners.
The world premiere of Wendy MacLeod's "Slow Food" runs Jan. 9-Feb. 3. The comedy delves into Irene and Peter's dealings with the world's worst waiter as they celebrate their anniversary in Palm Springs.
"The Heath" by Lauren Gunderson has its world premiere in the Feb. 13-March 10 slot. Dubbed a "soul-stirring story of redemption, love, madness and the science of memory," it delves into making peace across generations and marks the fourth play by Gunderson, America's most produced playwright, that MRT has mounted.
"The Haunted Life," a world premiere by Kerouac, adapted by Daniels, plays March 20-April 14. It is presented in honor of MRT's 40th anniversary season and is an adaptation of his "lost" novel set in Lowell. It follows the coming-of-age story of college student Peter Martin and his relationship with his conservative father.
The season concludes with "Cry It Out" by Molly Smith Metzler, April 24-May 19. It is a comedy for every new mom and takes an honest look at the absurdities of being home with a baby.
"I'm excited to see MRT continue to grow during this incredible 40th Anniversary Season, gaining local, regional and national recognition as the place for new plays and as a community partner in arts education," said Bonnie Butkas, MRT's new executive director.
Donald Bedard, president of MRT's board of trustees, said, "We are thrilled with the seven plays selected for the new season. We are confident that the theater will flourish under Sean and Bonnie's leadership and pave the way for another 40 years of exciting, professional live theater in Lowell."
Information on the new season is at www.mrt.org/1819Season. Subscriptions are available now at the Box Office or call 978-654-4678. Single tickets go on sale July 30 and range from $27-$75.
Nancye Tuttle's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Marquee
'GODSPELL' IN SHIRLEY: Paul Picardi of Lowell stars as Jesus in a new production "Godspell," the classic 1971 musical by composer Stephen Schwartz and playwright John-Michael Tebelak. Produced by Shirley/Arts and featuring a cast of 23 local actors, it is being staged on Friday-Saturday, March 23-24, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 25, at 2 p.m., at the Ayer Shirley Middle School Auditorium, 1 Hospital Road in Shirley. The cast of 23 comes from Shirley, Groton, Pepperell, Lowell, Lunenburg, Leominster, Fitchburg, Gardner, and Worcester. The production is directed by Shirley's Meredith Marcinkewicz and choreographed by Laurie Marcinkewicz of Fitchburg. In the play, a small group of people help Jesus Christ tell different parables by using a wide variety of games, storytelling techniques and hefty doses of comic timing. An eclectic blend of songs, ranging in style from pop to vaudeville, tells the story of Jesus' life and his message of kindness, tolerance and love. Songs include the hit "Day by Day," "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord," "Learn Your Lessons Well," "All for the Best," "All Good Gifts," "Turn Back, O Man" and "By My Side." Tickets are $15 at the door, $12 in advance at the Hazen Memorial Library in Shirley. Tickets also available online for $12 plus handling fee at www.mktix.com/sha.
SUMMER FUN: Registration is open for Cannon Theatre's 2018 summer program for kids and teens ages 8-18 at its location at 410 Great Road, Littleton. "Sip Sassparilly Saloon," an original musical written and directed by Shawn Cannon, is the catchy title of the project they'll create during the two-week session, which will be held Monday-Thursday, July 30-Aug. 2, and Aug. 5-9, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., each day. Performances will be on Thursday-Friday, Aug. 9-10 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee Aug. 9 at 4 p.m. Visit www.thecannontheatre.org and go to the Summer Program Page for registration forms. Call 978-448-2108 for information.