The past five years have seen Harvard’s A.R.T. do a reliable business sending plays from Cambridge to Broadway: “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” from the 2011-12 season, “Pippin” the next year, “Finding Neverland” from the 2014-15 season and, most recently, “Waitress.” But all of those had a factor in common: They were directed by Diane Paulus, the powerhouse artistic director of the American Repertory Theater.
While there are other ways a play might get to Broadway from the A.R.T. (“Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” came to Cambridge from off-Broadway and just returned to New York for a Broadway run with direction by Rachel Chavkin, for instance), the upcoming season will have to do it without Paulus, who is already there with “Neverland” and “Waitress” (which opened Sunday). She isn’t named as director on any show in the upcoming season, and none of the shows approach the stage with the obvious buzz of Paulus’ past directorial picks.
Some of the most intriguing shows are the smallest, in fact, starting with the return of Anna Deavere Smith with “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education,” in which Smith starts off with one of her traditional one-woman shows – this time highlighting what she’s learned researching America’s school-to-prison pipeline – and in Act II leads a discussion of the topic with audiences.
“I feel we were really looking for a way in which the A.R.T. could deal with the issue of race relations in America, and in particular program a theatrical catalyst to deal with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Paulus told the Harvard Gazette. “And when the opportunity to bring Anna Deavere Smith to campus came up, that answered everything for me.”
More of the most intriguing shows aren’t even in the A.R.T. proper, but presented as part of the season at Oberon, the theater’s cabaret-style adjunct across Harvard Square. Keep an eye on “The Mini Series: Performance for Small Audiences,” shows designed for audiences of up to 25 people but as as small as a single person.
That single-person show is Wolf 359’s “Temping,” in which the audience experiences a comic drama entirely via a desktop computer, phone and laser printer.
The Nichole Canuso Dance Co.’s “The Garden” is for four brave people at a time – sometimes audience members just watch the dancers, but sometimes they participate; Kenny Finkle’s “U R ★” is a graphic novel come to life as a musical for five people at a time; and “Violet” is a musical ride on a moving bus that has room for 25 people in addition to the performers.
The A.R.T. season, including two revivals and some direct importation of talent from abroad, is:
August: “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education” created, written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith, with music composed and performed by Marcus Shelby.
September: “The Plough and the Stars,” by Sean O’Casey, directed by Sean Holmes. The U.K.’s Abbey Theatre brings its production of this Sean O’Casey play to Cambridge at the 100-year anniversary of the revolutionary violence of the 1916 Easter Rising.
December: “Fingersmith,” written by Alexa Junge from the novel by Sarah Waters, directed by Bill Rauch. A mystery set in the madhouses and mansions of Victorian England in which a pickpocket helps a con man cheat a gullible young heiress out of her fortune. Of course, nothing is quite what it seems.
January: “Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women,” by Paul Lucas, directed by Jo Bonney. The words of transgender women from around the world are brought to the stage by a cast of seven in this U.S. premiere. Complementary works will be presented at Oberon.
February: “The Night of the Iguana,” by Tennessee Williams, directed by Michael Wilson. In this classic 1961 drama, a hotel proprietress at the edge of the Mexican jungle offers shelter from a storm to a Southern preacher running from scandal, as well as to a bunch of other misfits.
May 2017: “Arrabal,” with a book by John Weidman and music by Gustavo Santaolalla, directed and co-choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. A woman struggles to understand the violence that took her father and disrupted a nation – told through tango and the music of the band Bajofondo, with an ensemble and band direct from Buenos Aires. (Trujillo is the choreographer behind such shows as “Memphis,” “Jersey Boys” and “Next To Normal,” and Santaolalla is an Academy Award winner behind the scores to “Brokeback Mountain,” “Babel” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
In addition to “The Mini Series: Performance for Small Audiences,” the Oberon season includes curated events such as “Sound Society at Oberon,” a series of one-night only musical events co-led by local producer and musician Sam Kassirer; and “Glowberon,” a season-long collaboration with the Afterglow Festival to bring cabaret and solo performance to Cambridge, including locals Johnny Blazes and Brian King and Brooklyn’s Dane Terry.