In his first season as artistic director, Brian Kulick will stage The Mysteries, drawn from the Wakefield and York mystery plays seen in medieval England. He helmed an earlier version of the piece in Los Angeles, for The Actors Gang. The first part of The Mysteries includes New and Old Testament tales from the York and Wakefield cycles. The second half includes modern writers' versions of Christ's passion.
Mystery plays, seen in England and Europe, were spoken rather than sung and were presented outdoors in common language rather than Latin. Essentially, they were secularly-presented dramas on Biblical themes.
"The Mysteries tells the epic stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Noah's Flood and Christ's Passion as seen by writers from the 12th through the 21st centuries, including such noted authors as Nobel-prize winner Dario Fo, Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov and Yugoslavian dissident writer Borislav Pekic," according to the CSC season announcement.
This marks the work's New York City premiere. Performances play Jan. 8-Feb. 15, 2004.
The season begins with a festival of readings — called The First Look Festival — of Elizabethan plays anchored by star performers. The presentations are open to members, with limited single ticket availability. The Oct. 1-12 series is billed as "staged readings previewing projects in development at the theatre featuring several highly-acclaimed actors in four Elizabethan dramas."
Expect Marlowe's The Jew of Malta with Ron Liebman (directed by Kulick), Arden of Faversham by Anonymous with Frances McDormand (directed by Erica Schmidt), Jonson's Volpone with F. Murray Abraham (directed by Michael Sexton) and Shakespeare's Richard III with John Turturro (presented as a workshop production over three days, Oct. 10-12, directed by former CSC artistic director Barry Edelstein).
The third production of the season is Antigone: As Played and Danced by Three Fates on theWay to Becoming Three Graces, by Mac Wellman, with songs by Cynthia Hopkins and choreography by Annie-B Parson. Paul Lazar directs. The piece had been developed at CSC, played the Dance Theatre Workshop and then toured. It now comes "home" to CSC.
The production by Big Dance Theater plays April 27-May 23. This new take on the classic Greek drama "imagines what the Antigone tale would be like before Sophocles got his hands on it. In it, "events happen eons before Sophocles, Doric columns, or Democracy," according to production notes. "There's song, dance breaks, and three nasty girls who go by the name of the Fates but hope, in the retelling of this myth, to become Graces. What ensues is Wellman's renowned brand of verbal pyrotechnics coupled with the inimitable images of Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar's Big Dance Theater."
A fourth production, still under consideration — possibly Dario Fo's Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas or Xavier de Maistre's Voyage Around My Room — will close out the company's season in June. Kulick said he wants to do something light and fun at the end of the season.
What is a classic?
"I think of a classic as a work that inherently knows what theatre is and what theatre does," Kulick told Playbill On-Line. "And you find that with the Greeks, with Shakespeare, with Moliere, with these medieval writers. You find that with Chekhov, Tony Kushner — they are interested in the medium...the medium is the message."
All the writers and styles Kulick mentions have elements of presentational theatre — asides to the audience, direct address or spectacle, things that make you aware of the live, of-the-moment quality of theatre.
For Kulick, a classic work must ask, "How does it speak to today? What does it have to do with life right now?"
A classic is also something that's timeless and universal, Kulick said.
"Certain things don't change," he observed. "It's sobering to return to the Elizabethans at the dawn of modernity and see the problems we're facing now were happening then, and that we haven't been able to right the ship, so to speak."
This is CSC's 36th season. Anne Tanaka is the co company's managing director. The troupe presents at its home on East 13th Street in Manhattan.
Memberships to Classic Stage Company are available for $30 which entitles members to purchase the best seats for $25 per production. For membership and ticket information, call the theatre's box office at (212) 677-4210, ext. 13, visit the theatre in person at 136 East 13th Street, or order online at www.classicstage.org.
CSC "is committed to re-imagining the classics for New York audiences and contributing to the American theatre with innovative works of outstanding merit. CSC believes the works of the past are meaningful, relevant, and indeed essential to the world of today. Taking the broadest view of what constitutes a classic, CSC explores the literature of many periods and diverse cultures."
Shakespeare veteran Kulick, known for his work with the Public Theater, directed one of his first productions — Eric Overmyer's Amphitryon — at CSC. His more recent work includes the Shakespeare in the Park staging of Twelfth Night (2002) featuring Jimmy Smits, Julia Stiles, Oliver Platt, Zach Braff and Kristen Johnson, as well as The Winter's Tale, Pericles and Timon of Athens for the company. He has served as artistic director of the Shakespeare Society since 2001. Among Kulick's other works include contemporary plays such as Tony Kushner's A Dybbuk, Charles L. Mee's Wintertime,Kit Marlowe, The Wax and Buicks.
David Esbjornson and Carey Perloff preceded Edelstein (whose tenure ended earlier this summer) in the CSC job. Christopher Martin, who founded the company in 1967, ran it until 1985.