SYRACUSE — Syracuse Stage announced adjustments to the schedule for the remainder of the 2020-21 season that include replacing previously announced shows with new titles and come in direct response to the evolving situation concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting in February, the season will be as follows: “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” by Anna Deavere Smith, “Annapurna,” by Sharr White, “I and You,” by Lauren Gunderson and “‘Master Harold’...and the Boys,” by Athol Fugard.
All productions will be available at www.SyracuseStage.org in video on demand format. Specific dates are still to be determined except for “Twilight,” which will be available for streaming Feb. 3-14.
“Much like our need to make a programming pivot in the first half of our season, it is abundantly clear that we cannot proceed as planned with the second half of our season,” said Robert Hupp, Syracuse Stage artistic director.
“We’re challenging our creative team and engaging dynamic guest artists from across the country, to innovate, to experiment and to explore ways of making entertaining, engaging experiences for Central New York. We’re excited to share these with our audience.”
Stage had already produced two successful on demand productions, “Amadeus” and “Talley’s Folly,” both of which received national recognition, when a November spike in COVID-19 cases in Onondaga County prompted Actors’ Equity Association (the professional union for actors and stage managers) to issue revised and highly restrictive rehearsal and performance guidelines.
The new guidelines effectively prohibited any live in person rehearsals or performances and are expected to remain in place indefinitely, until the number of COVID cases in the county shows a steady and consistent decrease. This was why Syracuse Stage on very short notice had to abandon plans to produce “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” during the holidays.
Currently, Hupp and the production team at Stage are exploring several approaches to producing the upcoming shows. “Twilight,” which will be available in early February, is being videoed using green screen technology to create the visual world of the play. Chicago based actor Patrese McClain and director Steve H. Broadnax III are conducting rehearsals via Zoom.
When ready, McClain will perform and record “Twilight” in her home. Designer Kate Freer will provide video enhancements that will establish a documentary visual feel to Smith’s interview based play about the aftermath of the assault on Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.
For “Annapurna,” Hupp found a creative and serendipitous production solution. White’s dark comedy about a long-estranged couple takes place in the trailer home of the ex-husband Ulysses, who receives an unexpected visit from the ex-wife Emma. In what might be considered a stroke of life imitating art, Hupp was able to cast Stephan Wolfert (“Pride and Prejudice” and “Cry Havoc”) and his wife Dawn Stern as the fictional couple.
Wolfert and Stern had been in residence at Stage in the fall to develop two works based on Shakespeare’s plays. In their off-stage world, Wolfert and Stern live in a van, which they use to travel around the country in support of their work with military veterans.
Wolfert and Stern will perform and video record “Annapurna” on “location” in their traveling home as Hupp directs remotely.
While well aware that the impact of COVID-19 is changeable and unpredictable, Hupp is hopeful that the season’s final shows, “I and You” and “‘Master Harold’... and the Boys,” set for April and May, will be a return to the production model that was successful with “Talley’s Folly.”
That show was fully produced in the Archbold Theatre and videoed by Black Cub Productions using a three camera capture. If conditions and Actors’ Equity allow, “I and You” and “‘Master Harold’ . . .” will find directors Melissa Crespo (“I and You” and previously “Native Gardens”) and Gilbert McCauley (“‘Master Harold’ . . .”) and their casts and creative teams hard at work back at Syracuse Stage.
“We’re learning from our previous efforts and we’re striving to use technology and available resources to tell dynamic stories that surprise, question, confront, delight and entertain our audience,” Hupp said. “And, we’re looking for plays that are uniquely suited to our time and our situation right now.”
“Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992”
By Anna Deavere Smith
Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III. Available on demand Feb. 3 - 14
Created and originally performed in 1993 by Anna Deveare Smith, “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is a stunning and insightful work of documentary theatre and a tour de force experience. On March 3, 1991, a 26-year-old Black man named Rodney King was brutally beaten by officers of the Los Angeles police department. The incident was caught on tape, the first of long line of disturbingly similar videos to go viral.
The four officers involved were charged with assault and excessive use of force. A year later they were acquitted by a mostly white jury in the nearby suburb of Simi Valley where the trial had been moved. News of the acquittal set off five days of unrest in South Central Los Angeles, which left 63 dead, 2,000 injured, 9,500 arrested and $1 billion in property damages. “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is Smith’s artistic response to these traumatic events. Using more than 300 interviews, Smith creates a mosaic of four dozen characters to ruthlessly probe issues of race and class that set Los Angeles ablaze almost 30 years ago and continue to plague our nation today.
By Sharr White
Directed by Robert Hupp
Available on demand in March
With razor-sharp wit and bare-knuckled grit, playwright Sharr White unfolds a story that affirms love as the most powerful and enduring human emotion. After 25 years apart, Emma has tracked her ex-husband Ulysses to a trailer park high in the Colorado Rockies. He’s strapped to an oxygen canister; she’s toting a mountain of luggage. After so long a separation what can they say to each other? “Holy crap,” for starters; from there it’s an uphill climb through loss and love that might just end in a summit of forgiveness.
Stephan Wolfert (“Pride and Prejudice”) and Dawn Stern star in this comic and profoundly moving duet of a play, performed and video recorded in a trailer, somewhere, perhaps the middle of nowhere.
“I and You”
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Melissa Crespo
Available on demand in April/May
Isolated due to a life-threatening illness, Caroline hasn’t been to school in months. Confined to her room, she relies on Instagram, Facebook and a stuffed turtle for company. That is until classmate Anthony bursts in — unexpectedly and bearing waffle fries, some Walt Whitman poetry and a literature project due the next day. He’s enthusiastic, athletic and charming in a nerdy sort of way, but Caroline is wary.
Still, an unlikely friendship develops as a run of the mill homework assignment reveals the pair’s hopes and dreams, and they come to realize that Whitman’s sense of interconnectedness means more to their lives than they could have imagined. This sharp, funny and tender-hearted play won the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award in 2014.
“‘Master Harold’… and the Boys”
By Athol Fugard
Directed by Gilbert McCauley
Available on demand in June
Written in 1982, “‘Master Harold’...and the Boys” ranks among the very best of the great South African playwright Athol Fugard’s work. Set in 1950 in Port Elizabeth, this remarkable play exposes the corrosiveness of systemic racism with raw, unsentimental honesty. The play is autobiographical (“the most intensely personal thing I have ever written” - Fugard) and originates in a friendship between a white teenager and a Black man, who is a kind of surrogate father and an employee of the family’s struggling tea room.
When stressful circumstances overwhelm the teen, he lashes out in misdirected and emotionally devastating fury that in an instant threatens to undermine years of affection. Heartfelt, revelatory and a lasting tribute from the playwright to “the most beautiful friend I ever had.”