Setting up a season is the most important responsibility of a theater’s artistic director. Josh Gladstone, the artistic director of the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, in conjunction with its board of directors, is halfway home to completing this year’s two-show season.
The first play, “Red,” by John Logan, will be directed by Stephen Hamilton, employing the same intimate staging that Mr. Hamilton used so successfully with “Uncle Vanya” in 2012 and “The Cripple of Inishman” last year. Once again, the entire audience will be seated on the stage, this time in the midst of Mark Rothko’s studio in the late 1950s. The production will star Victor Slezak.
Mr. Hamilton’s approach to staging has advantages both artistic and financial. Not only does it give the audience a close-up theatrical experience, it also cuts the size of the house down from 360 to 75. The reduction in potential income is balanced by savings on licensing fees and salaries for the union actors.
“Red” will open on May 21 and run through June 8, with performances Wednesdays through Sundays.
The second show, which will use the entire theater and run in the pivotal July-August months, has not yet been selected. Much rides on the choice. Last year, Blythe Danner, starring in Noel Coward’s “Tonight at 8:30,” proved a popular draw. The year before, the black comedy “Luv” by Murray Schisgal did not do well at the box office, despite excellent reviews.
One reason “Luv” never found an audience was timing; it opened in June. A July opening for the main show of the year is optimal, Mr. Gladstone said this week. Another reason for the poor draw was the lack of a marquee name.
Balancing art and commerce when making these choices is difficult. “It is not random,” said Mr. Gladstone. “We are looking for a celebrity-driven, marquee name. Or, a recognizable property to produce, whether that be a revival or a new play by a known playwright. A play that makes monetary sense, a small cast, a single set.” In East Hampton, he said, audiences demand both star power and artistic success, which can be an elusive combination.
After a couple of seasons of lighter fare, the John Drew may return to a drama for its main summer show. Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” is a possibility, but the choice may well hang on which actors it can attract to perform on the local stage.
Another possibility is a new play, apparently Broadway-bound, “Clever Little Lies” by Joe DiPietro, which would star Marlo Thomas. “It would be a joint production with George Street Playhouse,” Mr. Gladstone said, which is where the director saw it during its debut run last month. The play, which impressed him with its humor and emotional depth, was critically well received, as was Ms. Thomas’s performance.
There are a few other possibilities in the mix as well. Mr. Gladstone will present the options to the Guild Hall board on Jan. 30, and a decision should be announced shortly afterward.