Bay Street Theatre’s new artistic director, Scott Schwartz, has chosen three plays to be performed there this summer, which, he promised last week, will not be your run-of-the-mill summer season.
“I feel passionately that the audiences at Bay Street Theatre and audiences across the East End want to see fresh, exciting things you can’t see anywhere else,” said Mr. Schwartz. Not one to play it safe, he is filling two of the three slots with new works by authors making their East End debuts; the third play is a revival of a contemporary classic.
Mr. Schwartz spoke by phone last week from the West Coast, where he was huddling with Carey Crim, the author of the drama “Conviction,” which will open at Bay Street on May 27. The two flew west to hear readings of the play, an important part of the process of honing a new work to its essentials. “Conviction,” which Mr. Schwartz will direct, explores what happens to the relationships among people who love a respected member of the community now accused of sexual misconduct with a child.
“Conviction” is well past the initial reading stage, when the author hears something that just doesn’t work. During the first reading, there were some cringe-worthy moments, Ms. Crim said on the phone. Now it is about pushing the boundary, finding out what should stay, what should go, and what is the unspoken subtext.
Ms. Crim said Mr. Schwartz has given her freedom to explore. She wanted to do more work on two monologues, for example, and he encouraged her: “Just write it. Overwrite it. Keep going, so we can see what actually needs to be in the play.” After two more read-throughs last week, the result, said the playwright, is an even tighter script.
Mr. Schwartz’s ability to see the dramatic underpinning in what may at first appear farcical or absurd comes through in his second choice for the season, Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties,” which will open on June 24. “This is one of my favorite plays,” he said.
“Travesties” which is set in Zurich, goes back and forth between 1917 and 1974, with an imaginary crossing of paths of Tristan Tzara, a founder of the anti-establishment Dada movement, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, and James Joyce. The play combines a classical Stoppard framework with vaudeville, verbal puns, a striptease, a play within a play (“The Importance of Being Earnest”), and, of course, a pie in the face. Yet all this farce has a very serious underside, examining as it does the relationship of art and revolution.
Gregory Boyd, the artistic director of the Alley Theater in Houston, where Mr. Schwartz has directed several plays, will direct “Travesties.” It will star the comedian Richard Kind. Mr. Schwartz did not have to look far to find Mr. Kind, either: he is a member of Bay Street’s board of directors.
The choice of the season’s traditional musical is anything but traditional: a new work by another up-and-coming artist called “My Life is a Musical,” with book, score, and lyrics by Adam Overett. “My Life,” which will open on July 29, will be choreographed and directed by another rising star, Marlo Hunter. “The second I finished it, I thought, I have to work on this,” she said over the phone recently. “I know what to do with it. It leapt off the page at me.”
In December, Mr. Overett invited Mr. Schwartz to a developmental lab performance of the piece, but he could not make it then. But as he searched for a musical, he said, he kept running into colleagues who had seen the work and were raving about it. He gave the script a look and “fell in love with it.”
“My Life is a Musical” is the story of Parker, who wakes up each morning in dread. Every day he finds himself in a musical, with everyone around him breaking into song and dance. Worse, Parker detests musicals.
“It is delightfully funny,” said Mr. Schwartz, “but it is also about real people with real emotions. Somebody who feels he is an outsider, a freak.”
Mr. Overett said last week that the musical had a rather anti-musical genesis. He was “thinking about people who don’t like musicals. They can’t stand how unrealistic they are.” To such people, Mr. Overett mused, the idea of someone breaking into song as they deal with life’s struggles is anathema, because, obviously, “that is not how we live life.”
“But what if somebody did live his life like that?” he asked himself. “And what if he couldn”t stand musicals?” The two what ifs led to the creation of Bay Street’s third show of the season. Mr. Overett has high hopes that songs from “My Life” will become popular hits, helping to re-establish the long-lost connection between stage musicals and the Billboard Hot 100.
The three works Mr. Schwartz has selected for Bay Street speak volumes to his directorial vision — to get to the pith of the theatrical matter, and, oh yes, to have fun. Much insight into his approach can be gleaned from Charles Isherwood’s review in The New York Times in November of “Murder for Two,” which is now playing at New World Stages/Stage Five in Manhattan. In a glowing review of the production, Mr. Isherwood wrote that Mr. Schwartz uses “minimal stage resources to maximum effect.”
Maximum effect is what Mr. Schwartz is after.