A Politically Charged Summer Season

The summer season at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor will feature three plays steeped in political issues that are timely as well as timeless
Scott Schwartz promises a summer season with a political slant at Bay Street Theater, but one that will sometimes be subtly felt, as in the class divisions explored in “My Fair Lady,” performed at the theater in 2016. Lenny Stucker

Although midterm elections are almost a year away, every move on the political chessboard — Doug Jones’s recent victory in Alabama among them — is being closely scrutinized by the press for indications as to which way the electorate is likely to vote in November.

In our country’s volatile political climate, much can happen between now and next summer, but one sure thing is that politics will even more thoroughly saturate the media as the elections approach. It is fitting, then, that the summer season at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor will feature three plays steeped in political issues that are timely as well as timeless.

The season will open on May 29 with the world premiere of “Fellow Travelers,” a new play by Jack Canfora that examines the relationship between Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan and their close connection to Marilyn Monroe. 

Kazan directed Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway in 1947, and both espoused radical politics, but in 1952, when they were summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Miller refused to name names and received a suspended jail sentence, while Kazan identified 17 onetime members of the U.S. Communist party he had worked with, among them Clifford Odets.

The summer schedule will also feature “Frost/Nixon,” Peter Morgan’s play based on a series of interviews with former President Richard Nixon conducted by the British journalist David Frost and broadcast on television in four programs in 1977. 

“Evita,” Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s musical about the rise of Eva Peron from a provincial teenager with dreams of a better life in Buenos Aires to the wife of President Juan Peron of Argentina, will conclude the Mainstage Season in August.

“When I was finalizing the season with the team at Bay Street, it became pretty clear that it was a season about politics,” said Scott Schwartz, the theater’s artistic director. “What I like is that none of the plays is specifically about today, but, whatever your political affiliation may be, whatever your beliefs about our current politics, these plays raise questions of morality and questions of truth that have been around a long time but are still relevant.”

“Fellow Travelers” came to Mr. Schwartz’s attention through Leonard Soloway, a well-known Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning producer who lived in East Hampton. “I thought the story of these artistic giants and how the politics of their time basically destroyed their relationships but also inspired them to create some of their greatest work was fascinating.”

“Fellow Travelers” is a five-actor play, though there are more than five characters. The prime figures are Kazan, Miller, Monroe, and Harry Cohn, who was the head of Columbia Pictures until his death in 1958. “It’s beautifully written,” Mr. Schwartz said, “and it has a lot to say about morality in the arts and our responsibility to ourselves as opposed to our responsibilities to our communities in the face of very strong political winds.”

Regarding “Frost/Nixon,” Mr. Schwartz said, “It’s kind of a wonderful boxing match of a play between Frost and Nixon, but it’s also about how television and politics relate and a bit of a critique of the media and of how television necessarily oversimplifies everything.”

“ ‘Evita’ is such a great musical, and I’m excited by the opportunity to see this show, which is usually presented on a very large scale, in our intimate space, where you can get up close to the characters and see the sweat and passion and energy.” He noted that the production would include a lot of dance, especially Argentinean tango.

“It’s a show not only about the rise of Eva Peron, but of a whole new populist political movement in Argentina. And Eva Peron’s is a fascinating journey to watch with the #MeToo movement and the whole issue of women and men in the work force and in politics.”

Mr. Schwartz stressed that while the three plays address political issues, they are powerful theatrical experiences. “They’re all kind of crackling, sort of wrestling matches of plays. There’s a muscularity to all three of them, they’re fun, they’re dramatic, they’re tense. I think it’s a summer that will give everyone an exciting ride.”