When Kevin Moriarty announced the Dallas Theater Center’s new season last night, he had everybody riveted with his plans. So far, he’s been doing everything right. He’s been all over town going to theaters and talking to people since he got here in September, and it shows. One big surprise was his praise of Paul Baker, whom he actually visited on his ranch several weeks ago. Baker’s difficult parting from the DTC (which he founded) has been an unresolved problem.
Then came the announcement of the season itself, which contained more surprises. Here’s the list, with an interview after the jump.
First up is The Who’s Tommy (Aug. 27 – Sept. 21). Then comes the world premiere of Tracey Scott Wilson’s The Good Negro (Oct. 15-Nov. 9), followed by, yes, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 22-Dec. 28). In January, Moriarty directs a collection of 15th Century mystery plays he’s calling In the Beginning. Then comes Back Back Back, a baseball play by Itamar Moses in its Southwestern premiere, and finally another world premiere musical based on a Newberry Award-winning book – but he’s not yet able to reveal the name. Hmm. But that’s two world premieres, a new play, a revival of rarely performed works, and two musicals.
After the announcements, I asked Moriarty why he picked Tommy.
KM: “If you had looked inside my brain in the fall, I honestly thought that we would be doing a Shakespeare play and a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. That was my prediction, because I love both of those writers so very much.
But as I started talking to members of the community and getting to know the community and started thinking about what we could do that would be fresh and surprising and new and bold and complement the great work that’s happening by the other arts organizations and speak to who’s here right now–It felt like–Well, with Tommy it felt like they wanted us to throw off the cobwebs and blow off the ceiling and play some rock n’ roll [very enthusiastic]. When you’re trying to be youthful, your options are limited. But when you’re looking at a pre-existing work, then that led me back to thinking about rock n’ roll bands. The Who’s original album, the 1969 recording, is stunning. Pete Townshend’s guitar playing just takes your breath away. It’s mind-boggling not only because the music is very sophisticated and smart, but because it’s a complicated work. You have to think about what it means and how you could put it on stage. At heart, it’s a story about a young man searching for enlightenment, a young boy who’s a victim of all of the evils of the 20th century–abuse, false religious leaders, family violence, drug abuse. He finds a way to transcend that. It’s very compelling and surprising in every way.
GA: How did you decide to do the 15th century mystery plays?
KM: What actually happened is that I became aware that in the American theater at large, we tend to not talk about faith, and we tend to not tell religious stories. I don’t know why that is. Maybe artists tend to be more cynical. Maybe it’s part of a notion that religion should be a private matter. But artists who are usually quite comfortable baring their souls about sexuality or politics become very, very silent when the topic of religion comes up. Especially here in the Bible Belt, religion is a significant part of our lives. It’s part of my life and it’s part of a great many people’s lives here. I’ll go to a cocktail party, and people will ask me what church I go to. Out East, no one would ask that question. I have friends out East who I’ve known for years and years and years who don’t know that I go to church on Sundays. It’s never entered their mind to ask. That wouldn’t be polite, and I wouldn’t think to share it. Here in Dallas, we are much more open about our religious faith. So I thought that we should do a play that speaks to that shared experience in our lives.
I started looking at plays written recently, and they are almost entirely predictable and mostly exposing a great flaw in religion as a whole or in a specific religion. I thought that although it’s important to shine the light on abuses and there are things that should be addressed, it’s territory that has been overdone and excessive in the media and in culture. I had to go all the way back to the 15th Century [laughter] to find plays that spoke with hope and respect. Once you get back into it, you find that the first plays ever written in English are surprising, bold, and strange. It’s an amazing theatrical challenge for a director to take on these medieval plays and try to bring them to life in a way that’s going to feel contemporary and meaningful.
GA: How are you handling the language? Are you translating it yourself?
KM: We’ll certainly adjust words that are no longer used in the English language and adjust language where it is incomprehensible. But the language itself is very simple and direct and much, much more rustic than Shakespearean language. The poetic forms are really simple and repeatable. They tend to be ABABCDDC. They’re simple with seven or eight lines, not full iambic pentameter. I think comprehensibility won’t be a problem. Dramatic action is going to be the real challenge, making sure that they just don’t stand and speak. It’s going to be a great and fun challenge.