The songs of Johanna and John Hall (pictured)will be featured in Dance With Meat Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey
The songs of Johanna and John Hall (pictured)
will be featured in Dance With Me
at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey
It's generally agreed that the best way to keep audiences away from the box office is to program unknown works by playwrights whose names are known only in theater circles, and then cast those plays with unknown actors. In response to this thesis, the 2000-2001 season of professional theaters in New Jersey seems to say, "So what? Who cares? Full steam ahead!"

Two groups, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey (in Madison) and The New Jersey Repertory Company (in Long Branch) are producing only new works. George Street Playhouse (New Brunswick) has scheduled three world premieres and two New Jersey premieres, while American Stage Company (Teaneck) has one world and one east coast premiere. And Luna Stage (Montclair), McCarter Theatre (Princeton), Cape May Stage (Cape May), Centenary Stage Company (Hackettstown) and The Growing Stage Theatre (Netcong) have set one world premiere each.

Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey (website: www.ptnj.org)--now in its 16th year and with a well-established reputation for nurturing new works through workshops, readings, and fully-staged productions--goes one step further this year as it opens with its first-ever musical, Dance With Me. This is a revue of the music and lyrics of John and Johanna Hall and Jonell Mosser (including the Janis Joplin hit "Half Moon"). The second production of the season is Kim Merrill's Criminal Acts, about a vengeful act by three private school students that forever changes their lives and those of the teacher they target. Also at PTNJ, a "project" under the umbrella title Free Market that focuses of the subject of "work" (including jobs that range from poodle groomer to spiritual healer) from the perspective of 10 different playwrights, is set to move directly from Madison to an Off-Off Broadway theater in May. The writers include Jim Grimsley, Julie Jensen, Sachi Oyama, OyamO, Guillermo Reyes, Elaine Romero, Karen Sunde, Ching Valdez, Dolores Whiskeyman, and William Wise.

New Jersey Repertory Company (website: www.njrep.org) began its season on October 12 with the world premiere of Sandra Perlman's In Search of Red River Dog, which questions the relationship between personal poisons and environmental toxins. In a similarly dark vein, Brad Korbesmeyer's Piaf In Vienna (opening n December) is the story of a young woman who believes she is the legendary singer Edith Piaf. The state premiere of Michael T. Folie's An Unhappy Woman fills the February-March slot, and the season concludes with a new play or musical TBA.

George Street Playhouse (website:www.georgestplayhouse.org) is currently offering the first regional production of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit (through Nov.12), to be followed by the world premiere of the musical The Spitfire Grill by James Valcq and Fred Alley, based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff. A.R. Gurney's Human Events receives its premiere in January. Next up are the Arthur Laurents adaptation of Jorge Accame's Venecia (in February) and Velina Hasu Houston's Waiting For Tadashi (in March), and the season ends with another of artistic director David Saint's annual "surprises."

American Stage Company (info: 201-692-7744) features revivals as varied as Forever Plaid and The Bad Seed along the way, but joins the adventurous with the March world premiere of James Sherman's Door To Door (about three generations of women in a family of Jewish immigrants) and the November east coast premiere of Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts' musical Men (based on a German film by Doris Dorrie that is more or less a male answer to The First Wives Club). Two regional premieres complete the ASC season: Karen L.B. Evans' African American coming-of-age play My Girlish Days in February, and Barry Creyton's romantic comedy Double Act in June.

Luna Stage Company (website: www.lunastage.org) in Montclair has opened with the world premiere of Jeanne Marshall's Rapture, October 19-November 12. Set in 17th-century Bologna, the play is based on the life of the gifted Lucrezia Vizzana, who became a pawn in a historic political struggle. Athol Fugard returns to the state via Luna's revival of My Children! My Africa! and the world premiere of Sorrow and Rejoicing at McCarter Theatre (website: www.mccarter.org) in Princeton. The new play is set to run March 27-April 15, 2001, and will be directed by the author. It explores the effect of the legacy of apartheid on two women--one white, the other black--who, on the surface, seem to have little in common except their love for one (white) man.

Cape May Stage (website: www.capemaystage.com), in addition to its revival of Yasmina Reza's Art, will offer the world premieres of J.C. Stinson's Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Terror (which adapts Poeiana like "The Raven," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Fall of the House of Usher") and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Almost by John Alvarez and Michael Laird (described as the story of "the greediest man in literary history....retold with a local twist.")

The world premiere at Centenary Stage Company (www.centenarystageco.org) is a work developed in the company's Women Playwrights Project: Darrah Cloud's Dreamhouse, in which the central character discovers that her dream house is haunted and goes to unusual lengths to take it back.

The Growing Stage Theatre (e-mail: Growing.Stage@worldnet.att.net) in Netcong, specializing in theater for young audiences, this year has one world premiere and three New Jersey premieres. Its state firsts are the season opener, Jon Klein's adaptation The Hardy Boys in The Mystery of the Haunted House; in February, Still Life With Iris by Steven Dietz (the first play for young audiences to receive the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award); and, in July, James DeVita's adaptation of The Swiss Family Robinson. The company's world premiere is an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Stephen L. Fredericks (book) and Derek Dibbern (music and lyrics), set for November 24-December 23.

Other noteworthy state or regional premieres in New Jersey include Joe Calarco's Shakespeare's R&J, Jeffrey Sweet's Bluff, and Tennessee Williams' The Notebook of Trigorin at 12 Miles West Theatre Company (website: http://community.nj.com/cc/12mileswest) in residence at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair; and David Hirson's La Bête at Red Bank's Two River Theatre Company (website: www.tworivertheatre.org). Arthur Giron's comic fantasy about Nobel Prize-winning scientist Richard Feynman, Moving Bodies (website: passagetheatre.org), is worth investigating at Passage Theatre Company .

New Jersey's best-known venue, Paper Mill Playhouse (website: www.papermill.org), knows its audience and is therefore playing it safe with a season of revivals: the opener, Anything Goes, will be followed by Victor/Victoria (starring Jekyll & Hyde's Robert Cuccioli as King Marchand, beginning in November), ART (January), An Ideal Husband (February), Funny Girl (April), and Carousel (May-July).

Sorry to end on a sad note, but the worst theatrical news from New Jersey is that the state's recent Outstanding Regional Theatre Tony Award-winner, Crossroads Theatre Company (www.crossroadstheatre.org), has been forced to cancel its season entirely for financial reasons.