At a press conference today, it was announced that works by composer Michael John LaChiusa and playwrights David Grimm, Rinne Groff, Jose Rivera, Anna Deavere Smith, Diana Son, and (yes!) William Shakespeare will be presented during The Public Theater's 50th anniversary season. While the Public was actually born in November, 1954 -- when founder Joseph Papp began the Shakespeare Theater -- the official celebration was postponed until the arrival of new artistic director Oskar Eustis and while additional funds were being raised by executive director Mara Manus. The Public now has an endowment of more than $18 million.

Eustis announced that the 2005-2006 season will officially begin with Shakespeare's As You Like It, directed by Mark Lamos, with Tony Award winner Brian Bedford as Jaques and rising star Lynn Collins (Portia in the recent film version of The Merchant of Venice) as Rosalind; it will run June 25-July 17 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. In a return to tradition, the Public will offer two free productions at the Delacorte this summer. The other one will be A Midsummer Night's Dream, August 9-September 4, directed by the Public's former artistic director, George C. Wolfe. According to Eustis, the Public will continue to present two shows at the Delacorte each summer in the immediate future.

No dates are set for the rest of the productions in the 2005-2006 season, but a line-up is firmly in place. The first show will be LaChiusa's musical See What I Wanna See, which was presented last summer at the Williamstown Theater Festival under the title R Shomon. It will be directed by Ted Sperling, who helmed the Williamstown production, which starred Audra McDonald, Tom Wopat, and Michael C. Hall. While no casting has yet been announced, the piece was written for McDonald, and she has expressed interest in appearing in a New York production.

Next up will be Groff's The Ruby Sunrise, a play about the birth of television and McCarthyism, which Eustis directed last year at Trinity Repertory. He will direct the play for the Public as well but said that he will not use all of the Trinity Rep cast members.

The Public will then present two world premieres. Rivera's School of the Americas is a four-character play that focuses on the possible execution of Che Guevara, who was also the central figure in Rivera's Oscar-nominated film The Motorcycle Diaries); it will be co-produced with the LAByrinth Theater. The other world premiere will be Grimm's Measure for Pleasure, a mixture of restoration comedy and contemporary sex farce that, in Eustis's words, makes "a convincing case for gay marriage."

Set to conclude the season are two new works commissioned by the Public: Smith's Let Me Down Easy deals with issues of the body, death, and politics, while Son's Sattelites concerns an interracial couple whose move to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn doesn't please their new neighbors. "It's in the tradition of the great American family play, like All My Sons," said Eustis. (Son had a major success at the Public in 1998 with Stop Kiss.) Eustis remarked that the Public is committed to more commissions over the coming years. "I think we should have at least ten $20,000 commissions to hand out every year," he said.

In addition, the Public will present "New Works Then," a series of readings of plays that were once produced in full at the Public, including The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, The Colored Museum, Curse of the Starving Class, and Short Eyes. Some of these will feature members of the shows' original casts. The 2005-2006 season will also encompass the annual "New Work Now!" festival; the second annual "Under the Radar" festival, to be curated by former PS 122 head Mark Russell; and, as previously reported by TheaterMania, a cabaret show celebrating the musicals presented by the Public, to be created by Donna McKechnie and performed by her at Joe's Pub.

Eustis also revealed some of the Public's plans for the 2006-2007 season, which will kick off with Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. Directed by Wolfe, adapted by Tony Kushner, and starring Meryl Streep in the title role, the play will be presented at the Delacorte. In addition, there will be premieres of works by John Guare (A Free Man of Color) and David Henry Hwang (Yellowface), plus a new musical theater work by singer-songwriter Stew titled Passing Strange.

Some of the Public's other activities for its 50th anniversary season will be held off of its main campus. These include a series of "Public Talks" at the 92nd Street Y, El Museo del Barrio, and the New School, featuring such speakers as Kevin Kline and Jimmy Smits; and an exhibition at the New York Public Library titled "A Community of Artists: 50 Years of the Public Theater," June 24-October 15.

Eustis and Manus announced that the Public will be partnering with different community organizations over the coming year to present Shakespeare in the outer boroughs. They further stated that a capital campaign is underway to renovate the Public's interior, including its lobby (which may be relocated to an area outside the current building) and restrooms. New York City has already pledged $7 million to the project, which is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2006.

Finally, in a related note, the Drama Desk -- which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year -- voted earlier this week to give a special award to the Public in honor of this important milestone. The Drama Desk Awards will be presented on May 22 at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.