"When you open a new theater you want to be surrounded by people that you love, who are friends," says Second Stage Theatre artistic director Carole Rothman. And what better way to inaugurate their new home at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre than with plays by recent Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergan and downtown theater darling Young Jean Lee? A new production of Lonergan's acclaimed drama Lobby Hero, directed by Trip Cullman and starring Michael Cera and Chris Evans, will make its debut in March 2018, and Lee will make her Broadway debut with Anna D. Shapiro's production of her family drama Straight White Men that summer.
It's an ambitious season, made even more so when the company launches its Stage-2-Stage program, a series of Broadway commissions with Los Angeles-based Center Theatre Group. The list of playwrights set for inaugural productions over the next several years is illustrious and includes Jon Robin Baitz, Will Eno, Lisa Kron, Young Jean Lee, Lynn Nottage, and Paula Vogel. Dominique Morisseau, Lydia R. Diamond, and Bess Wohl are also working on Broadway productions as part of different commissions.
Here's what we got excited about when Second Stage unveiled its lineup at the Hayes.
1. Young Jean Lee will be the first Asian-American female playwright to have a play presented on Broadway.
Straight White Men, Lee's exploration of the traditional white American father-son drama, will begin performances in 2018. It marks her Broadway debut, and the first time an Asian-American female playwright will have a show on the Great White Way.
"I'm so excited that this is happening but it’s a little bit of a double-edged sword," Lee notes. "When I was told that I was going to be the first Asian-American female playwright on Broadway, people were like, 'That's great!' But part of me was like…it's a little shocking.'"
2. Access is key.
After her drama Sweat opened on Broadway last month, Lynn Nottage, a playwright commissioned for a new work by Second Stage and Center Theatre Group's new Stage 2 Stage initiative, took a look at the landscape. "I'm thinking about how we can extend audiences that don't have access to Broadway," Nottage notes, "and how we can break out of the proscenium and out of these institutions that have defined how we write plays. The goal is to think more expansively and reach audiences where they are, instead of having them come to us."
3. Second Stage is bucking a Broadway trend.
"Broadway is kind of being taken over with the sensation that we're supposed to feel good and have real entertainment with spectacle," says Indecent dramatist Paula Vogel, who is being commissioned for a new Broadway work by Second Stage and Center Theatre Group. "That's what this program is kind of bucking. I have spent my life seeing amazing work that changes my DNA in 90-seat theaters. And then people are shocked that it can be on the stage of a 500-seat theater."
4. Second Stage's Broadway seasons will feature works only by American playwrights — and no translations.
"We can call that the 'America First' version of playwriting," commissioned writer Will Eno says. "There's an ugly side of that, but I think, why not? I hope some good, thoughtful things about this country, and what it means to be an American, will come out of that."
5. Celebrities — like Chris Evans — are always welcome.
"We were going to cast him in a show that Trip Cullman was directing last year, but his schedule didn't work out," Rothman says of the Captain America and Fantastic Four star. "Trip had made the connection with him. Only Trip and myself knew that he wanted to do a play." Once they found out that he'd finish with his current film engagements in January, they signed him for Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero.
Watch Second Stage's Broadway season announcement below: