Center Stage will offer a mix of new, nostalgic and musical for the 2014-2015 season.
The new includes a double-header next spring of works by celebrated young American playwright Amy Herzog. "After the Revolution" and "4000 Miles" which set off glowing notices when they received Off-Broadway productions in 2010 and 2011, respectively, will be performed in repertory with shared casts.
"I just think Baltimore deserves to know who the most exciting playwrights are now in this country," Kwei-Armah said, "and Amy's one of the bright stars in the firmament."
The two plays have in common the character of Vera Joseph, a proudly Marxist grandmother, inspired by Herzog’s own grandmother.
An unexpected encounter between the 91-year-old Vera and her 21-year-old grandson is the focus of "4000 Miles." In "After the Revolution," set a decade earlier, Vera is among family members caught up in a complex history of radicalism and loyalty.
In a statement, Herzog said she "always wanted to see the plays staged together, and Center Stage will be the first brave theater to do it. I'm honored to have my work produced by a theater that is sparking national conversation about diversity and civic engagement — two subjects dear to the politically passionate characters in my plays," she said.
Another contemporary work, "One Night in Miami," by Kemp Powers, will receive its local premiere next season. Powers imagines what transpired on Feb. 25, 1964, when a young Cassius Clay (shortly before becoming Muhammad Ali) gathered in a hotel room after his upset victory over Sonny Liston to celebrate with three friends: Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown.
The play had a well-received premiere last summer in Los Angeles, where a Center Stage board member and his daughter saw it.
"They told me they were sure I would be interested, so I flew out to L.A.," Kwei-Armah said. "Muhammad Ali's daughters were sitting behind me. At first, they were saying things like, 'Daddy would never do that,' but at the end they were jumping to their feet. It's really good entertainment."
The Center Stage presentation of "One Night in Miami," which will be directed by Kwei-Armah, is a co-production with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the Classical Theatre of Harlem.
"It’s another way for Center Stage to go into New York," Kwei-Armah said.
A musical will be part of the 2014-2015 lineup: "Next to Normal," the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning work by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book/lyrics) about a mother coping with bipolar disorder and other challenges.
"It pushes the boundaries of what a modern musical is," Kwei-Armah said. "I really dig it. And I think it opens up Center Stage to younger audiences."
Music also figures in the season-opener in September — Peter Shaffer’s "Amadeus." This 1979 hit play offers a vivid, if fanciful, examination of the popular and powerful composer in late 18th century Vienna, Antonio Salieri, and an upstart rival named Mozart.
Featured in the cast for this revival will be veteran Baltimore actor Bruce Randolph Nelson, an Everyman Theatre resident company member who helped to open the 2013-2014 Center Stage season in a revival of "Animal Crackers." Center Stage also borrowed Nelson last season for a play about Edgar Allan Poe.
"I think Bruce is a superstar actor," Kwei-Armah said. "To have him here is a bloody joy. He will be just perfect as Salieri."
No other casting has been announced for the season.
Center Stage, which presented Paula Vogel's "A Civil War Christmas" last November/December, has another holiday season production on the schedule: Joe Landry's "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play." The piece conjures up the days when a movie, in this case the 1946 Frank Capra classic, would reach another audience after being adapted for radio.
One more production is to be announced. Kwei-Armah said he is in the closing stages of choosing a final production in May/June 2015 that "will take us to another level of national attention."