With less on the menu for the Bartell Theatre in its 2011-12 season, managing director Sarah Hoover sees more substantive fare. "I think there are a few more chances taken with the next season," she observes, noting that the venue's four resident companies appear to be taking a collective turn toward more serious productions, in contrast to the more plentiful comedies of recent years.
She cites the economy as the culprit behind the continued decline in the number of productions planned for the Bartell -- from 29 last season to 19 this one to 14 announced so far for 2011-12. The Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission is "swamped with requests" for support, she notes, "and I've heard from our companies that fewer people are attending theater." Perhaps in concession to these factors, Hoover adds, "I don't believe any of our companies intend to raise ticket prices at all."
Yet ambition appears to be on the rise among the resident companies, which are Madison Theatre Guild, Mercury Players Theatre, StageQ and Strollers Theatre. Hoover cites MTG's December staging of Rent -- the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning musical based on Puccini's La Boheme -- as "huge, and I'm a little surprised to see them take that on," though she adds that it reflects the company's "good strong musical choices." She also expects StageQ's holiday production of Scrooge in Rouge -- a riotous show-must-go-on musical farce precipitated when all but a few Christmas Carol cast members are stricken by food poisoning -- to be "fun."
The 2011-2012 Bartell season launches in late August with Strollers' presentation of Rabbit Hole, the Pulitzer-winning David Lindsay-Abaire drama adapted into a recent movie starring Nicole Kidman. Pulitzer follows Pulitzer, as Madison Theatre Guild presents the Edward Albee drama Three Tall Women in September.
Strollers returns to the boards in late October, bringing musical-comedy relief courtesy of The Good Doctor, Neil Simon's tribute to Anton Chekhov, and in January presenting Peter Shaffer's farcical one-act Black Comedy.
Comedy yields again to seriousness with Madison Theatre Guild's February production of Steven Dietz's Yankee Tavern, set in the geographical and psycho-social shadows of 9/11.
Mercury may come closest to finding the sweet spot between comedy and drama with its May staging of Becky Shaw, Gina Gionfriddo's 2008 narrative about the romantic pitfalls of intellectual, moral and social mismatch -- a nuanced, biting script that has rendered the playwright heir apparent to the likes of Dorothy Parker and another Shaw by the name of George Bernard.
The Bartell's 2010-11 season (title, company, opening date) includes:
Rabbit Hole, Strollers, Aug. 26
Three Tall Women, Madison Theatre Guild, Sept. 23
Ghost of a Chance, StageQ, Oct. 21
The Good Doctor, Strollers, Oct. 28
Scrooge in Rouge, StageQ, Dec. 1
Rent, Madison Theatre Guild, Dec. 2
Mercury Boiling, Mercury, Jan. 6
Black Comedy, Strollers, Jan. 20
Yankee Tavern, Madison Theatre Guild, Feb. 24
This Beautiful City, StageQ, March 30
Beautiful Bodies, Strollers, April 6
Becky Shaw, Mercury, May 4
Up, Madison Theatre Guild, May 4
Queer Shorts 7, StageQ, May 31