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Penumbra and Theater Latte Da enter the Trump era with timely 2017-18 seasons

Last October, Penumbra produced an August Wilson classic, 'Jitney.'

Last October, Penumbra produced an August Wilson classic, 'Jitney.'

Standing onstage at the Ritz to announce Theater Latté Da’s 20th anniversary season, Peter Rothstein recited a line from Man of La Mancha that, he said, has been resonating with him of late.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”

The 2017-18 theatrical season is the first to be announced in the Trump era, and companies across the country are grappling with what that means for their programming. In the cases of Theater Latté Da and Penumbra Theatre, both of which announced their upcoming seasons this week, it means work that’s sharply engaged with questions of truth, justice, and identity.

In addition to the season-opening Man of La Mancha, Theatre Latté Da’s season will also include a world premiere musical set during the Civil War, Stephen Sondheim’s controversial Assassins, and a reimagining of the one-man (now, one-woman) show Underneath the Lintel.

Penumbra is also getting musical with a 30th anniversary production of its beloved Black Nativity, as well as with a Children’s Theatre Company co-production of The Wiz. Its season kicks off with Alice Childress’ Wedding Band, concludes with Harrison David Rivers’ This Bitter Earth, and features Khanisha Foster’s world premiere play Joy Rebel.

Man of La Mancha may seem like an escapist nugget, but Rothstein says he plans to set it in a contemporary context: an immigration holding center. Assassins, a 1990 musical about actual and would-be presidential killers, is set in a fairground shooting gallery. Latté Da will invite the audience onstage before each performance to visit the dark carnival. If you’ve been dying to see Tyler Michaels play Lee Harvey Oswald, this will be your chance.

Rivers, a playwright based in St. Paul, will have a play onstage in each of the Twin Cities come April 2018, when Penumbra’s production of This Bitter Earth coincides with Theater Latté Da’s premiere of his musical Five Points. Ethan D. Pakchar and Douglas Lyons wrote the music for the show, which centers on a young black entertainer and an Irish jig master caught up in the draft riots of 1863.

Penumbra founder Lou Bellamy will direct Wedding Band, a 1962 play from the Black Arts Movement. Foster’s Joy Rebel examines multiracial identity, and Roger Guenveur Smith will take the Penumbra stage in February for the one-man show Frederick Douglass NOW. (Sorry, Mr. President, Frederick Douglass himself will not actually appear on stage.)

Latté Da will stretch the season into the summer months with Underneath the Lintel, a well-known 2001 play about a questing librarian that’s recently been a Minnesota Fringe Festival favorite starring local actor Pat O’Brien. In Latté Da’s take, the male central character will become a woman, played by Sally Wingert. The company is also bringing playwright Glen Berger to town to collaborate with klezmer master Frank London in creating new musical elements for the show.

The coming season will also be Sarah Bellamy’s first full season as sole artistic director of Penumbra. “I am excited,” she said in a press release, “to welcome audiences and artists to celebrate the courage of those who love outside the lines, who fight to be all of who they are, and in doing so, urge us to manifest a more loving, inclusive America.”

Penumbra Theatre: 2017-18 season

Wedding Band
By Alice Childress
Directed by Lou Bellamy
Oct. 19 - Nov. 12, 2017

Black Nativity
By Langston Hughes
Directed by Lou Bellamy
Nov. 30 - Dec. 24, 2017

The Wiz (co-production at the Children’s Theatre Company)
Book by William F. Brown
Additional material by Tina Tippit
Music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls
Directed by Lou Bellamy
Jan. 23 - March 18, 2018

Frederick Douglass NOW (part of the Claude Edison Purdy Festival)
By Roger Guenveur Smith
Jan. 25-28, 2018

Joy Rebel (world premiere, part of the Claude Edison Purdy Festival)
By Khanisha Foster
Feb. 8-18, 2018

This Bitter Earth (regional premiere)
By Harrison David Rivers
Directed by Talvin Wilks
April 26 - May 20, 2018

Theatre Latté Da: 2017-18 season

Man of La Mancha
By Dale Wasserman
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Music by Mitch Leigh
Directed by Peter Rothstein
Sept. 13 - Oct. 22, 2017

A Christmas Carole Petersen
By Tod Petersen and Peter Rothstein
Directed by Peter Rothstein
Nov. 29 - Dec. 30, 2017

Assassins
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed by Peter Rothstein
Feb. 7 - March 18, 2018

Five Points: An American Musical (world premiere)
Book by Harrison David Rivers
Music by Ethan D. Pakchar and Douglas Lyons
Lyrics by Douglas Lyons
Directed by Peter Rothstein
April 4 - May 6, 2018

Underneath the Lintel
By Glen Berger
Music by Frank London
Directed by Peter Rothstein
May 30 - July 1, 2018

New Work Festival
Summer 2018