PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 36th season, highlighted by a Shakespearean coming-of-age epic and two world premieres, was unveiled Thursday (March 17) by producing artistic director Joseph Haj.

The season will feature the Bard’s “Henry IV” and “Henry V,” collectively titled “The Making of a King,” playing in rotating repertory. Also on its Mainstage, the professional theater company in residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will present the world premiere of “The Parchman Hour,” Mike Wiley’s play with stories and songs about the 1961 freedom riders.

Rounding out the Mainstage Season will be Sarah Ruhl’s new comedy “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” and the frantically funny farce “Noises Off” by Michael Frayn.

Plans for a sixth Mainstage play, to run Nov. 30 to Dec. 18, are being finalized and will be announced soon.

PlayMakers will also present three thought-provoking shows in its second-stage season, the PRC2 series. The series will begin with a drama exploring human cloning, “A Number” by Caryl Churchill, and conclude with the world premiere of Ellen McLaughlin’s “Penelope,” a one-woman production accompanied by a string quartet.

A third play is yet to be announced. Each PRC 2 performance includes engaging post-show dialogue between the artists and the audience, the hallmark of the series.

“Our new season features two powerful world premieres, a brilliant contemporary farce, an epic Shakespearean journey and a beautiful, funny, and touching new play by one of America’s top female playwrights” Haj said. “These are smart, fun, meaningful plays for the discerning audiences we are so fortunate to welcome to PlayMakers.”

All performances will be in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road. Mainstage productions will be in the Paul Green Theatre; PRC2 shows, in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre.

Subscription packages for 2011-2012 are available for purchase beginning today (March 18). For the lowest subscription prices of the season, new and renewing subscribers can take advantage of PlayMakers’ early bird discount rates through May 6. Call (919) 962-PLAY (7529) or visit http://www.playmakersrep.org for more information.

Dates and descriptions of the 2011-2012 Mainstage plays:

“In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” by Sarah Ruhl: Sept. 21 to Oct. 9, 2011

A 2010 Tony Award nominee for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize finalist, this charming, playful and insightful story set in the late 1800s centers on a medical device then used by doctors to treat symptoms known as “female hysteria.” Based on historic fact, “In the Next Room” is a tale of the desire and frustration experienced by men and women in their search for sympathy and understanding between the sexes. It evokes the sensibility of a play by George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde, as seen through the lyrical lens of one of America’s finest modern playwrights. 

“A spirited and stimulating new comedy from one of the country’s brightest young playwrights,” said a New York Times review. The Los Angeles Times called the play “Breathtakingly inventive … a modern masterpiece.”
         
“The Parchman Hour” written and directed by Mike Wiley: Oct. 28 to Nov. 13, 2011

In the summer of 1961, the fiery first months of America’s civil rights movement, waves of young people, mostly college students, rode buses into the heart of the Deep South. Their bravery helped change the course of American history, but they barely made it out alive. Many were brutally attacked, arrested and imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary. There they invented their own variety program to help them endure, The “Parchman Hour.” Jokes, stories, singing, Bible readings and other entertainments sprang from every cell. With characters including Stokely Carmichael (who was actually imprisoned at Parchman), Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, “The Parchman Hour” honors an important piece of history, told through story and song.

“PlayMakers is proud to give this inspiring new play its professional premiere,” Haj said.

The Independent Weekly has called Mike Wiley “one of this region’s foremost monologists and playwrights” and “The Parchman Hour” “a strong – actually, make that necessary – reminder, not only of the starkest realities of the segregated South, but of the astounding resilience of those who chose to stand against it.”

Wiley is a 2004 alumnus of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program.

“The Making of a King” – “Henry IV” and “Henry V” by William Shakespeare:
Jan. 28 to March 4, 2012, rotating repertory

An epic coming-of-age tale that follows the education of young Prince Hal from his unpromising start in bawdy houses and taverns – under the tutelage of the larger-than-life Sir John Falstaff – to his rise as one of England’s greatest monarchs, King Henry V. The story goes from palaces to battlefields, encompassing civil war in Britain and battles on the shores of France. Stage and screen actor Michael Winters will return to PlayMakers as the comic, drunken, yet poignant Falstaff. Known from television’s “Gilmore Girls,” Winters was last seen at PlayMakers as “King Lear” in 2004.

Haj will co-direct with Tom Quaintance, a theater veteran based in Los Angeles. The two also paired on PlayMakers’ “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” in 2009.

“Noises Off” by Michael Frayn: April 4-22, 2012

In this uproarious comedy, a fifth-rate theater troupe on a bottom tier provincial tour shows the audience both sides of comedic calamity in this play-within-a-play. A hilarious fiasco of flubbed lines and missed cues ensues, with the onstage antics compounded by offstage romantic turmoil. By the time the curtain rings down, both the set and the ingénue will be stripped to their knickers and the audience left helpless with laughter.

Time Magazine called “Noises Off” “a triumph of slapstick choreography”… “doors slam and trousers drop with dizzying abandon.” “Perfect nonsense,” said the website DC Theatre Scene.

Dates and descriptions of the plays in the PRC2 second-stage series:  

“A Number” by Caryl Churchill: Sept. 7-11, 2011

PlayMakers kicks off a new PRC2 season with an incisive “play that you will want to discuss and debate long after you have left the theater,” according to Internet magazine Theatreworld.

Playwright Caryl Churchill takes the age-old scenario of confrontation between a father and son and turns it inside out to explosively explore issues of human identity and parental responsibility, tackling the nature versus nurture debate head-on. In this family, the son is actually a copy, plus additional clones, of the father’s original son. Variables mount, guilt surfaces, lies are exposed and consequences cannot be denied as startling facts are revealed.

The Washington Post called “A Number” “fiendishly clever,” and The Telegraph of London found the play to be “intellectually and morally profound.”

“Penelope” written and performed by Ellen McLaughlin, music composed by Sarah Kirkland Snider: April 25-29, 2012

Homer’s “The Odyssey” inspired McLaughlin to write “Penelope,” in which a woman’s ex-husband re-appears after 20 years, suffering from brain damage. A veteran of a modern war, he doesn’t know who he is. She doesn’t know who he’s become. She reads aloud from “The Odyssey,” and thereby finds a way into her former husband’s memory through the terror and trauma of war.

Actor-playwright McLaughlin, who appeared in PlayMakers’ drama “All My Sons” in 2010, performs to the live accompaniment of a string quartet. The album of the “Penelope” song cycle was hailed in an array of 2010 year-end best lists, from National Public Radio to Indie Rock Magazine. McLaughlin also will be seen in the theater’s upcoming production of Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.”

Time Out New York called “Penelope”: “Mesmerizing, lush, evocative and deeply moving.” NPR said that the score “deftly weaves pop and classical” and “submerges you completely within the story.”

PlayMakers is finalizing plans for the third play in the PRC 2 series, to be staged Jan. 11-15, 2012. The title and more information will be posted at http://www.playmakersrep.org when available.

Based in the College of Arts and Sciences, PlayMakers is the Carolinas’ premiere resident professional theater company. New York’s Drama League has named PlayMakers “one of the best regional theatres in America.”

PlayMakers contact: Connie Mahan, (919) 428-1744, cmahan@email.unc.edu