- Dominique Morisseau
A mysterious woman with “a walk that drives men crazy” is among the characters adventuresome theatergoers will meet next month at Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts in Hanover, N.H.
Playwright Dominique Morisseau situates this sexy figure in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood in 1949 in a jazz-inflected show called Paradise Blue. It’s one of six plays that a Tony-winning New York theater troupe is presenting in a series of dramatic readings at the Hop starting August 4. Free discussions with directors, actors and playwrights take place the Tuesday prior to each of the Saturday shows, with the first scheduled for noon on July 31.
The most prominent of the productions hatched at the Hop by the New York Theatre Workshop is Rent, the breakout rock musical that ran on Broadway for 12 years. Two recent musicals developed by NYTW — Once and Peter and the Starcatcher — dominated this year’s Tony awards.
Despite that artistic pedigree, the 39-year-old theatrical group based in Manhattan’s East Village attracts only “a small core audience” in Hanover, says Hop publicist Rebecca Bailey. Attendees tend to be those who “understand what the NYTW is all about,” she adds.
No one should buy one of the $13 tickets ($9 for students) with the expectation of seeing a polished, smoothly staged production. Actors read from scripts that have not gone through their final revisions, Bailey points out. “The writing’s in flux,” she notes. And there aren’t any sets.
Still, “it’s exciting to see work in this form,” Bailey adds. “It’s like the pleasure of watching minor league baseball — which rookies have the stuff to make it big?”
Some audience members who are seriously in love with theater will travel to New York later this year or early next to compare a finished product with what they see this summer at the workshop stage, Bailey notes.
This will be the 21st consecutive summer that the NYTW has presented works in progress at the Hop. “It’s a respite for us,” explains Linda Chapman, the group’s associate artistic director. “It’s a chance to get away from the critics and from prying eyes, and to work on new material with artists outside of our daily lives in the city.” Chapman adds that Dartmouth and the Hop have been “welcoming hosts.”
The college’s theater department and the Hop cover room and board for the visiting actors, who, Bailey says, are often delighted at the opportunity to escape New York for three weeks in August.
NYTW associates also receive assistance from Dartmouth theater majors, about a dozen of whom remain on campus as part of the school’s “sophomore summer” program. “The students help behind the scenes in a lot of ways — not just in get-coffee ways,” Bailey says.
In return, NYTW staff and performers lead seminars intended to give the students an inside view of the group’s creative process.
In addition to Paradise Blue, workshop audiences can see an evolving version of a show about the coming of age of intellectual Susan Sontag, and another focused on the debates that shaped the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in the 1780s. A 1959 battle between New York hyper-developer Robert Moses and free-Shakespeare-in-the-park pioneer Joseph Papp serves as the story line for This Blessed Plot, which kicks off NYTW’s Hop season on August 4.
The New York Theatre Workshop presents two works in progress at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on three Saturdays: August 4, 11 and 18, at Warner Bentley Theater, Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H. Free discussions of the works take place at noon on the Tuesdays preceding their performances: July 31, August 7 and 14. hop.dartmouth.edu