Fall Season Lookahead: Theater

Critic’s Picks

“‘Master Harold’ … and the boys.” Athol Fugard’s masterpiece set during the Apartheid era in South Africa will be staged by Kansas City Actors Theatre. The cast includes KCAT co-founder Walter Coppage. Performances begin Sept. 11.

“King Hedley II” by August Wilson. This epic tragedy is set a generation after Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” and reverberates with the aftermath of choices made by characters in the earlier play. This is one of Wilson’s most ambitious works. The Kansas City premiere is directed by Harvey Williams for KC MeltingPot Theatre at Just Off Broadway Theatre. Performances begin Sept. 20.

“Caroline, or Change” is a musical by Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori making its Kansas City area premiere by Spinning Tree Theatre. The autobiographical show depicts the relationship between 8-year-old Noah and his family’s African American maid in 1963, as the civil rights movement challenges the status quo across the American South and the country. Performances begin Nov. 8 at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center in Overland Park.

“Bernhardt/Hamlet” by Theresa Rebeck is by reputation a smart comedy depicting actress Sarah Bernhardt’s historic decision to play Hamlet in 1899 — a choice that reverberates with relevance today. Its local premiere at the Unicorn Theatre will be directed by artistic director Cynthia Levin. Performances begin Dec. 4.

Top Venues

When it comes to live theater in Kansas City, the available venues range from tiny to huge.

But if what you seek is a relatively intimate viewing experience — you know, where you can see the actors’ facial expressions — then here’s my lineup.

City Stage at Union Station. The 200-seat house is home both to Kansas City Actors Theatre and Theatre for Young America, the city’s oldest young-audiences theater company. KCAT specializes in classic adult dramas and comedies and routinely showcases some of the best actors in town. The theater’s technical capabilities are limited, but the KCAT designers do wonders with a relatively small playing area. Normally I see shows there from a relatively close seating position, but I suspect the venue’s intimacy extends to the back row.

The Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St., is home to two venues: The Levin Stage, which seats about 150, and The Jerome Stage, a flexible space that can seat about 110. Both stages offer intimate viewing, so much so that at the Jerome you might be close enough to the actors to reach out and touch them. The Levin Stage has benefited from some amazing scenic designs through the years — “Angels in America,” with its multiple locations and dream sequences, and “Take Me Out,” which utilized working showers, come to mind. Shows on the Jerome Stage tend to be smaller and simpler.

Kansas City Repertory Theatre also utilizes two venues, the Spencer Theatre at the Olsen Performing Arts Center on the UMKC campus, and the Copaken, a downtown playhouse situated in the H&R Block building at 13th and Walnut. The Spencer, equipped for state-of-the-art stagecraft, seats 600 or more. The Copaken, which can’t quite match the Spencer in terms of technical wizardry, can accommodate 300.

A word of advice: At the Spencer, you’ll find your ideal seat in the center section through Row E. Once you get above Row G in the upper section, you may find yourself wishing you were closer. At the Copaken, the best seats are in rows A through F. The higher your seat, the more you’ll find yourself wishing for a pair of field glasses.

Musical Theater Heritage on the third level of Crown Center is a nice, intimate venue, especially for the relatively stripped-down classic musicals that have been the company’s calling card. The house can seat about 250. But it’s a thrust-stage configuration, which means seating is in three sections — one facing the front of the stage and one on either side. Generally, the center section offers the best viewing. You should take that into account when you buy your tickets.

Theater Calendar

Sept. 4 – 22, times vary
The Living Room

“Who’s Your Baghdaddy,
or how I started the Iraq war”
Sept. 4 – 29, times vary
Unicorn Theatre

An Evening with Jeremy Jordan
Sept. 6 – 7, 7 p.m.
MTH Theater

KCRep: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
Sept. 6 – 29, times vary
Spencer Theatre

Kansas City Actors Theatre: “‘Master Harold’…and the Boys”
Sept. 11 – 29, times vary
H&R Block City Stage at
Union Station

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre: “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”
Sept. 12 – 29, times vary
Warwick Theatre

Black Repertory Theatre: “Blues in the Night”
Sept. 19 – Oct. 13, times vary
Gem Theater

KC MeltingPot Theatre: “King Hedley II”
Sept. 20 – Oct. 5, times vary
Just Off Broadway Theatre

“Hello, Dolly!”
Sept. 24 – 29, 8 p.m.
Starlight Theatre

Oct. 10 – 27, times vary
MTH Theater

“A Doll’s House, Part 2”
Oct. 16 – Nov. 10, times vary
Unicorn Theatre

KCRep: “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf”
Oct. 18 – Nov. 10, times vary
Copaken Stage

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre: “Oliver!”
Nov. 7 – 24, times vary
Warwick Theatre
www.metkc.orgSpinning Tree Theatre:
“Caroline, or Change”
Nov. 8 – 24, times vary
Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center

Black Repertory Theatre:
“Blood Knot”
Nov. 15 – Dec. 1, times vary
Gem Theater

“Milking Christmas”
Nov. 26 – Dec. 23, times vary
The Living Room

Dec. 4 – 29, times vary
Unicorn Theatre

KC MeltingPot Theatre: “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf”
Dec. 5 – 15, times vary
Just Off Broadway Theatre

Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

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