Play about Malcolm X’s Boston years set for 2019-20 season at ArtsEmerson
The Boston chapter of Malcolm X’s life is the subject of “Detroit Red,’’ which shapes up as a cornerstone of ArtsEmerson’s 10th season.
Written by Will Power, known for his work in hip-hop-inspired theater, the world-premiere drama about Malcolm X’s years as a teenager and young man in Roxbury will run Feb. 1-16 at the Paramount Center. “Detroit Red’’ will be one of five new works, to go along with five returning shows, that will make up ArtsEmerson’s 2019-20 season, announced Monday evening.
“It’s all here, in a way, our whole story,’’ ArtsEmerson artistic director David Dower said in an interview at the Paramount Center. Dower described the schedule as “five titles that are returning that establish the kind of DNA of what the [ArtsEmerson] brand is, and five that show the scale and ambition that we’re headed to, that we can pull off now.’’ Added executive director David C. Howse: “Part of what we’re trying to do is show Boston to itself, through the art.’’
But the international focus that has been a key part of ArtsEmerson’s identity since it was founded by Robert J. Orchard in 2010 will also be evident. All told, works from six countries, in three languages, will be featured during the season by the presenting and producing organization, which operates under the auspices of Emerson College and stages works at the Paramount Center and Cutler Majestic Theatre. Howse predicted that “some of the work that’s coming in is going to be important for the [theater] field for a long time to come.’’
ArtsEmerson’s season will kick off Sept. 25-Oct. 13 at the Cutler Majestic with the US premiere of “Passengers,’’ a show about “speeding through, up and over the shifting landscapes of our lives’’ by the contemporary circus troupe The 7 Fingers. It will be the seventh engagement in Boston for the Montreal-based troupe, all presented by ArtsEmerson.
Next, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 at the Cutler Majestic, will be “Triptych (Eyes of One on Another),’’ an artistic collaboration “inspired by and featuring images from’’ the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The production will feature poetry by Essex Hemphill and Patti Smith as well as music composed by Bryce Dessner, the guitarist for The National, and a libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle that will be sung by the choral ensemble Roomful of Teeth.
From Nov. 6 to Nov. 10 at the Cutler Majestic will come a production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,’’ featuring marimbas and oil drums, by the Isango Ensemble. The South Africa-based company presented vibrant productions of its adaptations of Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream’’ and Bizet’s “Carmen’’ in Boston four years ago.
The horror and absurdity of war will be the focus of “An Iliad,’’ a solo show, adapted by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson from Homer’s epic poem, that will be performed by O’Hare Nov. 20-24 at the Paramount Center, where he performed it in 2013. Questions about artificial intelligence and the societal effects of automation come to the fore when a group of activists with intellectual disabilities conduct a public meeting in “The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes,’’ by the Australian Back to Back Theatre, slated for Jan. 23-26 at the Paramount Center.
“Detroit Red’’ is billed as a “brutally honest, human portrayal’’ of Malcolm X and the “under-examined, life-shaping experiences’’ he had in Boston. Then known as Malcolm Little, he moved to Boston in 1940 at age 14, where he lived with his half-sister in Roxbury. He worked odd jobs and was captivated by Boston’s black community, writing later in his autobiography: “I saw and met a hundred black people there whose big-city talk and ways left my mouth hanging open. I couldn’t have feigned indifference if I had tried to. . . . I didn’t know the world contained as many Negroes as I saw thronging downtown Roxbury at night, especially on Saturdays.’’ Later, he fell in with a burglary ring, and was eventually sent to prison, where he became a voracious reader and developed an interest in the Nation of Islam.
A storied 1965 bank heist in Buenos Aires is the inspiration for “Plata Quemada,’’ the US premiere of an adaptation of Ricardo Piglia’s graphic novel about those events. A blend of live-action performances with animation and illustration from Teatrocinema, which brought “Historia de Amor’’ to Boston three years ago, “Plata Quemada’’ will be at the Paramount Center March 11-15. From March 26 to March 29, the Cutler Majestic will play host to “Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower,’’ an adaptation of Butler’s 1993 sci-fi novel about a young woman’s journey of survival amid societal collapse. Cocreated by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon with songs drawn from two centuries of black music, “Parable of the Sower’’ will be a “fully realized staged production,’’ following a 2017 workshop production.
The final two shows will be reprises of memorable shows from seasons past. First, from April 28 to May 3 at the Paramount Center, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition will be the subject of “69˚S (The Shackleton Project),’’ a blend of lifesize puppetry, film, and dance, set to the music of Kronos Quartet. An adaptation of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis’’ will be at the Paramount Center May 13-17, directed by Gísli Örn Gardarsson and David Farr and set to an original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.