What's the meaning of life? What's the point of economic privilege if it comes with an even steeper cost? What's life without salad?
These are just some of the questions presented in the Kirk Douglas Theatre's upcoming 2015-2016 season, to be announced Wednesday by Center Theatre Group.
"Straight White Men," playwright Young Jean Lee's acclaimed father-son drama exploring race, identity and economic privilege, will finally come to Los Angeles this fall in its West Coast premiere. Lee will direct the play, which Center Theatre Group co-commissioned.
CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie says Lee's "sly perspective" in the play is "eye-opening." The production, which comes to L.A. after a run at New York's Public Theater, is a collaboration with the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA.
"I like Young Jean Lee a lot. I've had my eye on her for a while now," Ritchie said. "It's a sort of anthropologic study of a certain subspecies -- straight white men -- and yet, it's not written with disdain or irony or a gimlet eye. She seeks to understand the human bonds that we share, regardless of how we're defined."
The Kirk Douglas' 12th season also includes the West Coast premieres of three other works as well as a revival of Samuel Beckett's absurdist, existential "Endgame." Ritchie emphasized the diversity of the lineup.
"I think these shows are adventurous and boundary-pushing, both individually and as a whole," he said.
Beckett's one-act play questioning God and human existence will be directed by Alan Mandell, who appeared in Arthur Miller's "The Price" at the Mark Taper Forum earlier this year. Mandell also performs in "Endgame" alongside other established Beckett interpreters, Rick Cluchey, Charlotte Rae and Barry McGovern.
It's not an easy production, Ritchie said -- but that's the point.
"You have to lean into it. You don't go into it casually or walk away casually," he said. "Beckett demands your intellect, if not your soul."
Actor-illusionist-inventor Geoff Sobelle's newest work, "The Object Lesson," is both a comic and poignant "immersive theatrical installation," Ritchie said, that "unpacks our relationship to clutter" in a theater-turned-storage facility. Installation designer Steven Dufala will transform the theater, and David Neumann will direct Sobelle, who wrote and performs in the piece. It's Sobelle's third work at the Kirk Douglas, and "Object Lesson" opens the season.
"I call it the new vaudeville in that it's a theatrical experience that involves illusion and goes beyond a strict narrative piece," Ritchie said.
Adding some musical edge to the season, Todd Almond and Courtney Love will bring the romantic, angsty operetta "Kansas City Choir Boy" to the Kirk Douglas this fall. Almond wrote the music and lyrics, which he performs with Love and an ensemble cast. David Bloom will conduct the string quartet that will join them. Kevin Newbury directs the production, which has been referred to as a Greek tragedy as it follows two lovers in small-town America who are torn apart by ambition.
Sheila Callaghan's "Women Laughing Alone With Salad" is an emerging work programmed into the season. The Neel Keller-directed comedy is about a man named Guy and the three salad-obsessed women in his life. It was developed in a CTG writers workshop.
"I read it and laughed out loud and just said: 'I wanna see this in front of an audience,'" Ritchie said. "It's a big play in that it takes place in many locations and venues, and for it to really live, it needs to be fully realized onstage."
The madcap play, which explores social media marketing and our image-fixated culture, strikes a different tone from, say, Beckett's "Endgame." But that's exactly the point, Ritchie said.
"Ultimately, over time, what we're doing is about offering just the widest range of theater we possibly can to L.A.," Ritchie said, "and this season does it."
The 2015-16 season runs Sept. 4 through May 22, 2016.