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Geffen Playhouse unveils 2018-19 lineup with new plays, Jefferson Mays and some Nat King Cole

Geffen Playhouse unveils 2018-19 lineup with new plays, Jefferson Mays and some Nat King Cole
Dulé Hill will star in the West Coast premiere of "Lights Out: Nat 'King' Cole," part of the 2018-19 Geffen Playhouse season. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Emphasizing world premieres and re-imagined classics, the Geffen Playhouse has unveiled plans for the 2018-2019 season, the first under new artistic director Matt Shakman.

The Geffen will present its biggest number of productions, nine. The season begins Sept. 4 in the Geffen's Gil Cates Theater with the premiere of Obie winner José Rivera's "The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona," exploring romance in the afterlife.

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Gil Cates Jr., the Geffen's executive director, believes that the breadth of Shakman's schedule "says a lot about him. I'm very excited. Matt has a bold vision for the theater — doing a lot of original work, a lot of world premieres, changing up our approach to how we create work."

Among the classics are a new adaptation of the Greek tragedy "Antigone" and plays by Eugene O'Neill and Samuel Beckett, both with Tony Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy.

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The lineup includes biographical musical in the West Coast premiere of "Lights Out: Nat 'King' Cole," beginning Feb. 5, with songs recorded by the late jazz and pop singer, including the hits "Nature Boy" and "Unforgettable." It stars Dulé Hill ("The West Wing" and "Ballers") in the title role, and Daniel J. Watts ("Hamilton") as his friend Sammy Davis Jr.

Shakman was named artistic director last summer, replacing Randall Arney, who departed acrimoniously after 17 years in the position. Shakman has extensive experience in directing theater and television (including two episodes of "Game of Thrones") and has directed three plays at the Geffen.

In June 2019, Shakman will direct the premiere of "Mysterious Circumstances," based on a true story about the murder of a Sherlock Holmes scholar. Following a web of intrigue, the scattered heirs of author Arthur Conan Doyle and a cursed trove of missing papers, the play is based on a 2004 New Yorker article by David Grann and was translated for the stage through the support of the Geffen's New Play Development Program.

Gates noted that the new artistic director is not only focused on what material to bring to the Geffen, but also where best to present each piece. Next year, for example, "Black Super Hero Magic Mama," about coping with the police shooting of a teenage boy, will unfold not on a large scale but up close within the smaller 117-seat Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen.

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"Matt said, 'Lets do it in the Skirball where it's intimate and you're going to be affected in a way with the subject matter that's different than you would in a 500-seat theater,'" Cates said. "I like how he's looking not only at the plays but the best use of the spaces."

The Geffen's 2018-19 lineup:

Gil Cates Theater

"The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona" (world premiere) by José Rivera, Sept. 4-Oct. 7

"Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol," adapted and performed by Tony winner Jefferson Mays, Oct. 30-Dec. 2

"Lights Out: Nat 'King' Cole" (West Coast premiere) by Patricia McGregor and Colman Domingo, Feb. 5-March 10, 2019

"Antigone," adapted by Kate Whoriskey, April 9-May 12, 2019

"Mysterious Circumstances" (world premiere) by Michael Mitnick, June 11-July 14, 2019

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Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater

"The Cake" by Bekah Brunstetter, Sept. 10-Oct. 21

"Hughie" by Eugene O'Neill and "Krapp's Last Tape" by Samuel Beckett, starring Brian Dennehy, Nov. 5-Dec. 16

"Black Super Hero Magic Mama" (world premiere) by Inda Craig-Galván, March 5-April 14, 2019

"Invisible Tango," a magic performance by Helder Guimarães directed by Frank Marshall, May 7-June 16, 2019

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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