The professional theater, like the world of serious music, is not immune to the “stick to what works at the box office” mentality that explains how one superhero universe has taken over Hollywood and pushed all of what we used to call drama and “serious comedy” to the streaming platforms. In some ways, the high traditions of theater and concert music may even be more beholden to their canonical pasts: Their margins, and thus their margins for error, are much slimmer. Their pasts are more dauntingly brilliant in achievement as well. Shakespeare and Chekhov built the modern mind in a way that a modern playwright, not matter how individually brilliant, could never hope to, simply because the form itself no longer holds the necessary resonance and primacy in the culture.
This is why established theater labs and summer repertory programs like Vassar’s storied Powerhouse inherit a complex, dual responsibility: to entertain, challenge and edify us as good theater does, and to serve as Petri dish for the cultivation of new growth in a time when biodiversity has been largely choked out of the biggest stages. This Powerhouse does with aplomb and to an exactingly high standard.
Powerhouse’s six-week summer program, its 35th, showcases the best of modern theater in all its dimensions: debuts of Broadway-bound plays, musical workshops, readings and training programs for aspiring actors and directors. It is a window for the discerning public on all that remains vibrant and kicking in the theater.
This summer’s programming includes new works by Pulitzer Prizewinner Beth Henley; Pulitzer Prize, Emmy Award and two-time Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt; Emmy Award-winner Jason Katims; Tony Award nominee Rachel Chavkin; singer/songwriters Ingrid Michaelson and César Alvarez; the Grammy Award-winning La Santa Cecilia; and renowned playwrights Jocelyn Bioh, Harrison David Rivers and Lisa Loomer, among many others.
The season features two mainstage productions in the Powerhouse Theater: The Bandaged Place (June 27-July 7), written by Harrison David Rivers and directed by David Mendizábal; and Lightning (or The Unbuttoning) (July 18-28), written by Beth Henley and directed by Mark Brokaw. The season also features three musical workshops at the Vogelstein Center for Drama & Film’s Martel Theater; two play workshops in the Martel Theater and Susan Stein Shiva Theater; six new play readings; and a variety of programs related to the Powerhouse Theater Training Program. It’s a rich six weeks and a lot to get your head around. Luckily, the Powerhouse website does a good job of it.
June 20-July 28
124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie