By Anthony Stoeckert
This year, Princeton Summer Theater is all about perspective. In choosing a theme for this season, artistic director Oge Ude is focusing on “The Other.”
”I was interested in this idea of ‘The Other’ because I wanted to see the other side of people’s stories, or look at another perspective of how to see a tale that has traditionally been told in a singular way,” Ms. Ude said. “So the shows I chose are shows that allow you into a traditional tale through a new lens.”
Ms. Ude just graduated from Princeton. While she has been involved in the theater scene at Princeton throughout her four years at the university, this is her first year with Princeton Summer Theater. She has done some work with the student company Theatre Intime, directing Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and John Logan’s “Red.”
”My approach to Princeton Summer Theater was definitely coming from having worked with people who did PST over the summer and who also worked with Theatre Intime, and I wanted to try my hand at being an artistic director,” Ms. Ude said.”
The series, presented at the Hamilton Murray Theatre on the Princeton University campus, kicked off with “Assassins,” running through June 26. The musical by Stephen Sondheim (with a book by John Weidman) is a revue-style show about famous American assassins, or would-be assassins.
Next up will be Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” June 30-July 10. The play is about two sets of parents who get together after their children have an altercation at a playground.
Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” will run July 14-31. The play offers a different view of Hamlet’s story, through the eyes of two minor characters. The season will wrap up with Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” Aug. 4-14. The drama focuses on former lovers May and Eddie who are constantly bickering in a motel room in the Mojave Dessert.
One of the reasons Ms. Ude wanted to begin her season with “Assassins” is because it marks a return of musicals to Princeton Summer Theatre.
”We didn’t do a musical last summer and I wanted our audiences to get excited and know that we wanted to bring this back to them,” she said.
It’s also a show she’s confident people will love, with its music and fast-paced story. Something else that appealed to her is that “Assassins” isn’t performed as often as other Sondheim shows, such as “Sunday in the Park with George: or “Sweeney Todd.”
”I feel I’ve seen a lot of the big Sondheim productions, and I want audiences to come to PST to see shows they might not get somewhere else,” Ms. Ude said. “It’s a great opportunity for people to come back to something familiar, such as Sondheim, but at the same time be able to come away with new stories, and with a musical they will not get the chance to see somewhere else.”
The cast for “Assassins” includes Ryan Gedrich as Leon Czolgosz (who assassinated William McKinley in 1901); Chris Beard as John Hinckley (who shot Ronald Reagan in 1981); Lily Davis as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (a Charles Manson follower who attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford); Bill Cohen as John Wilkes Booth, and Jared Hopper as the Balladeer and Lee Harvey Olswald.
”Assassins” is being directed by Tatiana Pandiana, a New York-based director and choreographer. The show marks her Princeton Summer Theater debut, and the first time she’s directed a Sondheim show.
”I’m very excited to be working on a Sondheim musical. The music is challenging, the lyrics are dense,” said Ms. Pandiani, who is a graduate of Columbia’s MFA program. “There’s a lot to unpack, so as a director, it’s the kind of work that is exciting. You have to really make (the) story clear through music. Sondheim’s shows are integrated, everything has to do with one another: Characters are built through music; music is built through the text; the text is built through the rhythm, everything is very integrated. And as the director, that is difficult, and I like that. I like that we have to stop and figure out, Why is there a pause here?”
Ms. Ude decided to direct just one show herself because she wanted to give young, emerging directors the opportunity to work at Princeton Summer Theater.
”We work really collaboratively and I love to learn from my co-workers,” she said.
”Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is being directed by Emma Watt, a past artistic director at PST. “God of Carnage” will be directed by Annika Bennet, who also has worked at PST in the past.
”I’m excited to step back and watch people do their thing, and then I get to end the season having collected all that wonderful information from the directors who came before me,” Ms. Ude said.
That’s why she’s directing the season’s final show, and “Fool for Love” is the show she wanted to direct.
”I’ve always had an interest in Sam Shepherd shows,” she said. “He tends to go a bit darker, so he’s not always the best person for summer stock… But ‘Fool for Love’ is so fast-paced and it’s so funny at times when you don’t always expect it to be. It’s a great acting challenge as well, it’s two people in a room for the most part, and then two others come in. To give actors that opportunity during the summer stock process was really exciting to me. Also, the story stuck out as something that is full of surprises, and I wanted to end our season with something with a little bit of a shock factor to it.”
The season also includes an annual children’s production, with this year’s selection being Ms. Bennett’s adaptation of “The Owl and the Pussycat,” July 7-30.
For more information on Princeton Summer Theater’s season, go to princetonsummertheater.org.
Princeton Summer Theater sets the stage for a new season
By Anthony Stoeckert