Tennessee Williams mined memories of his problematic family for material.


Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s 2008-2009 season gets under way with the previously announced “Clay,” running Sept. 6-28 at Copaken Stage.

Matt Sax, the playwright, will perform the one-man hip-hop musical under Eric Rosen’s direction.

Immediately following the Kansas City engagement, “Clay” moves to the Duke on 42nd Street, a 199-seat black box theater in New York, where it will open Oct. 6 and run for five weeks. There it will be the inaugural production in Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 series dedicated to producing the work of emerging playwrights, directors and designers.

“Clay” is a coming-of-age story about Clifford, a suburban kid who escapes his dysfunctional family and finds a mentor in Sir John, a master rapper. Clifford becomes a major hip-hop star named Clay, but he discovers that he can’t escape his past.

The rest of the season:

“Radio Golf,” Oct. 17-Nov. 9, the Spencer Theatre.

The final work in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle about African-American life in the 20th century is set in the 1990s when urban redevelopment and conscienceless politics threaten to destroy a house that was once home to the mythical Aunt Ester, a recurring figure in some of the Wilson plays. The director will be Lou Bellamy of St. Paul.

“I was struck in that play how eerily relevant it is,” Rosen said. “In a city that’s fighting about how to rebuild itself here, how many Aunt Ester’s houses have been torn down in the name of progress? How much history has been lost?”

“The Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams, Jan. 9-Feb. 15, 2009, Copaken Stage.

Rosen said it was the last show added to the season, and no director has been announced.

The drama, widely believed to be more directly autobiographical than other works by Williams, is set in St. Louis in an apartment shared by Tom, a factory worker, his younger sister, Laura, and their overbearing mother, Amanda.

Laura is excessively shy, wears a leg brace and escapes into her collection of miniature glass animals, and her mother is obsessed with finding a husband for her.

“It was the first play I fell in love with,” he said. “I know what the play should be. I know what the play should be about. And yet, for me, in a way it’s the riskiest thing on the season because it’s not my forte. It’s not producing classics of mid-century American literature.”

“The Arabian Nights,” Jan. 30-Feb. 22, 2009, Spencer Theatre.

Director-playwright Mary Zimmerman restages her epic retelling of this classic of world literature, in which the beautiful princess Scheherazade tries to save her life by telling the king one story a night for 1,001 nights.

It will be a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and will open in California before moving to Kansas City.

“  ‘Arabian Nights’ was Mary’s first big play — she actually wrote her dissertation about it — and it was the thing that really put her on the map back in the late 1980s,” Rosen said.

Zimmerman was one of Rosen’s mentors and when he saw it in Chicago, he said, “it changed my life.”

Rosen said the show incorporates elements of spectacle and employs lots of music. It’s sexy and funny and dreamlike.

Indeed, the show presents an image of the ancient Middle East seriously at odds with the Western view of it today.

“To compare … all the joy, thoughtfulness and wisdom to what’s happening there now is haunting and very moving,” he said.

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