Next Theatre Company, 927 Noyes St., kicks off its new season tonight, Oct. 10. The ensemble – an Evanston fixture since 1981 – prides itself on “socially provocative and artistically adventurous work,” and the three plays comprising their 2013-2014 season will be no different, said Artistic Director Jenny Avery.
Next’s seasons are programmed so as to appeal to both the audience’s “heads and hearts,” said Ms. Avery, who is going into her fourth season as artistic director.
“We look for subject matter that resonates with audience members long after they’ve left the theater,” she added. “I love nothing more than getting an email or phone call and hearing that someone in the audience ended up discussing the play’s subject matter at the breakfast table the next morning – that to me is what theater is about.”
Ms. Avery is one of the actors appearing in the company’s first effort this season, “Compulsion,” which begins performances Oct. 10. Spanning several decades, it is inspired by the story of Chicagoan Meyer Levin, who first attracted attention with a book about Leopold and Loeb and then spent years trying to bring a play about Anne Frank – whose story he helped introduce to this country – to the stage.
Mr. Levin’s story, Ms. Avery said, now stands as a “little known part of Chicago history.” Named Sid Silver in the play, Mr. Levin felt that the classic Broadway play based on Anne Frank’s life played down her Jewish roots.
“He was very pure in his desire,” Ms. Avery said. “This show is really about how people appropriate each other’s stories.”
In January, Next presents “Luck of the Irish” by Kirsten Greenidge. It is about an African American couple who pay an Irish family to “ghost buy” a house in a restricted neighborhood on their behalf. Decades later the Irish family decides they want the house back. It is a story about two topics pertinent to most Americans, race and real estate, Ms. Avery said.
The season’s third play, “The Great God Pan,” premiering in April, depicts a man whose seemingly charmed life comes undone when a childhood friend brings up a shared trauma of which the first man has no memory. “It’s about how a faulty memory can inform who we are and our place in the world,” said Ms. Avery.
Ms. Avery keeps up with the theater scene in New York and London, always on the lookout at theater companies with missions similar to Next’s. Evanston audiences, she said, are usually willing to engage with sophisticated and challenging work.
“This is a smart and opinionated community,” said Ms. Avery. “When we have discussions after a performance, even if audience members don’t like the show, they’ll say, ‘Talk to me about it – change my mind.’
“That’s something I angst over when I send out a newsletter,” she added with a laugh. “I often worry that I will just be explaining more about our plays than I need to.”
Information on Next’s new season can be found at www.nexttheatre.org or 847-475-1875.