The Public Theater’s 2021-22 season will feature a mix of projects postponed because of the pandemic and new works, including “Plays for the Plague Year” by Suzan-Lori Parks.
Behind the scenes, the Off Broadway nonprofit — responding to renewed calls for racial equity in the theater industry — said it will include over 50 percent representation by people of color in artistic leadership roles, from the directors and writers to the choreographers and the designers.
“This last year and a half, in addition to Covid, has been about a call for racial justice and equity that we take profoundly seriously,” Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, said in an interview. “The Public obviously has always been, we felt, progressive on racial issues. And what became clear to us is we weren’t progressive enough.”
The season begins with a musical that was about to have its world premiere in March 2020, before theaters were shuttered because of the pandemic: “The Visitor,” by Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey and Kwame Kwei-Armah. Directed by Daniel Sullivan and based on the film about a college professor and two undocumented immigrants, it will feature David Hyde Pierce and Ari’el Stachel, both Tony Award winners. Performances will begin Oct. 7.
The pandemic also led to the postponement of the debut of Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s play, “cullud wattah.” In the interim, she received the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which honors work by women and nonbinary playwrights. The play is about the effects of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., on three generations of women. Candis C. Jones will direct the play, which begins performances in November.
Another delayed work, Mona Mansour’s “The Vagrant Trilogy,” about Palestinians’ displacement, will be directed by Mark Wing-Davey and will now open in April 2022.
And Shaina Taub’s anticipated musical about the American women’s suffrage movement will take the stage in March 2022. “Suffs,” described as an epic show about some of the unsung heroines of the movement, will be directed by Leigh Silverman and feature the choreography of Raja Feather Kelly.
In addition to Parks’s “Plays for the Plague Year,” in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright wrote a play a day since the beginning of the pandemic, the season will also include “Out of Time,” a collection of monologues by five award-winning Asian American playwrights; “The Chinese Lady,” Lloyd Suh’s portrait of the first Chinese woman to step foot in America in 1834; and “Fat Ham,” James Ijames’s “hilarious yet profound new ‘Hamlet’-inspired play” set at a Southern barbecue, Jesse Green wrote in his review of a streaming production. (Some of these are co-productions with Barrington Stage Company, Ma-Yi Theater Company, NAATCO and National Black Theater.)
The theater artist Daniel Alexander Jones’ digital album, “Altar No. 1 — Aten,” will unfold through a series of weekly installments beginning Sept. 22. And Joe’s Pub will be back, too: The performance space tucked inside the Public will have live music starting Oct. 5.
The lineup of shows reflects the current moment well, Eustis said, for a few reasons. There’s the representation of artists of color and the partnerships with theater companies hit harder by the past year than the Public. And then there’s what he called Parks’s “astonishing” new work, “Plays for the Plague Year.”
“They give a sort of map,” Eustis said, “and a day by day examination of what this year has been, like no other work of art I’ve seen. I think it’s an incredibly important and powerful work.”
Parks began writing “Plays for the Plague Year” on March 12, 2020, and it covers at least a year. Among the snapshots she captured were those “almost like a small domestic adjustment drama,” Eustis said, in April, and the murder of George Floyd in May, as well as the racial reckoning that followed.
The past year has sparked dialogue and rocked foundations, and the theater is no exception. Much of the conversation at the Public has been in the gap between “we need to be more thoughtful” and “the show must go on,” Eustis said.
“Because the show must go on; it really must,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out a way to be more thoughtful about how we work, and more mindful about and contemplative about the ways we treat each other while the show goes on.”