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Repertory Theatre of St. Louis starts on a new season

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis starts on a new season

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“All the Way,” a drama about Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, will open the 2015-16 season at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Written by Robert Schenkken, “All the Way” won the 2014 Tony Award for best play. Actor Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) also won the Tony for best actor for his portrayal of the president, a shrewd politician employing all his skills to achieve a difficult goal.

The Rep’s artistic director, Steven Woolf, will direct the play, which will run Sept. 9-Oct. 4 on the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, 130 Edgar Road.

Schenkken has already written a sequel dealing with Johnson’s War on Poverty, “The Great Society.” It premiered last summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Before “All the Way,” Schenkken was probably best known for “The Kentucky Cycle,” a massive, centuries-spanning drama that explores life, culture and environmental catastrophe in Appalachia. It won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize.

“All the Way” is also “a huge play — an epic,” Woolf said. “The cast is big, 17 or 18 actors who play 40 or 50 people.” But Johnson, “who was really something,” stands at its center, Woolf said. That role has not yet been cast.

The scope will be much smaller for the extremely intimate second production, “Gaslight,” running Oct. 14-Nov. 8. Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play — which at various times has been known as “Angel Street,” “Gaslight,” and “Gas Light” — tells such a compelling, psychologically acute story that years ago it inspired a new slang term, “gaslighting.”

“Gaslighting” means causing someone to doubt his or her senses and, ultimately, his or her own sanity. That’s just what the ostensibly loving — but secretly sadistic — husband in “Gaslight” does to his bride. Ingrid Bergman won a 1945 Oscar for her portrayal of the wife in one of the play’s movie adaptations.

“‘Gaslight’ has always been in the back of my mind, but I avoided it,” Woolf said. “But then I reread it and realized, this is a great thriller. It’ll be fun.” No director has been announced.

Woolf will announce the next three shows later. But the season that opens with a play about Lyndon Johnson will close with another play about a real man, the great pitcher Satchel Paige.

“Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing” is by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan, the team that wrote the Rep’s 2013 hit about the Tuskegee Airmen, “Fly.” Once again, Khan will direct — and once again, Woolf said, a play based in history will be invigorated by dramatic stage effects.

But instead of making the audience feel as if they are battling in the skies over Germany, this play is designed to convey the thrill of athletic prowess. “Satchel Paige” and the Kansas City Swing” will run March 16-April 10, 2016.

The play takes place during a 1947 barnstorming tour as Paige, a huge star of the Negro Leagues, tries to come to terms with the social changes around him. Jackie Robinson has integrated Major League Baseball, drawing attention from Paige. But at the same time, barnstormers like Paige still bring immense excitement to fans outside of big cities, people who as a rule are able only to read about games in the sports pages or hear them on the radio. Barnstorming games brought them great pleasure; they didn’t need a stadium to savor it.

“The leagues are changing and the world is changing,” Woolf said, adding that Ellis and Khan have again enriched their story with the inclusion of a character who expresses himself through art.

In “Fly,” a dancer called the Tap Griot expresses the airmen’s feelings when they can’t voice them out loud. In “Satchel Paige,” that role belongs to a jazz musician who plays the saxophone.

“Kansas City swing,” Woolf said, “has a double meaning.”

The Rep’s managing director, Mark Bernstein, said that the Rep’s subscription prices won’t go up next season. In recent seasons, they have been raised every year. “We wanted to give our subscribers a break,” he said.

In the 2015-16 season, subscriptions for the six-show Mainstage season will range from $93-$452. Subscriptions for the three-show Studio season, which has not yet been announced, will range from $99 to $156. For more information, visit repstl.org.

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Judith Newmark is the theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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