Sample seven shows at North Coast Rep’s Season 31 buffet


By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

North Coast Repertory Theatre’s 31st season — the 10th under Artistic Director David Ellenstein — begins and ends with a farce. How does Ellenstein choose his plays? He’s got a little list — a master list of about 100 plays that he adds to all the time.

“I always want an eclectic mix,” he said. “NCRT has no genre agenda; we try to offer a buffet!”

Ellenstein will be directing three plays this season: “Words By,” “Time Stands Still,” and “Becoming Cuba.” Meanwhile, through Aug. 11, he’s onstage in Vista, playing Tevye in the Moonlight production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Here’s the season roundup:

Sept. 5-30

Kicking off the 2012-13 season is “The Underpants,” originally written in 1910 by German playwright Carl Sternheim, a contemporary of Kafka who often satirized the bourgeoisie.

This adaptation, by actor-comedian-banjo player-writer Steve Martin, has brought the play worldwide exposure since its 2002 off-Broadway premiere. Martin kept the storyline — what happens after the wife of a government clerk accidentally drops her drawers in public — but he made “The Underpants” his own: a little zanier, not so political, but with some social commentary underneath.

Ellenstein, who is also an actor, has a Steve Martin connection: He played Einstein in a 1999 Laguna Playhouse production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” Martin’s first full-length play.

Oct. 17-Nov. 11

You’ll want to sing along with “Words By: Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook,” about the lesser-known lyricist brother of George. Ira not only wrote the words to over a dozen hit musicals by his younger brother, but collaborated with composers like Harold Arlen and Kurt Weill after George’s early demise. His lyrics turned catchy tunes into singable classics; now this world premiere puts the spotlight on him.

Part musical revue, part life-and-times reminiscence, “Words By” is the second Gershwin tribute by Minnesota music-man Joseph Vass, whose George-centered show, “The Soul of Gershwin,” has jazzed up theaters from Miami to Toronto.

Jan. 9-Feb. 3

Remember the 1983 movie “Educating Rita,” a Pygmalion-themed charmer about a cynical, middle-aged professor and a young Liverpool hairdresser with a yearning for higher education? Now you can see the play on which the film was based.

Playwright Willy Russell, who also wrote “Shirley Valentine,” has a knack for creating irresistible working-class women who are determined to change their lives.

Feb. 20-March 17

Contemporary issues flare up in the Tony-nominated drama “Time Stands Still,” about a combat reporter/photojournalist couple trying to adapt to conventional life back home. Ellenstein has directed several plays by Pulitzer prizewinner Donald Margulies and said he is excited about bringing this one to NCRT.

April 10-May 5

Next comes “The Odd Couple,” the ultimate bad roommate comedy, which won Neil Simon his first Tony and rocketed his career. “Once the movie came out, people stopped doing the play,” Ellenstein said. “But it’s still as funny as ever.”

May 29-June 23

World premiere No. 2 is “Becoming Cuba,” by Boston-based Melinda Lopez, a winner of the Kennedy Center’s Charlotte Woodard Award, given to a promising new voice in American theater. Ellenstein directed two of her earlier plays, and calls her “a friend and colleague, and a very in-demand writer now.”

Commissioned by NCRT in a novel way — as a self-gifted birthday present from board member Jenie Altruda — “Becoming Cuba” was work-shopped here for a week in June, with the playwright in attendance. It’s an offbeat, often comic drama about family and freedom — with a few ghosts thrown in — set in the time of what Cubans call the War of Independence and we call the Spanish-American War.

July 10-Aug. 4

There’ll be no stiff upper lips at the season’s finale: “Perfect Wedding,” a British bedroom farce by Robin Hawden, whose adaptation of “Don’t Dress for Dinner” was a smash at NCRT in 2008. This one starts out with a man waking up on his wedding morning with a woman beside him who is not his bride.

For more information, visit North Coast Repertory Theatre is located at 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Ste. D, Solana Beach. Season Tickets: $177-$282; Individual Performances: $29-$52; Box Office: (858) 481-1055.