Arena Stage announces ‘Rashomon,’ ‘Catch Me If You Can’ for 2020-2021 slate

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews upcoming slate at Arena Stage

Attention theater fans! Arena Stage just announced its 2020-2021 season.

The impressive new slate includes five world premieres. More than half of the playwrights and directors represent women and people of color.

“This is one of our most ambitious seasons yet,” said Molly Smith, the venue’s artistic director. “This season is full of con men and saints, strong comedies and terrific dramas and so much music! It’s a joy to see our Power Play commissioning program yield such remarkable and diverse stories — from 1770s to 1920s to 1960s to right now.”

Here’s a preview of the newly announced 2020-2021 season, as well as the handful of shows still remaining from the 2019-2020 season.

Now – March 1

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’

Adapted from the bestselling novel by Khaled Hosseini (“Kite Runner”), “A Thousand Splendid Suns” follows the interwoven lives of two Afghan women in war-torn Kabul.

Here, Miriam and Laila become allies against their oppressive society. Their hope of a new life leads to a shocking decision, forever changing their futures.

Now – March 8

‘Mother Road’

Inspired by John Steinbeck’s classic novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” the sequel “Mother Road” follows terminally-ill William Joad trying to pass down his Oklahoma family farm to a descendant among the Joads who migrated west.

When he discovers the Joads are now Mexican Americans, he and his only living heir, Martín, must confront their notions of family legacy.

The two men travel on the Mother Road from California back to Oklahoma, forging an unlikely bond and coming to terms with their past.

Feb. 28 – April 12

‘Celia and Fidel’

This magical realist “Power Play” imagines a conversation between Cuba’s most notorious political leader and its most influential female revolutionary.

Set in 1980, Fidel Castro leans on his most trusted confidant, Celia Sánchez, amid a failing economy that leads 10,000 citizens to seek asylum at the Peruvian Embassy in Cuba.

Now, Castro must decide his legacy. Will he be remembered as mighty or merciful?

April 3 – May 3

‘Seven Guitars’

Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995, “Seven Guitars” marks legendary playwright August Wilson’s fifth play in his prolific Pittsburgh Cycle.

Set in the 1940s, seven lives intertwine when blues singer Floyd Barton is released from prison only to find that an old song he recorded has suddenly become a smash hit.

He vows to turn his life around with the hope of a second chance, but his desire for a better future clashes with the harsh realities around him, building to heartbreaking tragedy.

April 23 – May 31 

‘Toni Stone’

We all know the story of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, but few know the story of fellow sports pioneer Toni Stone.

Stone was the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, which also makes her the first woman to play professionally in a men’s league in the 1950s.

Based on Martha Ackmann’s book “Curveball, The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone,” the play is the latest from award-winning playwright Lydia R. Diamond (“Smart People”).

July 10 – Aug. 16, 2020

‘American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words’

It all kicks off with the world-premiere musical “American Prophet: Frederick Douglass In His Own Words” by playwright Charles Randolph-Wright (Arena’s “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story,” Broadway’s “Motown: The Musical”).

Cornelius Smith Jr. (ABC’s “Scandal”) stars as 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, following his encounters with President Abraham Lincoln and Douglass’ own wife, Anna Murray-Douglass, who aids his escape from slavery.

Douglass’ own words inspire the melodies by Grammy-winning songwriter Marcus Hummon, including such songs as “What Does Freedom Look Like,” “We Need a Fire” and “A More Perfect Union.”

Sept. 11 – Oct. 18, 2020


Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck explores the state of equality and women’s rights during America’s Revolutionary War.

Set in 1776, news of the Declaration of Independence echoes into the Pennsylvania woods, where witchcraft is still relevant.

The protagonist, Mr. Ames, is inspired by the founders’ ideals of equality, but other members of his household have a different take. His wife and slaves ask, “When it says all men are created equal, does that mean me?”

Oct. 9 – Nov. 1, 2020

‘The Change’ 

Monologue master Mike Daisey (“A People’s History,” “The Trump Card”) explores the end of the world in the premiere of his new work “The Change.”

The epic story plays out in three chapters — Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow — as the play confronts the climate change crisis with heart and humor.

It’s an intense call to action about an existential threat that both terrifies and paralyzes humankind from addressing potentially disastrous consequences.

Oct. 23 – Dec. 13, 2020

‘Catch Me If You Can’ 

Based on the true events that inspired a book by Terrence McNally and a film by Steven Spielberg, a charming con man poses as an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer before escaping police custody — all before he turned 22 years old.

Helen Hayes Award winner Corbin Bleu returns to Arena Stage after “Anything Goes” and Broadway’s “In the Heights” and “Kiss Me, Kate” to take on the title role of Frank Abagnale Jr., made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio evading Tom Hanks.

The Tony-nominated musical comedy features a cool jazz score and dynamic numbers such as “Don’t Break the Rules,” “Live in Living Color” and “Doctor’s Orders.”

Nov. 12 – Dec. 20, 2020

‘Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous’

Novelist and playwright Pearl Cleage’s comedy creatively reinterprets theater history.

It follows playwright Anna Campbell, who shocks the theater world with her controversial work “Naked Wilson,” challenging the lack of female voices in August Wilson’s 10-play Century Cycle.

Now, after a self-imposed exile, she returns to the U.S. to stage the play at the National Black Theatre Festival, but the producers have cast a younger actress in Anna’s original role.

The two must cooperate for the sake of the show and their own lives.

Jan. 15 – Feb. 21, 2021

‘Life After’ 

Directed by Annie Tippe, “Life After” follows grieving a 16-year-old named Alice, who begins to question the events surrounding her famous father’s death.

She sets out to uncover what really happened on that fateful night, gathering clues and seeking the facts to find a more complicated truth in the end.

The entire mystery is set to the bittersweet score of young Canadian composer Britta Johnson, who is emerging as one of theater’s rising talents.

Feb. 5 – March 7, 2021


Based on the stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa that were adapted into the iconic 1950 film by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, “Rashomon” explores the legal aftermath of a samurai found dead in the forest.

Several witnesses — the samurai’s wife, a bandit and a medium — take turns sharing their perspectives, confusing the court with their conflicting accounts.

The timeless story is adapted into a Tony-winning play by Fay and Michael Kanin, teaching a new generation about the elusiveness of truth in this comic tragedy.

Feb. 26 – April 11, 2021

‘The High Ground’

Nathan Alan Davis’ “The High Ground” won the 2018 Whiting Award for its wistful remembrance of Black Wall Street, a once thriving community destroyed in the 1921 Tulsa race riots.

Years later, that conflict still lingers in the mind of an African American soldier, who holds daily vigil at Standpipe Hill to protest racial injustices then and now.

Will he change people’s minds or will history repeat itself?

April 2 – May 2, 2021

‘Crumbs From the Table of Joy’

Set during the Civil Rights Movement, teenage sisters Ernestine and Ermina adjust to their rapidly changing lives in 1950s Brooklyn.

Their outspoken aunt causes neighbors to think they are communists, while their father announces a surprise marriage to a German woman just days after meeting her on the New York subway.

Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage shapes a touching, funny and empowering coming-of-age story told through the eyes of the 17-year-old Ernestine.

April 23 – May 30, 2021

‘Change Agent’ 

This truly ambitious play re-examines three of the most influential periods in U.S. history: the Cuban missile crisis, the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.

Tony-nominated playwright Craig Lucas (Broadway’s “An American in Paris”) imagines conversations between famous figures from each period.

The play shows how these voices — from celebrated visionaries to controversial leaders to unsung heroes — sparked major decisions that still shape America today.

Find more information on all these shows at the Arena Stage website.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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