He had me at “Crossing Delancey.”
That was my response when Eddie Coffield shared the lineup for the New Jewish Theatre’s 2020-21 season, beginning in October. Coffield is artistic director of NJT, which is part of the Jewish Community Center.
Although I’ve seen the 1988 movie “Crossing Delancy” at least 100 times, I had no idea it was originally a play. Written by Susan Sandler, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay, “Crossing Delancey,” will open the 24th NJT season on Oct. 15 (and run through Nov. 1).
For the unfamiliar, this sweet-hearted comedy tells the story of a modern Jewish young woman whose irascible Bubbe decides a “good match” for her granddaughter would be Sam, the pickle man. The granddaughter, however, has her radar focused on a handsome author, who also happens to be a whopper of a narcissist.
“I don’t believe in theme seasons, but it never fails that when I finally let the casserole settle, it does appear that there is some connective tissue,” said Coffield, who seems genuinely delighted with the lineup for next season. “The 24th NJT season is about identity — about who am I and how do I fit in. So (the plays are) really a lot of examination of self.”
Coffield said the first play he landed on — which is also the one he is most excited about — is “Gloria: A Life” by Emily Mann. It centers on the life of feminist Gloria Steinem and features an all-woman cast. It will run from Jan. 21 to Feb. 7.
“I saw the production in Minneapolis, and I just fell in love with it,” said Coffield. “It goes beyond a bio play because there is an actress who plays Gloria and I think six other women in it. The play culminates in a talking circle, which was her method of creating change. I wondered, how does this talking circle work — is it just a discussion? Well, it’s nothing like that. It’s very powerful, so I’m very excited about bringing it to audiences here.”
The other plays that make up the new season are:
• “Talley’s Folly” by Lanford Wilson, which deals with the courtship of the young Sally Talley and her Jewish suitor, Matt Friedman. (Dec. 3-20);
• “Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities” by Anna Deavere Smith. This one-woman show, in which the actress plays both African American and Hasidic Jewish characters, revolves around the 1991 riots that occurred after two killings in the community of Crown Heights. (April 8–25);
• “They’re Playing our Song” by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch. This musical focuses on the relationship between an established composer and a zany aspiring young female lyricist. (May 27 – June 13)
While three of the five shows were written by women, all five productions will be directed by women. Coffield said that decision was deliberate.
“There’s a large conversation in the professional theater field about representation, both race and gender,” said Coffield. “I thought I can be a part of this conversation and make this decision. I feel fortunate there are a lot of very talented directors in town who want to work for me.”
In the meantime, Coffield is pumped for the last two plays of Season 23: “We Are the Levinsons,” from March 19 to April 5 (see preview story on page 14) and the Stephen Sondheim musical revue “Putting It Together,” from May 7-24. He also is a little verklempt about the record 21 nominations NJT received from the 2020 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, including nine nominations for its production of Neil Simon’s tender comedy “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which opened the 23rd season.
“I’m really proud and honored by how well the season has been received,” added Coffield.
The 2020-21 season will be performed at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. Season subscriptions are priced at $205-$210 for the five-show season. Subscription packages are available as a classic five-show package or the NJT Flex Pass, which allocates six passes to be used at the patron’s discretion. Single tickets will be available in mid-August. Subscriptions will be on sale starting May 13 at the NJT Box Office, 314-442-3283 or at newjewishtheatre.org.