Christopher Johnson is not interested in stodgy.
The artistic director of Winding Road Theatre Ensemble is determined that new and emerging playwrights are represented along side the established ones.
And as a twentysomething, he also wants to ensure that voices of his generation are heard on Winding Road’s stage.
Which is why the company, which just closed a successful run of Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret,” is going a bit obscure with its next offerings.
Previews for “Boom,” by San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, open tonight. So do previews for Rajiv Joseph‘s “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” the company’s late-night offering.
“They are both by young playwrights, are newer plays, and Tucson premieres,” says Johnson.
“Both of their voices are voices that are happening right now. They are helping shape theater in America and are as close to the voices of my generation as it’s gonna get.”
Nachtrieb’s “Boom” first surfaced in 2008, and by 2009 it had been the most produced play in the country that year, according to the Theatre Communications Group. That put it ahead of “Our Town” and “The Glass Menagerie.”
The comedy is about a marine biologist who places an on-line ad for sex that “promises to change the course of the world,” and the journalism student who answers the ad.
While they are meeting, Armageddon hits and they appear to be the only ones left. Sure, they could start the human race again, but there’s a problem: He’s gay; she has an aversion to babies. “There couldn’t possibly be a worse combination,” says Johnson, who was seduced by the writing as well as the tale.
“I love that ‘Boom’ is such a sweet story about the end of the world,” he says. “It’s Adam and Eve at the end of the world instead of the beginning.”
“Gruesome,” first staged in 2010, is also about a man and a woman. The two characters were childhood friends and they are drawn together over three decades. At each meeting — at a mental hospital, funeral, hospitals — they are pulled closer as they detail each other’s physical injuries.
“‘Gruesome’ is a love story. It reminds me that the pain of falling in love and out of love is something we start having in childhood. It’s about all those feelings and the wonder of being in love, and how it evolves and changes but stays the same no matter how old we are.”
Both plays should resonate with audiences, he says.
“They are stories we know, stories we’ve heard and seen, but in a way they’ve never been presented before.”
The playwrights cover universal topics, he says, but couch them in a language and scenario that particularly touches him.
“Both (plays) have a much more naked, unprotected, vulnerable voice,” he says. “It’s a voice that’s dealing with what’s happening in the world, with the violence and the technology. The world is getting bigger and smaller at the same time. It’s a very confusing and exciting time. The plays are about the things that confuse us — memory, love, where the world is going.”