Not all that long ago, I would get uneasy when heading home into the lonely streets beyond the lit doorway of the opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Years before anyone officially named a neighborhood DUMBO, I used to dread the helpless feeling I got any time I looked for St. Ann's Warehouse in the jumble of forgotten streets near the Brooklyn waterfront.
Worry not. This is not an absurdly belated story about the transformation of Brooklyn.
Rather, this is a chance to notice how much of the new season's most compelling theatrical adventures are scheduled this fall for those transformed areas not far from the bridges into Manhattan.
ST. ANN'S WAREHOUSE, 45 Water St., stannswarehouse.org
Let's look at the newest first. St. Ann's Warehouse, which, since 1980, has been presenting must-see international theater in three temporary venues, has its first permanent home -- and it promises to be a beauty. St. Ann's, which took its name from the Brooklyn Heights church where it began, opens Nov. 6 in the radically reconfigured 1861 Tobacco Warehouse on the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The inaugural season in the new 25,000-square-foot building begins with Phyllida Lloyd's all-woman "Henry IV" from London's Donmar Warehouse. This is the same director -- improbably best known as the director of "Mamma Mia!" -- who brought the eye-opening all-woman "Julius Caesar" to St. Ann's two seasons ago. Like that riveting production, this one is set in a women's prison and stars Harriet Walter, unforgettable as Queen Elizabeth I in Lloyd's 2009 Broadway revival of "Mary Stuart."
Lloyd, who envisions a trilogy of Shakespeare dramas normally dominated by men, hasn't exactly leveled the playing field against countless all-male Shakespeare productions. But the ground is definitely shifting.
Other St. Ann's highlights include "The Last Hotel," the first opera by playwright Enda Walsh ("Once"), Jan. 8-17. In February, multi-award winning Mark Rylance stars in "Nice Fish," which he cowrote with Louis Jenkins, followed next spring by Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in a modern-day, in-the-round reconsideration of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
BAM NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL, various venues on and near Lafayette Street, Sept. 16-Dec. 20, BAM.org
It seemed a little grandiose when the New York Department of City Planning named the area around BAM the Brooklyn Cultural District. But the bright and shiny new neighborhood is unrecognizable from the mid-'80s, when the historic turn-of-the-last-century Opera House was like a mirage on the deserted streets.
One cannot overstate the impact of the ever-innovative, multi-arts Next Wave Festival on the growth of the mushrooming institution itself. This year's fest includes dance, music and theater in the Gilman Opera House, in the BAM Harvey (fortunately remodeled since its uncomfortable early days) and, new since 2012, the 250-seat BAM Fisher.
The theater portion begins provocatively with Juliette Binoche in a new translation of Sophocles' "Antigone" (Sept. 24-Oct. 4). The Oscar-winning actress was last on Broadway in Pinter's "Betrayal" with Liev Schreiber in 2000. Even more newsworthy, potentially, is the production directed by Ivo van Hove.
If you don't know the name of the brilliant Belgian director, whose New York productions have been downtown and in Brooklyn, you will know him soon. He is not only making his Broadway debut in November with his staging of "A View from the Bridge," part of Arthur Miller's centenary year of this most American of playwrights. But van Hove, who has run the largest repertory company in the Netherlands since 2001, is also the force behind "The Crucible" next spring, also on Broadway.
Other theater highlights include "Reconfiguration: An Evening with Other Lives," an immersive event with the Oregon band directed by Steppenwolf co-founder Terry Kinney, plus productions by visionary New York directors Karin Coonrod and Anne Bogart.
THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, tfana.org
This seriously smart company, directed by founder Jeffrey Horowitz, wandered homeless through Manhattan theaters for more than three decades. But no more. Two years ago, the institution opened its beautiful and airy home down the block from BAM with Julie Taymor's deliriously magical staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
The third season in Brooklyn has just opened with Richard Maxwell's "Isolde" (through Sept. 27), which had a brief, wildly acclaimed off-Off-Broadway run with his New York City Players last year. This is a rare big showcase for Maxwell, the playwright-director who is something of an experimental superstar in downtown Manhattan. The play, not based on Goethe or the Wagner opera, involves the effect of an award-winning architect on the marriage between a star actress with memory problems (played by Tory Vazquez, Maxwell's wife) and the owner of a successful construction company.
Other highlights include "Pericles," Trevor Nunn's first Shakespeare staging with an American company, plus Ibsen's "A Doll's House" and Strindberg's "The Father" in rotating repertory, both starring the wonderful actor John Douglas Thompson.
In Thomas Wolfe's 1935 short story, "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn," a character famously said, "It'd take a guy a lifetime to know Brooklyn t'roo an' t'roo. An' even den, yuh wouldn't know it all." I'm not sure I know exactly what that means, but I believe it may be true about Brooklyn theater these days.