Seattle Rep short list announced

Playwrights include Dorfman, Chong, Simon

SEATTLE — When David Esbjornson was hired by Seattle Repertory Theater as artistic director in February, he said he wanted the city’s flagship theatrical enterprise to launch more original work. Three months later, an announcement to subscribers shows he means business.

On the short list of possible plays for the 2005-06 season are six world premieres, all with major names attached: playwrights Ariel Dorfman, Ping Chong, Amy Freed, Neil Simon; adaptor/translators Shelley Berc and Andrei Belgrader; and composer Norman Durkee.

This is a big departure for the Rep, which, for the past few years has offered subscribers a steady diet of Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, classic American plays and tried-and-true Broadway hits, salted with a few new plays.

Esbjornson replaces Sharon Ott, who announced suddenly last June that she would not renew her contract when it expired this year. The reasons for her departure are still unclear. Some observers speculate personality conflicts were to blame; others that some board members were not thrilled with Ott’s artistic choices.

If the latter was indeed a factor, those critics should be appeased for the time being — at least until the results of Esbjornson’s choices are tested on auds. No doubt the board is hoping his vision can lure back wayward subscribers, at least 4,000 of whom have wandered away in the past seven years (leaving 14,000 at present).

On the tentative list of 2005-06 productions:

“King Stag,” an Italian fantasy by Carlo Gozzi, newly adapted and translated by Berc and Belgrader.

The world premiere of Dorfman’s “Purgatorio,” which Esbjornson recently directed in a workshop production.

“Restoration Comedy,” a new play by Freed, whose “Beard of Avon” was well received at the Rep in 2001.

The first full production of Neil Simon’s “Rewrites,” based on his memoir.

A new musical, “Temple,” based on the life of autistic scientist Temple Grandin, with a score by Durkee.

Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which Esbjornson staged Off Broadway in 2002.

A new collaboration between Chong and China’s Shaanxi Folk Art Theater, “Cathay: Three Tales of China.”

Heather Raffo’s solo show about Iraqi women, “9 Parts of Desire.”

Titles and dates have not been finalized, but the 2005-06 lineup will be set on May 23.