Anne Grossman and Jennifer Rockwood hustled into Broadway’s August Wilson Theater shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday and, beneath their face masks, smiled.
They had shown their proof of vaccination, passed through metal detectors, and, as they stepped down into the lobby, marveled at being back inside a theater. “It’s thrilling” Grossman said, “and a little unsettling.”
The two women, both 58-year-old New Yorkers, were among 1,055 people who braved concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant in order to, once again, see a play on Broadway. It was the first performance of “Pass Over,” by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu, which is the first play staged on Broadway since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered theaters in March of 2020.
“I wanted to be part of the restart of live theater.” Rockwood said.
The play, both comedic and challenging, is about two Black men trapped under a streetlight, afraid that if they dare to leave their corner, they could be killed by a police officer.
The crowd, vaccinated and masked but not socially distanced, was rapturous, greeting Nwandu’s arrival with a standing ovation, and another when she and the play’s director, Danya Taymor, walked onstage after the play to hug the three actors.
The night was significant, not only as Broadway seeks to rebound from a shutdown of historic length, but also as it seeks to respond to renewed concerns about racial equity that have been raised over the last year. “Pass Over” is one of seven plays by Black writers slated to be staged on Broadway this season, and, like many of them, it grapples directly with issues of race and racism.
Read the full article by Michael Paulson for the New York Times here.
Theater at Monmouth plans to presents the Maine Premiere of Tira Palmquist’s “Age of Bees,” an eerily prescient drama written in 2008 about a world-wide pandemic and its aftermath on people, the planet, and, most importantly, the bees.
The play opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 22, other performances are set for 7:30 p.m. July 23, 31, Aug. 4, 10, 14, 15 and 19; and at 1 p.m. Aug. 18.
Mel finds safe haven on an isolated farm, tending to the last blooming apple orchards as primary pollinator. Enter Jonathan, an independent field researcher collecting samples of plants to start anew. Mel sees possibility and purpose in Jonathan, and in Mel, Jonathan discovers a secret that could save the world.
Palmquist’s coming-of-age drama, imagines a world where environmental disaster, and a rapidly spreading plague, has reduced civilization and decimated hope. Still a group of orphaned and abandoned girls find shelter and possibility in the rebirth of an apple orchard. The key to saving humanity is just a drop of blood away.
Director Eddie DeHais asks, “What do we do in the wake of a global pandemic? This is not just a question we are all wrestling with in this moment, but one that is alive in Age of Bees by Tira Palmquist. A global pandemic has devastated the human race and ten years later there are only small pockets of survivors barely scraping by. On an apple orchard in Ohio, we meet two young women, Mel and Deborah, struggling with the painful transition from childhood to adulthood when all the rules have changed. Age of Bees shows us a world that has spiraled much further down the well than our own, and provides a blueprint of how to not just survive but a way to find hope in building anew.
Playwright, Tira Palmquist, is known for plays that merge the personal, the political, and the poetic. Her most produced play, Two Degrees, premiered at the Denver Center, and was subsequently produced by Tesseract Theater in St. Louis and Prime Productions at the Guthrie (among others). Her play The Way North was a Finalist for the O’Neill, an Honorable Mention for the 2019 Kilroy’s List, and was featured in the 2019 Ashland New Plays Festival.
Age of Bees features Charence Higgins as Sarah, Amber McNew as Mel, Michael Rosas as Jonathan, and Tori Thompson as Deborah. Directed by Eddie DeHais; Set design by German Cardenas-Alaminos, Costume Design by Elizabeth Rocha, Lighting Design by SeifAllah Salotto-Cristobal, Properties and Scenic Art by Emma Kielty, Stage Management by Kailey Pelletier, and Sound Design by Rew Tippin.
Post-performance discussions will be pre-recorded and audiences can stream the content before or after their selected dates. Discussions with the cast and creative team will cover the critical historical, artistic, and cultural perspectives of the worlds of each individual play.
Tickets cost $36 for adults, $31 for senior citizens, and $22 for students (18 and younger). Family Show tickets cost $17 for adults, $12 for children.
For reservations or more information, call the TAM Box Office at 207-933-9999 or visit theateratmonmouth.org.
We interviewed Audrey Cefaly, playwright of Maytag Virgin. Read her interview below, and be sure to get your tickets to Maytag Virgin now before they sell out!
Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind Maytag Virgin? Were there any specific influences? The idea first came to me during Washington D.C.’s annual Intersections Festival back in 2012. The show’s curator, Gwydion Suilebhan, asked me to join a group of local playwrights to collectively answer a prompt for pieces “exploring a collision of people of different ages, races, cultures, classes, or sexual identities.” I chose to write a short solo piece about a Southern protestant woman and the tension that arises when a Catholic man moves in next door.
While the finished piece wasn’t exactly a firestarter in a city hungry for political theatre, it did feel authentically southern and 100% on brand for me. In the end, it was very well-received in its short form. I adapted it into a full-length a few years later for the inaugural Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. It is perhaps the most autobiographical of all of my plays.
What is your writing process like? In my work, I start with the audience in mind. The pieces that I create (often “two-handers”) are structured specifically to effect a sort of communal release. I am also an outspoken proponent of stillness in story-telling; the silence in my plays is not incidental. On the contrary, it operates as another character in the narrative. It is my experience that a text stripped to its essence returns the gift of tension. Indeed, much of the story that would otherwise be inaudible reveals itself in these quiet moments. I love a cut almost as much as a great sentence. Almost.
Nothing in my writing is sacrosanct. I believe the best writers understand that the script doesn’t care about your feelings, it just wants to work. And that’s a very freeing idea. It means anything (no matter how good it is) can be demoted, truncated or cut entirely to make the piece work as a whole. There’s sort of this myth that we, as writers, are in control of our narratives, but the truth is each story is in the process of carving its own riverbed and it will “go like it goes” regardless of what you have in mind. For writers that work this way, there’s not a lot of room for preconception.
You identify yourself as a “Southern Playwright.” What is it about the south that continues to inspire your work? The southern dialect has a musicality to it that pairs well with my love of lyricism; I traffic in Williams and Faulkner and Henley and McCullers. I love it all; it’s so rich and distilled. Alabama will always be a part of me. And these stories help me learn more about who I am. There is a sort of unapologetic simplicity to the southern way of life. That’s not to say that it isn’t without complication and it’s certainly very colorful, but the rules are simpler, I think. We’re in the Bible belt, after all; quandaries often involve one’s relationship with Jesus. Around the time of writing Maytag, I was watching a Stephen Fry documentary. He’d been doing some travelling across America and found himself at an Alabama parole board hearing (think of it!). It was fascinating to me how the parole officer kept invoking God as the path to rehabilitation. And that’s a scenario not uniquely endemic to the south, but an absolute principal for living: get God: get better. This theme permeates all of my southern pieces.
Besides being set in the south, are there common themes across your work? What is it about those themes that interest you? Ever heard that old children’s song, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket (Dear Liza, Dear Liza)?” That’s my territory. I’ve always been interested in ache stories. I come from teachers and therapists and so I have a natural inclination to embrace those around me who are suffering; my writing is an outcrop of that tendency.There are a lot of people in the world like Jack and Lizzy who are adrift, unmoored, and looking around for something that feels like home. Maytag says yeah, and you know what, that’s kinda beautiful. It’s beautiful because we often find ourselves at the bottom—at our worst—at the very moment we are doing our damndest to love someone or to love someone through the hell of life. Those noble efforts, that drudgery…that’s what love is. And too often, in those “moments” we forget to love ourselves, we forget to ask for the love we need, we forget to breathe. We convince ourselves it will always be this way…that we are unlovable or that we have run out of chances. The rejection of this fallacy is really at the core of every single love story ever told. It is why we cry at movies and why we watch our favorite romances over and over again, pausing at those tender moments…the ones that speak to us. We are—all of us—longing to feel alive and loved…and to connect.
Does Maytag Virgin resonate with you differently given the times that we’re living in compared to when you wrote it originally? These days, human touch is a fantasy. I used to characterize Maytag Virgin as a love story, and it is. But more specifically, it’s about being “seen.” Truly seen. And I think Jack does that for Lizzy. He’s the friend she so desperately needs. And though they live right next door to each other, they just can’t quite get to each other. So I think it’s that “so close and yet so far” vibe that’s really resonating with me right now.
Ultimately, what do you hope the audience will take away from Maytag Virgin? One of the biggest themes in the play is guilt. We are witnessing a woman in the throes of grief and shame surrounding the untimely death of her husband and a man desperately trying to outrun the torment of ghosts from a not-so-distant tragedy of his own. But guilt is like dancing with the devil. It can take you under if you’re not careful. It can steal everything worth living for. It stands defiantly in the middle of the road, blocking all forward movement. The only way around…is through.
Grief, then — paradoxically — is the remedy. When we are reeling from tragic loss, the last thing on our minds is, “but at least I’m taking a good hard look at myself.”
Indeed, there is a certain sleight of hand in the revelatory nature of grief. It is perhaps the greatest form of self-love we are afforded as humans. It has the power to bring us face to face with ourselves. To question our own identity. And ultimately to love ourselves in some very important ways.
There’s a water motif that runs throughout the play. If the audience is open to look for those moments, I do think they will come away with a deeper understanding. Hopefully they will feel the uplift that I feel when I experience Jack and Lizzy. It’s an endearing relationship, and there’s certainly room for laughter and release. On a deeper level, I hope they will see themselves in the characters.
Read the full interview from the Gulfshore Playhouse here.
Proving that a theater can be groundbreaking even when its grounds are closed, Arena Stage is launching a virtual spring season that includes a film about Indigenous North Americans and their relationship to the land — entirely written, directed and acted by Native people.
“Indigenous Earth Voices” will premiere in May, the fourth in a series of pandemic-era films that Arena Cultural Director Molly Smith has produced since the start of the outbreak that shuttered theaters around the world. Following the template of the other docudramas, which included “May 22, 2020” and “The 51st State,” “Indigenous Earth Voices” features the verbatim words of Native American and First Nation subjects from the United States and Canada as fashioned into monologues by Indigenous playwrights and actors.
“It’s a ‘heart’ project for me,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I just realized that more than half my life I’ve spent with Indigenous people, whether being in Alaska or being married to a Yankton Sioux.” Before coming to Arena in 1998, Smith spent 18 years at the Juneau company she founded, Perseverance Theatre, and her wife, Suzanne Blue Star Boy, is an artistic adviser on the film.AD
The movie is a key ingredient in a wholly reimagined 2021 for Arena. In a plan announced last July, its in-person performance season was to have started up again last month, with the world premiere of Eduardo Machado’s “Celia and Fidel.” Now that play, which was forced to close last March, and four other productions will be presented later, and subscribers have been offered refunds or exchanges.
The digital roster replacing them will also include a free streaming series called “Arena Riffs”: three original filmed musicals, each 20 to 30 minutes and debuting in March and April. Actor-director Psalmayene 24 will unveil his “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents,” a “pandemic-era hip-hop musical,” to be joined by as yet untitled projects by the indie-folk duo Shaun and Abigail Bengson and composer Rona Siddiqui.
“These are fully conceived and created for the virtual form,” Smith said, adding that the short versions may be developed into longer productions, possibly even for live stagings. “The artists in all three have said they have a hunger to continue to build on these projects, so we shall see.”
Psalmayene 24 was shooting “The Freewheelin’ Insurgents” in the District’s Rock Creek Park on Sunday, with four other actors: Louis Davis, Shannon Dorsey, Gary L. Perkins III and Justin Weaks.AD
“It’s the story of a cadre of hip-hop theater artists who are meeting to rehearse in Rock Creek Park,” said Psalmayene 24, who wrote three songs for the piece, with choreography by Tony Thomas and music direction by Nick “tha 1da” Hernandez.
“It explores issues like violent versus nonviolent protest, love and mental health,” he added. “And these artists are grappling with the inability to do what they love doing the most, which is live theater.”
Washington theaters have been increasingly active in creating content online, even if the monetary returns are meager. Arena has been particularly active in filmmaking. As Psalmayene 24 noted: “That’s one of the positive things that have come out of the pandemic. It’s forcing us to be creative. That’s what we need as artists: We need to be locked in a box to figure out how to break out.”
Arena will again offer digital classes with actors, playwrights and others, including such artists as Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Nehal Joshi and Machado. But perhaps the most noteworthy offering is “Indigenous Earth Voices,” by virtue of the unusual fact that a major American theater company is providing a breadth of opportunity to Native artists who struggle for national recognition.
Read the full article by Peter Marks for the Washington Posthere.
BroadwayWorld is pleased to announce the winners for the 17th annual Theater Fans’ Choice Awards, by FAR, the largest fan based awards of their kind. Open to anyone to vote, the awards present a full slate of eligible nominees in categories that both mirror the popular critical awards, as well as fan favorite categories for Best Tour, Ensemble and Off Broadway shows.
A record number of fans participated in voting for this year’s awards, doubling the number of votes from last year alone.
BE MORE CHILL leads with a total of 10 wins, followed by HADESTOWN which took home 5 awards. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD also takes home 5 awards.