Five plays that enjoyed their world premieres at the Yale Repertory Theatre are either getting ready to open in New York or heading there over the next several months—once again demonstrating the importance of Connecticut theater in introducing lasting works to the world at large.
Now in previews in advance of an official December 15 opening, the Yale Rep production of “These Paper Bullets” is now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theatre at 336 West 20th Street in New York, following a run at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Adapted by playwright Rolin Jones from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” with songs by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, “These Paper Bullets” is set in the swinging England of the 1960’s as a wildly popular four-member singing group, The Quartos, returns home from a victorious American tour to a rousing welcome from their mini-skirted admirers and pot-smoking fans, while the more conservative powers that be try to understand what is going on.
Jackson Gay has remained with the show as director and she is joined by many members of the original Yale Rep team including set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Jessica Ford, lighting designer Paul Whitaker, sound designer Broken Chord, projection designer Nicholas Hussong and orchestrator Tom Kitt. Justin Kirk and Nicole Parker play the Benedict and Beatrice counterparts in the play, with Ben as the lead singer of the Quartos and Bea as a Carnaby Street fashion designer. They are joined by many members of the original Yale cast, including Kiera Naughton, Adam O’Byrne, Luca Papaelias, James Barry, Bryan Fenkart and Christopher Geary, the latter playing multiple roles including the most regal of the UK’s royals.
Just after the first of the New Year, Danai Gurira’s “Familiar,” which premiered late last year at the Rep, will open at New York’s Playwright’s Horizons on West 42nd Street. Gurira is probably best known for her role as Michionne on the popular television series “The Walking Dead,” but she is an award-winning playwright as well. Rebecca Teichmann, who directed the production at Yale, will helm this production as well.
“Familiar” tells the story of an assimilated Zimbabwean family living in the Minneapolis area as they prepare for the upcoming wedding of their eldest daughter, who is determined to include a traditional African ritual within the context of the marriage ceremony. This opens old wounds and unpleasant memories for some members of the family, especially when the bride-to-be’s aunt arrives from Zimbabwe to perform the ritual. Both funny and touching, with a few unexpected twists, the play raises questions regarding how far can one flee from one’s roots and a new generation’s interest in reconnecting with traditional customs. “Familiar” is scheduled to run from February 12 to March 27.
At the same time, another play by Gurira that had its premiere at Yale Rep, “Eclipsed,” is readying for a Broadway run at the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street in New York, starting on March 27. Billed as a strictly limited run, the production stars Academy Award winning actor and Yale School of Drama graduate Lupita Nyong’O under the direction of Liesl Tommy, who performed the similar assignment in New Haven. The show moves to Broadway following a sold-out run at New York’s Public Theatre earlier this fall.
“Eclipsed” follows five women whose lives have been impacted by the civil war in Liberia and the various ways in which they adjust to and cope with the ruthlessness and bloodshed they find around them. Having seen the Yale production, I can attest to the play’s power and ability to enthrall an audience. It is a remarkable work and I am pleased that it is now being made available to Broadway audiences. Tickets are now on sale for the Broadway run and can be purchased by calling Telecharge at 212.239.6200 or 800.447.7400, or by visiting www.telecharge.org
“War,” a play commissioned and staged last season at Yale Rep, has been announced as part of the Lincoln Center 3 season later in the Spring of 2016. Lincoln Center 3 is Lincoln Center Theatre’s effort to highlight the work of new playwrights, directors and designers, with productions staged in the Claire Tow Theatre located above the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. “War” is from the pen of the much-lauded playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, who won Obie Awards for his plays, “An Octoroon,” and “Appropriate,” both of which earned widespread critical praise.
In “War,” Jacobs-Jenkins focuses on the interactions of a contentious brother and sister at the hospital bedside of a dying parent faced with the arrival of a non-English speaking stranger claiming a heretofore unknown connection with the family. This will be a new production, to be directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.
Finally, New York’s Vineyard Theatre has scheduled a play produced at Yale Rep earlier this fall, “Indecent” for later in their season at their East 15th Street location, which is currently undergoing renovation. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Yale faculty member Paula Vogel, based on a collaboration between Vogel and the production’s director Rebecca Taichman. Scheduled to run in May and June of 2016, “Indecent” is a play with music that follows the fortunes of a play, Solem Asch’s “God of Vengeance” which enjoyed extensive runs throughout Europe and in the Yiddish theater of early 20th century New York, but resulted in a storm of controversy when it opened on Broadway in 1923. Asch’s play was seen as landmark in Jewish culture by some, and as a traitorous libel by others, as “Indecent” focuses on the artists and producers who risked reputations and careers in support of this work. Taichman will again repeat her Yale work as director, as she did during the production’s engagement at the La Jolla Playhouse in California.
And while New York audiences have these shows to look forward to, another play that originated at Yale made its tardy debut in New York, completing its run this week at McGinn-Cazale Theatre on the upper west side. Sarah Ruhl’s “Dear Elizabeth,” about the epistolary relationship between noted poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, opened in New York as part of the Women’s Project Theater’s season, using a weekly rotating cast in the roles of Bishop and Lowell, unlike the Yale Rep production which used a single cast for its entire run and was more dramatically staged by Les Waters.
It is rare for a regional theatre to have essentially sent five productions to New York within the scope of a single season, with at least one them garnering enough interest and renown to obtain a Broadway production. But under the auspices of Artistic Director James Bundy, Yale Rep continues to introduce audiences to exciting new American playwrights, as he currently is with the production of Jihae Park’s “peerless,” which opens on December 3. Park is a New York based playwright who has a new play scheduled to premiere at this Spring’s Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Kentucky.
To learn more about the Yale Repertory Theatre and its current season, visit their website at www.yalerep.org. Tickets for “peerless,” which runs through December 19, can also be purchased through the website or by calling the Box Office at 203.432.1234.