Further Than the Furthest Thing, Zinnie Harris' morality play about remote islanders relocated to England after a volcano erupts on their home, opens its American premiere Feb. 5 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I.
Harris' play begins on a remote island off the coast of South Africa. Francis (Dan Futterman) returns from a visit to the mainland and brings with him an industrialist (Peter Gerety) who wishes to open a factory on the island. A volcanic eruption ends that plan, and the islanders, used to their own superstitions, rituals and secrets, are forced to leave the island, and their future is manipulated by outsiders.
The play is inspired by the real life experiences of the inhabitants of Tristan Da Cunha who, in 1961, were forced to leave their home while the British government "used the island for darker purposes."
Jennifer Dundas plays the pregnant former love of Francis, Robert Hogan and Jenny Sterlin are Francis' aunt and uncle, haunted by their pasts. Neil Pepe directs. The play was previously seen in a U.K. production co produced by the Tron Theatre Company, Glasgow, and the Royal National Theatre. MTC previews began Jan. 15.
Designers are Loy Arcenas (scenic), Laura Bauer and Bobby Tilley (costume), James F. Ingalls (lighting), Scott Myers (sound). Stephen Gabis is dialect coach (the play has characters speaking a unique island dialect). Dundas appeared in Lincoln Center's Arcadia. Futterman was seen in Angels in America on Broadway and the film, "The Bird Cage," Gerety was last seen in New York as Launce in The New York Shakespeare Festival's Two Gentlemen of Verona, Hogan acted in Broadway's A Few Good Men and Williamstown's world premiere of William Kennedy's Grand View, Sterlin is an English actress who trained and worked in Great Britain (her U.S. credits include East is East at MTC).
Playwright Harris graduated from Hull University in 1994 with an MA in Theatre Production. Since then, she has concentrated on writing for the theatre. In 1995, she was commissioned by the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh for Sharp Shorts. In 1996, she was invited to become a member of the Scottish Arts Council Workshop led by Tom McGrath. She then wrote and directed M'Lady Malade at the Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh. In December 1996, her play By Many Wounds was given a performed reading at the Traverse Theatre. She is currently under commission to Theatre Workshop Edinburgh and the Royal National Theatre Studio.
A note from Zinnie Harris in the Further Playbill reads: "Further Than the Furthest Thing is set on a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic, based loosely on the real island of Tristan da Cunha. The island is as far from Cape Town in one direction as South America in the other, and its only contact with the outside world is a ship that visits approximately every six months. Although the year is 1961, the extreme isolation has meant that the islanders are an odd hybrid of cultures and periods, part Napoleonic, part Victorian, and part modern in dress, accent and attitude. The men wear trousers, jackets and flat caps, the women patterned dresses and head scarves. Both sexes wear very thick white socks knitted from roughly spun sheep’s wool. The island community is around 170 people, made from seven families descended from the original seven shipwrecked sailors who started the colony centuries before. There are neither electricity nor trees on the island, so the houses are entirely lit by lamplight and made of stone and planks salvaged from shipwrecks.
"Further Than the Furthest Thing owes much to the Tristan islanders and their story, the story of their beautiful island and isolated lifestyle that was dramatically interrupted when the volcano erupted and the entire community was evacuated to Southampton. However, the story is not solely their own and departs from accurate documentation almost immediately. In many ways I stole the real Tristan da Cunha to feed my imagination, and emerged gorged, to write into existence a host of characters and events that never happened. Anyone who is sufficiently interested in discovering the true story of their evacuation and history should take the time to read some of the many books that have been written about it — they will find the real version is richer still.
"My own connection with Tristan da Cunha started when my grandfather, Dennis Wilkinson, was posted there as an Anglican priest soon after the second world war. He took with him my grandmother, then a young woman, and my mother and aunt as children. Although they only spent a few years there, it went into family mythology, and we all grew up on tales of this magical place. We spent many evenings poring over hazy photographs of men with strangely serious faces, we were told about long boats, penguin eggs, black volcanic sand and places that were called things like 'The Patches' or 'The Ugly Road.' My mother still on occasion eats potato raw, claiming she prefers it, and she and my aunt can still remember being told about the 'H'outside Warld' as someone might tell a fairytale. It is to this Tristan, the Tristan of childhood memories, with fuzzy edges and missing bits, that this play is dedicated. And also, of course, to my Mum."
Pepe is the sought-after director whose credits include American Buffalo by David Mamet starring William H. Macy (Donmar Warehouse, London and Atlantic Theater Company); The Beginning of August by Tom Donaghy starring Mary Steenburgen (South Coast Rep, Atlantic Theater Company); Refuge by Jessica Goldberg at Playwrights Horizons. Other recent directing credits include Wolf Lullaby by Hilary Bell, Mojo by Jez Butterworth (Drama League Award nominee), Clean by Edwin Sanchez, Shaker Heights by Quincy Long (Outer Critics Circle Award nominee) and more. He has been the Artistic Director of the Atlantic Theater Company since 1992. As an actor he has appeared in many productions at the Atlantic and other New York theatres.
Tickets are $55 and can be reserved by calling CityTix at (212) 581-1212. Ask about $20 student tickets. MTC Stage I is at City Center, 131 W. 55th Street. Visit Manhattan TheatreClub.com.
MTC broke ground recently for the renovation of the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway, which will expand the operation to three Manhattan venues committed to new work. The Biltmore location means MTC works there will be Tony Award eligible. Opening is set for 2003.
MTC is presenting Worth Street Theatre Company's production of Christopher Shinn's Four on Stage II, opening Feb. 19.
— By Kenneth Jones