Tony nominee Joe Morton and Carousel star Sally Murphy bring an imaginary African-American and murdering mom Susan Smith to life in Cornelius Eady and Diedre Murray's new theatre piece with music, Brutal Imagination, opening at the Vineyard Theatre Jan. 9. Diane Paulus (Eli's Comin', The Donkey Show) directs.
Based on Eady's book of poetry, a 2001 National Book finalist, Brutal Imagination imagines nine days worth of confrontation between baby killer Smith and the black stranger she creates in order shift the blame for the deaths of her children. Two-time Obie winner Murray provides a jazz score, as she did with Eady's Pulitzer Prize nominee Running Man and You Don't Miss Water.
In Eady's conception, the fabricated black man is called Mr. Zero and lives within Smith's skin, taking on characteristics generated by her deeply felt, life-long prejudices against African-Americans as well as her instincts as a mother. The play traces Smith's shedding of the figment kipnapper she has created as she lurches toward her confession.
Morton was Tony nominated for the musical Raisin, based on Raisin in the Sun. Other Broadway credits include Art, Hair and Two Gentleman of Verona, as well as last summer's Measure for Measure in Central Park. Murphy starred as Julie Jordan in the recent Lincoln Center revival of Carousel, as well as The Wild Party and The Grapes of Wrath. She recently played daughter to Lois Smith's mom in Steppenwolf's Mother Courage. Prior to that, Steppenwolf saw her Elena in Uncle Vanya.
Designing Brutal Imagination are Mark Wendlend (sets), who litters the set with mundane household items (kitchen table, phone, sleeping bag, toys, and a sinister-seeming car seat), as well as Kevin Adams (lighting), Ilona Somogyi (costumes) and Brett Jarvis (sound). Tickets are $15-$45. The Vineyard is located at 108 E. 15th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 353-0303.
— By Christine Ehren
and Robert Simonson