Liberian-Set Drama Sia Gets Reading in NewTACTics Festival Off-Broadway June 15-16

News   Liberian-Set Drama Sia Gets Reading in NewTACTics Festival Off-Broadway June 15-16 Off-Broadway's TACT/The Actors Company Theatre continues its NewTACTics New Play Festival June 15-16 with a reading of Matthew MacKenzie's Sia, a drama about unrest in the African nation of Liberia.

TACT member Jenn Thompson (The Eccentricities of a Nightingale) directs the 7 PM presentations featuring Susan Heyward, Evan Jonigkeit and Peterson Townsend.

"Sia recounts the struggles of a Canadian aid worker and two Liberian citizens as they grapple with the atrocities of one of the most brutal rebellions in memory," according to TACT. "Can they come to terms with their wounded pasts to create a more hopeful future, or will they create more bloodshed in their wake?"

MacKenzie is a graduate of the playwriting program at the National Theatre School of Canada where he was the winner of the Lieutenant Governor's Award for excellence and community involvement. Sia won the 2010 Alberta Playwriting Competition's Grand Prize Category and will be receiving its world premiere production in Toronto as part of Cahoots Theatre Company's 2011-12 season. His previous plays include Tick (Edmonton), Me Happy co-written with Amy Lee Lavoie (Toronto) and The Particulars (Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, Winnipeg and Quebec City).

MacKenzie shared the following in production notes: "The Civil War that recently tore the West African country of Liberia apart didn't make any sense to me; without a Cold War chess match to dissect, the media was content painting a messy picture of crazed black Africans butchering one another seemingly for diamonds and hardwood lumber. Living in a community that had received the United Nations' top ranking for places in the world in which to live, I became determined to discover the reasons why Liberia was identified as the worst. Travelling to the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Settlement outside Accra, Ghana, I interviewed over 75 young people about their experiences during Liberia's Civil War. Their stories, which they generously shared, were not about diamonds or hardwood lumber. They were stories about neighbors, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, stories filled with humor, hope and very human horror. In writing Sia I have endeavoured to try to honor these many stories, while at the same time taking a hard look at my and my First World generation's need to bear witness to tragedies in the Third World."

The NewTACTics new works program joins TACT's established programming of full productions and "salon" readings of classics. New works by Joel Gross, Zakiyyah Alexander and Bart Midwood are also being explored in the series through June 30. Gross' play The Queen of Spades, inspired by an Alexander Pushkin story, kicked off the series June 8-9. This inaugural staged reading series is presented at 7 PM on Wednesday and Thursday evenings throughout the month of June at the TACT Studio at 900 Broadway Suite 905. A pre-show reception begins at 6:30 PM.

According to the Equity company, "In keeping with the TACT mission, these plays have been selected because of their focus on the actor and the language of the theatre. All the works presented are unproduced, unpublished and in development. Audience feedback is an essential part of this developmental process, and the playwright, director and cast will be available for post-show talk backs."

The 2011 NewTACTics plays are:

The Queen of Spades
By Joel Gross
7 PM June 8-9
Directed by Robert Kalfin
Featuring TACT members Cynthia Harris and MacKenzie Meehan, with Brian Sutherland and Brad Schmidt

"The Queen of Spades is Catherine Chandler, a well-to-do, oft-married New York socialite who has resigned herself to her Fifth Avenue apartment, alone with her memories. She holds an irresistible secret to success, which drives the envious to extreme measures to reveal it. Little do they know, the one who holds the secret has the heaviest burden of all..."

You Are Here
By Zakiyyah Alexander
7 PM June 22-23
Directed by TACT member Barry Satchwell Smith
Featuring Matthew Dellapina, Alex Hurt, MacKenzie Meehan, Debargo Sanyal, Dana Smith Croll, and Alok Tewari

"You Are Here examines the American Dream as envisioned by an all American family and recent Pakistani immigrants who make their homes in a 'Bridge and Tunnel' town. This broad, thought-provoking comedy will cause you to question where the line between community and territory is drawn."

Spy: The Betrayal of Mata Hari
By Bart Midwood
7 PM June 29-30
Directed by TACT member Barry Satchwell Smith
Featuring Christine Andreas, Christopher Burns, Matt Faucher, Paul Molnar, John Plumpis, James Prendergast and Allen Lewis Rickman

"Spy: The Betrayal of Mata Hari tells the tale of a Dutch courtesan who finds herself caught in the crossfire when she accepts the role of double agent for opposing factions in World War I. Is she the ultimate manipulator, or is she the one who will ultimately get played?"

Barry Satchwell Smith is producing director of NewTACTics, which TACT bills this way: "NewTACTics is a new play initiative that discovers, develops, and explores new works for the theatre. The program is not only dedicated to finding new plays that fit within the TACT aesthetic — theatrical works that focus on the text and the actor's craft — but also plays from the past that have yet to be performed. We want to encourage new playwrights as well as experienced, produced writers to continue to write for the theatre and to discover new ways to use the extraordinary language of the theatre to tell their stories. NewTACTics is interested not only in completed plays but also in works in progress, hoping to bring them to completion through the review, development, staged reading process."

TACT's history is filled with readings and productions of "neglected" or rarely seen works, but there have also been brushes with new work: In 2002, TACT presented the world premiere of Noel Coward's Long Island Sound and worked closely with his estate to adapt the play for production. In 2004, co-artistic director Scott Alan Evans, playwright Christopher Piehler, and members of TACT's acting company, developed the script to The Triangle Factory Fire Project, presenting the world premiere production in May of that year; the play has since been produced across the country (the published script is available through Dramatist Play Service). The company has also developed scripts through its readings program, The Salon Series, including work by Dan O'Brien and a new translation/adaptation of a play by Alexander Ostrovsky. According to TACT, "NewTACTics builds on this experience."

The NewTACTics productions will be presented jointly by TACT and Silver Blue Pictures. Silver Blue Pictures was founded in 2002 by Barry Satchwell Smith in Los Angeles. The company's goal "is to tell stories plainly and simply."

All readings in this series are free of charge, but reservations are encouraged. Email bss@tactnyc.org, putting "NewTACTics Festival Tkts" in the subject line, and indicating in the email how many seats you will need and the date of the reading you would like to attend.

For more about TACT's programming, visit tactnyc.org.

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