The new play by Christopher Piehler was created in collaboration with the TACT acting company and borrows from public transcripts, first-person accounts and news reports to tell the story of the deaths of almost 150 women workers in their shirtwaist factory near Washington Square.
Performances play the Clurman Theatre within the Theatre Row complex on West 42nd Street in Manhattan. TACT co-artistic director Scott Alan Evans directs.
About 90 percent of the script is from extant writing about the incident, the director said. "We put it together, it's very much very much a documentary theatre piece," Evans told Playbill On-Line, adding that company members did much of the research, investigating various aspects of the tragedy.
Act I deals with the fire, Act II with the courtroom trials that followed and where the blame was assigned.
Evans said the company was exploring famous trials to create a new piece, and the Triangle incident was an idea that struck them. Ideas for the new show were being developed before the 9/11 tragedy, but Evans said the story of the 1911 fire resonates today.
"Beside it being about that terrible fire and the aftermath, we're really interested in doing it because of what the city's been through," Evans explained. "What happens in a disaster? As a city, how does that affect us?"
The play was developed with playwright Piehler in workshops. Naturalistic scenes and "banal backstory" are avoided in the script, Evans said, in favor of "stylistic elements," including monologues, scenes, spoken headlines and advertisements."
"It's non-literal," Evans said.
The cast includes company members Jamie Bennett, Nora Chester, Francesca Di Mauro, Kyle Fabel, James Murtaugh, Scott Schafer and guest artists Rachel Fowler, Kelly Hutchinson and Timothy McCracken.
"The Triangle disaster was a seminal event in the history of New York City, the state and the country," according to TACT notes. "In the space of 25 minutes 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, perished in a devastating blaze. The horrific event, which took place on a Saturday afternoon in March, was witnessed by thousands of bystanders and shook the city to its very core. The story of the fire itself is astonishing. Its aftermath was even more shocking as politicians, union organizers and a concerned and devastated public looked to lay blame and hold those responsible to account. But who was responsible? Using first person descriptions of many of the survivors, trial testimony, newspaper headlines, articles, and other period ephemera, The Triangle Factory Fire Project dramatically explores this question. But ultimately the play looks at the effect a disaster such as this has on us all."
Opening night is May 19 after previews from May 14. Theatre Row is at 420 W. 42nd Street (between Ninth and Tenth Avenues).
The production team includes David Toser (costume design), Mary Louise Geiger (lighting design), Mimi Lien (set design), Daryl Bornstein (sound design) and Colin McGrath (original music).
Tickets are $15 and may be purchased by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or on the web at www.telecharge.com.
Scott Alan Evans, Cynthia Harris and Simon Jones are co artistic directors of TACT. The company staged the world premiere of Noel Coward's Long Island Sound, in a fill staging, in 2002. The goal is to present one full production (separate from concert readings of work) every other year.
Recent TACT mainstage concert shows — always performed over three days — recently included The Marriage of Bette and Boo, The Good Soup and The Chalk Garden.
The company "celebrates language, the actor, and the spoken word," according to its mission. "Founded by professional actors in 1992, TACT is dedicated to presenting neglected or rarely performed plays of literary merit with a focus on creating theatre from its essence: the text and the actor's ability to bring it to life."
The Triangle Factory Fire Project marks TACT's 60th production.
For more information on TACT, please visit www.TACTnyc.org.