Previews began Nov. 9, christening the Kogod Cradle, a 200-seat house meant as a place for new works. The Kogod is the newly constructed theatre within Arena's new Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, DC. The Mead Center also has the renovated Fichandler Stage and Kreeger Theater within it.
The Kogod is entered via a curving walkway that takes you to an auditorium where the rounded walls appear to be made of dark, interlaced wood creating an environment that resembles a deep nest. Stadium-style seating takes you down to the stage, and the walls seem to tower above.
Arena artistic director Molly Smith told Playbill.com that the name "cradle" purposely implies that this is a space for incubating new and newish plays, and Gardley's play fits that mission.
Here's how Arena bills the play: "In the backwater town of Boligee, Alabama, the summer heat is rising higher, driving the townsfolk to distraction and conjuring the spirits of the past to walk the earth. Wrapped in the combustible music of a Deep South juke joint and the sweat-soaked gospel of a revivalist church tent, intergenerational stories of loss and redemption collide. Gardley blends ancient myth with magical realism, Biblical allegory with the local TV news to create a fiery theatrical furnace in which some will be saved, some will be purged and the truth cannot escape."
Director Kenny Leon (Broadway's Fences, A Raisin in the Sun) directs an ensemble cast in the Alabama-set play. In addition to Rashad (of Broadway's A Raisin in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and more), the company includes Jason Dirden (Broadway's Fences), DC Helen Hayes-nominated actress Crystal Fox, Autumn Hurlbert (Broadway's Legally Blonde), Jim Ireland (a veteran of Walnut Street, Arden and Wilma Theater productions, among others), Leslie Kritzer (Broadway's Legally Blonde, A Catered Affair, Sondheim on Sondheim), Eugene Lee (Broadway's Gem of the Ocean), Atlanta-area actor E. Roger Mitchell (A Confederacy of Dunces) and Jonathan Earl Peck (a Helen Hayes nominee whose DC credits include Blood Knot and The Glass Menagerie). Performances of every tongue confess continue to Jan. 2, 2011.
Gardley, who grew up in a family of ministers, based his play on the church burnings that happened in 1996 Alabama. Gardley won the prestigious 2008 Helen Merrill Award and a Kesselring honor. His most recent play, On the Levee, was produced at Lincoln Center Theater and has been nominated for seven AUDELCO awards including outstanding playwright 2010. His most produced work, And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, was performed at the Cutting Ball Theater and received both critical acclaim and two sold-out extensions. His plays This World in a Woman's Hands (October 2009) and Love is a Dream House in Lorin (March 2007) were produced in the San Francisco Bay Area. The latter was nominated for the National Critics Steinberg New Play Award. He holds an MFA in playwriting from the Yale Drama School.
The creative team of every tongue confess includes dramaturg Nakissa Etemad, set designer Tom Lynch, costume designer Ilona Somogyi, lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes, composer Dwight Andrews, sound designer Tim Thompson, stage manager Kurt Hall, assistant stage manager Keri Schultz and assistant director Jamil Jude.
For more information, visit arenastage.org.
Playbill's coverage from the public open house of Arena Stage's brand new three-venue complex: