The play-with-music by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Obie Award winner Adam Rapp features Heather Goldenhersh, a Tony Award nominee for Doubt — and a TV star since the bow of the 2006 sitcom, "The Class" — returning to her roots at PH, where she appeared in Freedomland, Goodnight Children Everywhere and Psych.
Directed by Edge co-founder and artistic director Carolyn Cantor (Orange Flower Water, Rapp's Stone Cold Dead Serious), the production continues to April 15 at Playwrights Horizons' intimate Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42nd Street.
From the author of Red Light Winter, Essential Self-Defense is described this way by the producing partners: "When a disgruntled misfit (Paul Sparks) takes a job as an attack dummy in a women's self-defense class, he finds himself mysteriously drawn to the repressed bookworm (Heather Goldenhersh) who's beating on him. But all's not well on the mean Midwestern streets of Bloggs: with local children vanishing at an alarming rate, our hero, his lady friend and a motley assortment of poets, butchers and punk librarians prepare to battle the darkness on the edge of town."
The play is billed as "a grim fairy tale with generous helpings of rock 'n' roll karaoke…" The play was written with actress Goldenhersh in mind, Rapp recently told Playbill.com. "I wrote this for Heather and Paul [Sparks], and it's the first time in a long time where I wrote with two actors in mind and they're actually doing the world premiere," he said. It's really exciting. In recent years, I've had people in mind, but they're all becoming famous and they weren't available."
What's the world of the play?
Rapp explained, "It's this small town in the Heartland. I'm trying to talk about these unincorporated towns that were very far away from 9/11 when it went down and the culture of fear that developed there through the media and through the weird airwaves more than anything else. It's a place with a barbershop and municipal library. It has probably 10,000 or 12,000 people. It has a couple of churches and a bowling alley. I know a lot of those towns. I grew up in Illinois. There's a kind of magical, fable-like quality to the play. There are good and evil archetypes that I'm really working hard to make seem as human and identifiable as possible, so they don't seem like comic book heroes."
In the play, children are disappearing and wild dogs attack people.
"Yeah, I think we have this weird fetishization of children in our country and how they disappear or are sexually abused or get kidnapped," Rapp said. "It's an interesting phenomenon and I wanted to comment on that a bit, within the culture of terror that we have. I was trying to conflate those two ideas. And there's also this scapegoat culture we have, where something's gone wrong in a community and someone has to be named the culprit in order for the community to find peace. It's a smaller version of what happened with Osama Bin Laden and our need for retribution on that. We need a name; we create a character so we can sleep at night. I was interested in that as well when I was writing the play."
The cast also features Cheryl Lynn Bowers (The Underpants at Classic Stage Company, Hotel Universe for Blue Light Theatre) as Sorrell, Guy Boyd (Sex and Longing on Broadway, People Be Heard at Playwrights Horizons) as Chuck the Barber, Michael Chernus (the film "Winter Passing," directed by Adam Rapp; Living Room in Africa for Edge Theater) as Isaak Glinka, Joel Marsh Garland (M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water," The Unknown for NYMF) as Klieg the Butcher, Lucas Papaelias ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Cellini at Second Stage) as Todd, Ray Rizzo (Finer Noble Gases for Rattlestick's Adam Rapp Festival of 2004, Essential Self-Defense for Cape Cod Theatre Project) as Bob Beard, and Paul Sparks (Landscape of the Body at Signature Theatre, Orange Water Flower and Blackbird for Edge Theater) as Yul.
Playwrights Horizons' artistic director Tim Sanford and Edge's artistic director Carolyn Cantor explained the unique collaboration between the two troupes.
"Essential Self Defense is a huge play, with a large cast, several locations, and a rock band, so it would have been a daunting proposition to tackle it on our own," Sanford told Playbill.com. "But because Adam is Edge's resident playwright and because I have loved everything they have produced, it seemed to make perfect sense to ask them to do it together."
Cantor said, "While we were really excited about Essential Self-Defense from the moment Adam showed us the play, it would have been very daunting for Edge to undertake this project alone. When Playwrights Horizons approached us about doing it as a co-production, it seemed to be an ideal scenario. In addition to sharing resources, Edge benefits from their knowledge, experience, and infrastructure...and at the same time we get to help bring a different energy and perhaps a younger audience to Playwrights."
The production features scenic design by Edge's David Korins, costume design by Miranda Hoffman, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design by Eric Shim and original music and lyrics by Ray Rizzo, Adam Rapp and Lucas Papaelias. The production stage manager will be Charles M. Turner, III.
Adam Rapp is the resident playwright for Edge Theater. His plays include Red Light Winter (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Obie Award), Blackbird (two Drama Desk nominations), Stone Cold Dead Serious, Nocturne, Ghosts in the Cottonwoods, Animals and Plants, Finer Noble Gases, Faster, Trueblinka, Dreams of the Salthorse and Gompers. His plays have been collected in "Stone Cold Dead Serious and Other Plays" and he has written seven novels. He wrote and directed his first feature film, "Winter Passing," starring Ed Harris, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel, for Focus Features. He is also the recipient of two Lincoln Center le Compte de Nuoy Awards; a fellowship to the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; the 1999 Princess Grace Award for Playwriting; a 2000 Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays; a 2000 Suite Residency with Mabou Mines; the 2001 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights; Boston's Elliot Norton Award; and was short-listed for the 2003 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.
The performance schedule for Essential Self-Defense is Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 and 7 PM. Tickets are $50.
For ticket information to all Playwrights Horizons productions, call (212) 279-4200, noon to 8 PM daily, or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.
For more information about Edge Theater, visit www.edgetheater.org.