“I come from a small town in Vermont that hasn’t changed much at all,” explains playwright Greg Pierce, whose new play Cardinal examines the battle for the American soul of a Rust Belt town.
Set to premiere January 9, 2018, at Second Stage Theatre Off-Broadway, the world premiere stars Girls Emmy nominee Becky Ann Baker, Anna Chlumsky, Adam Pally, Alex Hurt, Stephen Park, and Eugene Young. It officially opens January 30 at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre on 43rd Street. Visit 2ST.com for tickets.
Led by Artistic Director Carole Rothman and Executive Director Casey Reitz, 2ST’s mission to produce essential American stories has resulted in some of the most thought-provoking works of the past decade, including the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Next to Normal by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey; the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes; and the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis—each of which asked questions about the American experience, both public and private.
Cardinal, a 2ST commission, was born from “the idea of change and the question of what is America? And, the fact of change. Things are changing,” Pierce explains. “How much can we direct this change? The struggle for a lot of communities across America—it’s the degree to which it’s changing, not whether or not it is.”
Pierce’s work has been produced across the country at numerous regional theatres that are the lifeblood for new American plays. This travel became experiential research. “I had been working in Cincinnati and a few different towns in Ohio, and got very interested in revitalization plans, especially off-beat ones—besides the tax incentives for businesses—it was these younger people’s ideas who had just graduated from college and were full of energy and different ideas. I was looking at Detroit and other cities, some that recovered better than others.”
In Cardinal, a struggling Rust Belt town in upstate New York hopes financial salvation will come in the form of a makeover—paint the downtown business district red and hope tourists will come.
“I came across this Moroccan city, the blue city Chefchaouen, and was just looking at pictures and thought, ‘God, I really want to go there and walk around this city where everything is painted blue and everything is just magical,’” says Pierce. “And I thought, ’Why hasn’t any American small city tried this?’ It’s not expensive to get paint. If you just painted your city, wouldn’t people just come? And don’t we just want to do anything to try to get there?”
This is where the battle begins. Not everyone in town wants to pick up a brush and get to work, namely the town matriarch, Nancy Prenchel, played by Girls Emmy nominee and veteran stage actor Baker.
Suffice it to say, red is not her color.
Cardinal reverberates deeply in today’s America, politically and personally. “Plays take a long time to be developed and produced, and you write them with a longer view. Culture and the political climate tend to change very quickly, so it was interesting reading drafts of the play and different parts would register in different ways depending on whatever was going on. I had to continually balance the idea that people will be watching the play in the here and now and they will be relating it to what’s going on today.”
For Pierce, Cardinal is current and classic. It asks questions that America will continue to grapple with for decades to come as neighborhoods, cities, and cultures shift.
“As I wrote Cardinal, I wanted to ask, ‘What kind of change is good for a town. How much change? What are the changing faces of America? How do we look out for ourselves and how do we empathize with others?’ And in this divisive time now, to be one country. What does it mean to have a country, and all belong to the same place?
“What’s implied is that we all have to live here together. We all want the same things: To love who we love, to have satisfying work, and family. So how do we do that together in the same space?”
Cardinal, directed by Kate Whoriskey, runs through May 13. Visit 2ST.com for tickets.