The play marked the professional debut of Talbott, a New York actor-writer who won the inaugural Laurents-Hatcher Award — created by the late playwright Arthur Laurents and named for him and his late partner, Tom Hatcher — for an emerging American playwright addressing social issues. In a blind judging process, the playwright and sponsoring theatre, MCC, were selected by the Laurents-Hatcher committee to receive $100,000 for the staging and $50,0000 for the writer.
Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie (Chicago, Venus in Fur) directed the showbiz comedy that evolves into an incendiary drama about creative voice, authorship, racism, homophobia and shifting alliances in the lives of a gay playwright (Tony nominee Jonathan Groff, of Spring Awakening) and an African-American actress (Rutina Wesley, of TV's "True Blood").
The plot has Groff's Danny — a frustrated, white, unproduced twentysomething playwright — hiring Wesley's Emilie to masquerade as the author of his black-ghetto-set play, which has just been accepted into a major theatre festival for a full production. He submitted the script using a nom de plume that he thought sounded culturally specific — or "Black?," as Emilie says.
By all accounts, the play is special and Emilie signs on, for a portion of future profits — to disastrous results. The rehearsal process and eventual production cause an earthquake in the lives of Danny and his partner Pete (played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Emilie and her new boyfriend Trevor (played by Will Rogers), who is Danny's best friend.
Previews began Sept. 8 toward a Sept. 27 opening. "The idea itself came out of a conversation with a friend of mine," Talbott told Playbill magazine in a September feature. "In writing it, I remembered an argument I had in grad school, and that became one of the play's first moments of conflict. It was an argument about how we talk to each other, but it was also an argument about 'If I am able to empathize with your pain — things that happened in your life because of circumstances in mine — doesn't that give me a right to tell your story?' Danny Larsen makes an ethically wobbly decision to promote his play, and my play is about the consequences of that decision."
Check out Playbill.com's video feature with the cast.
According to MCC Theater, "Shaleeha G'ntamobi's stirring new play about an alcoholic black mother and her card sharp son trying to get out of the projects has just been accepted into the nation's preeminent theater festival. Trouble is, Shaleeha G'ntamobi doesn't exist, except in the imagination of wannabe-playwright Danny Larsen, who created her as a kind of affirmative-action nom-de-plume. But a nom-de-guerre may prove more useful as the lies pile up, shaky alliances are forged, and everyone dear to Danny must decide whether or not to run for cover as the whole thing threatens to blow up in his lily white face."
An alumnus of the Yale School of Drama, a working actor and heretofore unproduced playwright, Talbott played David Frost in the U.S. regional premiere of Frost/Nixon and appeared on Broadway in the revival of Sly Fox, as well as the first New York revival of Laurents' Home of the Brave. Scripts vying for the Laurents-Hatcher Award were judged "blind"; the selection committee was not given the writers' names in the process. Laurents (Gypsy, West Side Story, "The Way We Were") himself presented Talbott with the Laurents-Hatcher prize of $50,000 (plus $100,000 to MCC) earlier this year. Laurents died weeks later at the age of 93.
Talbott penned For Nate and Molly and Tender, plays seen in the student Yale Cabaret. His recent plays include twelve twenty-five and Elliot Yagovich. He also co-wrote Critical Moment, a two-hander, with 2010 Tony nominee Stephen Kunken. Under the title Festival Play, The Submission was a semi-finalist for the 2010 O'Neill Playwrights Conference. His is repped by WME.
The production team includes Ryan Rumery (sound designer/co-composer with Christian Frederickson), Darrel Maloney (projection design), David Weiner (lighting designer), Anita Yavich (costume designer), David Zinn (scenic designer) and Timothy R. Semon (stage manager). Casting is by Telsey + Company.
Visit mcctheater.org. The Lucille Lortel Theatre is located at 121 Christopher Street.