Mark Cuddy directs the co-production between Arena and Rochester, NY's Geva Theatre, where Cuddy is artistic director. For Burnett's playwriting debut, he got rare permission to adapt the prose work by the famed playwright who gave us Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth.
Theophilus North "is the story of a young man's search for adventure and self-discovery which takes an unexpected and amusing detour in Newport, RI, during the 1920s," according to production notes.
Performances continue on Arena's Kreeger Stage to March 2. Meanwhile, on the Fichandler Stage, South Pacific continues its hit run to Feb. 2.
"Novels and plays share the same mother – the storyteller," Arena artistic director Molly Smith said in production notes. "The novel tells its story privately while the play is communal and shared. Although Arena Stage has a rich history of producing Thornton Wilder’s dramatic work – four productions of Our Town (of which one was the internationally-acclaimed production that toured Russia) two productions of The Skin of Our Teeth as well as a production of The Matchmaker – it is particularly thrilling that this marks the first time we produce a Wilder novel."
New playwright Matthew Burnett (who is known as an actor, not a writer) was introduced to the novel, "Theophilus North," by a former teacher, who thought the story would offer Burnett perspective at a time when he found himself at a personal crossroads. "Within about 30 pages of reading 'Theophilus North,' I wondered why is this not a play?" Burnett said in production notes. "I was riveted by what happened to this character Theophilus – that was very real to me. I finished the book and knew I needed to adapt this for the stage, in the hopes that others might share the same, powerful experience I did."
Burnett submitted a copy of his adapted work to the Thornton Wilder Estate, hoping to receive permission to pursue a production. Despite the estate's long-time reluctance to allow Wilder's novels to be adapted for the stage, Tappan Wilder, Thornton's nephew and the executor of the estate, was impressed by Burnett's work and granted his approval.
Burnett later found support from the Geva Theatre, and the New York state not-for-profit helped develop the work through its new play program. Last spring, Arena Stage and Geva Theatre inaugurated the co-production of Theophilus North with a workshop of the play held at Arena Stage.
The cast of seven includes Matthew Floyd Miller (as Theophilus), Siobhán Mahoney, Michael Laurino, Valerie Leonard, Andrew Polk, Lynn Steinmetz and Edward James Hyland. All but Miller play multiple roles.
Designers are Designer G.W. Mercier (set and costume), Ann G. Wrightson (lighting), Gregg Coffin (sound).
Arena Stage is at 1101 Sixth Street SW in DC. For ticket information call (202) 488-3300 or visit www.arena stage.org.