LCT3 presents the play about an inmate who survives a lethal injection, which is directed by Tony Award-nominated director Thomas Kail (In the Heights, Lombardi). Performances will continue through Feb. 26 at the Duke on 42nd Street.
When I Come to Die reunites playwright Jackson and director Kail. The two collaborated on the world premiere of Broke-ology at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and for LCT in 2009.
Chris Chalk (Fences) plays Damon Robinson, the inmate who gets a second chance, in a cast that also features Michael Balderrama (In the Heights) as Officer Cooper, a prison guard; Neal Huff (Take Me Out) as Father Adrian Crouse, the death-row chaplain; David Patrick Kelly (Festen) as Roach, a fellow inmate; and Amanda Mason Warren (The Golden Age) as Damon's sister, Chantel.
According to LCT3, "When I Come to Die tells the tale of Damon Robinson, a death-row inmate, who struggles to find faith and hope and understand why his life has been spared after he survives a lethal injection."
"Nathan writes with great compassion," director Kail said of the playwright. "I think that Nathan is interested in writing about folks that aren't often written about. One of the things that is really vital to me is to try to do theatre for people that aren't often invited to the theatre, and I think this play fits very much into that part of what I believe. We've had a lot of folks that have come to see the show, some of whom have been On the Inside and have talked about how authentic this play felt. People who have worked with prisoners and taught them in programs within jails have also remarked about how much integrity there was in the script, and that really means everything to us." What kind of research did the director and cast do?
Kail said, "A lot of reading. With any research, what you want to do is read what you can, watch what you can — and then just get into the room and make sure that you're telling the story. Nathan spent a lot of hours at a correctional facility in the Midwest. He knew some people that worked there and had the chance to visit and spend some time with some of the people inside, seeing how the system worked. I know that each of our actors had their own way of getting in. Neil Huff, who plays [Father] Crouse, spent a lot of time having conversations with prison chaplains and some death-row chaplains, which was very useful for him."
He added, "Nathan wrote something very delicate and something that really required us all to be prepared to go in there."
Ultimately, When I Come to Die is not an "issues" play, the director said. "We knew that this wasn't a play about the death penalty and this is not a play about capital punishment," Kail told Playbill.com. "It's about finding light in a darkened area."
The production has set design by Robin Vest, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Betsy Adams and sound design by Jill BC DuBoff.
All tickets for LCT3 productions are priced $20. For tickets phone (646) 223-3010 or visit Dukeon42.
Citing the need to develop strong relationships with new artists and to develop a new audience, and recognizing the frustrations that playwrights have with the current system of readings and workshops, Lincoln Center Theater (under the direction of artistic director Andre Bishop and executive producer Bernard Gersten) created LCT3 to offer new artists fully staged productions. Paige Evans is the director of LCT3.