PlayMakers Rep Has U.S. Premiere of Owen Meany Oct. 15-Nov. 30; Tandy Cronyn is Mrs. Meany

By Kenneth Jones
15 Oct 2003

Jeff Gurner as Owen Meany.
Jeff Gurner as Owen Meany.

PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional company in residence at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, launches its 2003-04 season Oct. 15 with the American premiere of A Prayer for Owen Meany, adapted from the novel by John Irving.

PlayMakers artistic director David Hammond stages the Simon Bent script about baseball, the diminutive title character, Christianity and mortality.

The Royal National Theatre of Great Britain staged the first production in 2002; Bent has done some rewrites for PlayMakers. Performances play Oct. 15-Nov. 9.

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice not because of his voice or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God," go the opening words of the 1989 novel. "I am a Christian because of Owen Meany..."

According to Playmakers production notes, the play "bewitches with its spiritual optimism and heroic infusion of divine possibility. Owen Meany is, at heart, an examination of the true meaning of faith and the future of America."



Performances play at the Center for Dramatic Art in Chapel Hill.

"The book might have been written yesterday instead of 14 years ago, it speaks so strongly to the contemporary world," Hammond said in notes. "Simon Bent's script brilliantly dramatizes the essence of the novel and is completely faithful to Irving's message and intent. The play is shocking, funny, inspiring and has a profound message for our times. I consider Simon Bent one of the most influential young playwrights in the English speaking world."

Bent joined PRC for rehearsals and will attend the opening of A Prayer for Owen Meany. He has rewritten the original 2002 script specifically for PlayMakers. Bent's play, The Associate, recently completed its run at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, while the National Theatre Studio in July and September presented workshops of his two newest works, The Early Life, Adventures and Pyracies of the Famous Long John Silver Before He Lost His Leg and the musical Property.

Owen Meany designers are Bill Clarke (sets and costumes), Mary Louise Geiger (lighting), and M. Anthony Reimer (sound design). The ensemble cast includes guest artists Jeff Gurner (Owen Meany), Matthew Floyd Miller (John Wheelwright) and Vicki Van Tassel (Tabitha Wheelwright) and company members Ray Dooley (Mr. Meany/Dr. Dolder), Jeffrey Blair Cornell (Reverend Merrill), Julie Fishell (Lydia/Nun) and Kenneth P. Strong (Rector Wiggins/Major Rawls). Also cast are PlayMakers associate artist Tandy Cronyn (Mrs. Meany/Mitzi Lish) and Joan Darling (Grandma Wheelwright).

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The company is entering its 28th season. According to the company's website, "The name 'PlayMakers' continues the proud tradition of the Carolina PlayMakers, a campus based theatre group that originated in 1918. Founded by Frederick Koch, the Carolina PlayMakers became a nationally recognized ensemble with the purpose of developing new playwriting talent. The company played an important role in the development of American folk drama and provided a training ground for generations of theatre artists."

For ticket information, call (919) 962-PLAY or visit www.unc.edu/depts/drama/playmakers.