Sundance Theatre Lab Artists Include Jeanine Tesori, Lisa Kron, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and More
By Adam Hetrick
The Sundance Institute has announced the eight works that will be developed during its annual July Theatre Lab. Tony nominees Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron are among the Utah-bound artists.
The annual labs allow writers to shape their developing work in a supportive environment with the aid of a professional director and cast. This year marks a Utah return for the Sundance, which was renovating its facilities. In recent years Sundance has held its theatre labs at the Banff Center in Canada, as well as MASS MoCA and on New York City's Governors Island.
Sundance provides each selected artist with a $1,500 honorarium, as well as artistic support including actors, dramaturges, rehearsal space and stage management. Each lab culminates in a presentation for the theatre lab community and a feedback session with Sundance staff.
Fun Home, the new musical with book and lyrics by Kron (Well) and music by Tesori (Caroline, or Change, Thoroughly Modern Millie), will be directed by Sam Gold. It is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel.
Here's how Sundance bills the musical: "'My father and I grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town and he was gay and I was gay and he killed himself and I became a lesbian cartoonist.' Fun Home is Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s musical adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The title refers to the family business, the Bechdel Funeral Home, and charts Alison's quest to come to terms with her father's life and death by painstakingly reconstructing their shared but unspoken bond."
Neighbors playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins will be represented with his latest work Appropriate. According to Sundance, "The Lafayette family patriarch (and compulsive hoarder) is long dead, and it’s time to deal with the deserted and heavily mortgaged Arkansan homestead. When his three adult children descend upon the former plantation to liquidate the estate, a gruesome discovery among his many belongings become just the first in a serious of treacherous surprises. A play about family secrets, memory loss and the art of repression."
Lemon Andersen, who was commissioned by Sundance and the Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival to complete work on his new play ToasT, about the Black folklore hero Dolomite, will continue to hone the piece this summer under the direction of Elise Thoron.
Here's how Sundance characterizes the piece: "Willie Green a.k.a. 'Dolomite,' the famous Folklore hero from the old Black Narratives, is still known as the baddest badass out of San Antone, but he's aged and has been locked up for murder in Attica's D-Block for the last 27 years. Word is brewing throughout Attica that a riot is coming, but Dolomite and his cellmates would rather not get involved until the youngest inmate in D-Block gets a vicious beating by the officers for talking like a liberal about the prison conditions. Does Dolomite join the riots and take vengeance upon the officers for what they did – or lock himself in his cell and hope for a promised parole date and the chance to taste freedom?"
Also planned is Useless Bay by Sarah Treem. "In 1971, before domestic violence shelters were part of the cultural landscape, Agnes, the proprietress of a little bed and breakfast in the Pacific Northwest, has been running her own underground railroad of sorts. She helps abused girls escape, recover and move on," according to Sundance. "At it for 20 years, Agnes thinks she’s seen pretty much all there is to see in the darkness between men and women. She’s not afraid of the victims or their abusers; it’s her boy-crazy teenage daughter, Penny, who terrifies her. So when Mary Anne, a charming new girl with a battered face, arrives, Agnes thinks she’s found the solution. But Mary Anne is not as stable as she seems. And outside, in the distance, the drumbeats of a larger social unrest are beginning to rattle the walls. The play explores the undefined relationship between sex and violence, desire and dependence, feminism and foolery."
Octavio Solis will direct Tanya Saracho's Song for the Disappeared, the second work in her Border Trilogy. "Javi Cantu’s been missing for 48 hours. In another time and place, this wouldn't be cause for concern, but disappearing on the Texas/Mexico Border in this day and age could turn out to be more than dangerous; it could be a tragedy. The Cantus, an affluent and influential Mexican family in Texas, must set aside their differences and heal their schisms if only long enough to discover who or what has caused the family's only male son’s disappearance. This play follows El Nogalar as Saracho’s second in her Border Trilogy," Sundance states.
Playwright Ken Greller will be represented with Hands. According to Sundance, "Set in a suburban Baltimore diner, Hands charts the friendship between Alex and Ray over 22 years. As Alex begins the process of gender transition, Ray treads the dangerous waters of a potentially misguided spiritual revelation. The friends grow further apart until their only commonality is a shared disconnect over the town they’re from and can’t seem to escape."
Daniel Akiyama's A Cage of Fireflies will be directed by Phyllis S.K. Look. The play, according to Sundance, "tells the story of three elderly sisters of the kibei generation: sent as children to be raised in Okinawa, then returned to live and work in Hawaii. The oldest sister, Yukiko, confines herself and the youngest, Kimiko, to their Honolulu apartment, where they enact the small, private gestures and rituals of daily life and cling to a dream of returning to Okinawa. The middle sister, Mitsuko, has been charged with running their family's orchid nursery and has inherited the honorific 'onēsan' ('older sister'), a title that should by rights belong to Yukiko. As long-hidden hopes, resentments and regrets surface, the sisters are forced to confront the fundamental nature of their love for each other. The play explores the tug-of-war between progress and preservation, the selfish and the selfless."
Africa Kills Her Sun, which Sundance has been developing as part of its East Africa Lab, is also among the selected works. Adapter-performers Mrisho Mpoto and Irene Sanga created the work based on "Africa Kills Her Sun" by Ken Saro-Wiwa. It has music by Elidady Msangi, direction by Indhu Rubasingham and also features assistant director-performer Gilbert Lukalia.
Here's how Sundance characterizes the play: "Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995) was hanged by the Nigerian dictatorship for his activism on behalf of his Nigerian Ogoni people. The original text is a condemned man’s last letter to his loved one. Mpoto and his team are adapting this text and using his poetic style in Kiswahili to combine it with slam poetry and storytelling to talk about corruption and abuse of power in contemporary Africa."
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