Gurney's Musical House of Mirth, Plus New Dead Puppet Piece, Find Home at White Oak Sundance Lab in FL

News   Gurney's Musical House of Mirth, Plus New Dead Puppet Piece, Find Home at White Oak Sundance Lab in FL
A new musical, The House of Mirth, with libretto by A.R. Gurney, drawing from the Edith Wharton novel of the same name, is one of two projects whose development will be part of the 2004 Sundance Institute Theatre Laboratory at White Oak Plantation, in Florida.
A.R. Gurney
A.R. Gurney

The second annual lab is an initiative of The Sundance Institute Theatre Program and The Howard Gilman Foundation, collaborating in a program designed "to support ensemble theatre work and innovative musical theatre."

The 2004 Sundance Institute Theatre Laboratory at White Oak Plantation takes place May 9-23 in Yulee, FL, and Broadway stars Howard McGillin, Judy Kuhn and Karen Mason will be in residence there.

The House of Mirth has music by Michael Torke and lyrics by Mark Campbell. Bart Sher, artistic director of the Intiman Theatre of Seattle, will direct.

Sharing the summer lab is Roman Paska's Dead Puppet Theatre, which will work on Dead Puppet Talk, subtitled a "talking opera."

Dead Puppert Talk features both humans and puppets. Paska explained in a statement: "Dead Puppet Talk explores the interplay between humans and the effigies they create and probes the implications of the puppet as a metaphor for human life. The music sequences employ electro-acoustically altered early American blues and other musical forms, which will be mixed live at each performance." The Dead Puppet Theatre Ensemble is made up of both American and European artists, and includes Marissa Chibas, Timothy Doyle, Uta Gebert, Paul Prestipino, and Philippe Rodriguez-Jorda.

Gurney is the author of Love Letters and the recently-opened Off-Broadway play, Mrs. Farnsworth. His other plays include Big Bill, The Dining Room, What I Did Last Summer, Sweet Sue, Sylvia and more.

Director Bart Sher recently helmed Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago; the musical was originally developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab.

According to the White Oak announcement, "'The House of Mirth,' Edith Wharton's most popular novel, lends itself naturally to the stage. The story follows the fortunes of a beautiful woman at the turn of the 20th century, who is torn between her attraction to the opulent upper reaches of New York society and her innate reluctance to limit herself by marrying into it. Her downfall is marked by events, characters, and scenes which seem to beg to be treated musically."

The cast for the The House of Mirth includes Marla Schaffel, Howard McGillin, Karen Mason, Judy Kuhn, Angel Desai, Jay Goede, John Hickok, Celia Keenan Bolger, David Pittu and Steven Skybell.

In addition to these projects, playwright Terrence McNally will be this year's writer-in-residence at White Oak, where he will be working on a new commission from the Sundance Institute Theatre Program.

The two-week Sundance Institute Theatre Laboratory at White Oak Plantation "offers theatre artists the time and support to rehearse, rewrite, and develop their work."

The lab is overseen by Philip Himberg, producing artistic director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, and Robert Blacker, artistic director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Labs.

The Institute is providing a support team of creative advisors and dramaturgs that includes Jocelyn Clarke, literary manager of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin; and James Lapine, librettist and director of the Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park With George.

"The two projects invited to participate in this program at White Oak reflect the range of work that Sundance Institute has always supported," Himberg said in a statement. "At our annual summer Theatre Lab in Utah, now in its 24th season, we strive to represent the broad landscape of theatre being created in this country today. The White Oak Lab is specifically designed to complement the summer Theatre Lab by focusing on ensemble-created works and musical theatre projects that have special needs."

John Lukas, vice-president of the White Oak Conference & Residency Center, noted that this collaboration is an important component in artists' residency activity at White Oak. "White Oak has been pleased to host dozens of conferences and performing arts, especially dance, residencies over the years," he said in a statement. "This partnership with the Sundance Institute Theatre Program expands and deepens our relationship with the theatre community."


White Oak Plantation is located on a 7,500-acre property in Yulee, FL. It was conceived by Howard Gilman as a sanctuary for animals, and "a place of peaceful yet productive retreat for the people and activities he cared about," according to the announcement. "In 1982, Gilman established the White Oak Conservation Center on the property for the conservation and propagation of threatened and endangered species. White Oak Plantation, which houses the Baryshnikov Dance Studio, has also hosted residencies by performing artists and dance companies; national and international conferences; and seminars and workshops directly related to the Foundation's primary fields of interest: performing arts, wildlife conservation and cardiovascular research."

The Sundance Institute Theatre Program "focuses on the support and development of new work for the stage. These activities take place at the annual Sundance Theatre Laboratory and the Sundance Playwright's Retreat at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. The Theatre Program identifies and assists emerging theatre artists, and contributes to the creative growth of established artists. Over 45 Sundance Theatre projects have gone on to productions at theatres across the United States, Mexico and Europe, in the last seven years. Some of the past projects that have been supported by the Sundance Institute Theatre Program include Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project, Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman, and Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife, which was recently awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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