Notorious Tale of Susanna Cox Told in New Play, Nest, at VA's Signature

News   Notorious Tale of Susanna Cox Told in New Play, Nest, at VA's Signature
Signature Theatre's world premiere commission, Nest, by British-born playwright Bathsheba Doran, starts April 24 at the troupe's 99-seat ARK theatre in Arlington, VA.

Based on historical fact, Nest "is the story of Susanna Cox, an indentured servant accused of infanticide and hanged by the state of Pennsylvania in 1809. As the play examines the events surrounding her hanging, the challenges of the brand-new nation come to life, and look surprisingly familiar."

Helen Hayes Award winner Joe Calarco directs.

Making her professional debut Anne Veal, a third-year student at American University, plays the role of Susanna Cox. The ensemble cast also includes Michael Grew, Vanessa Lock, Stephen Patrick Martin, Charlie Matthes, Richard Pelzman and James Slaughter.

Opening is April 29. Performances continue to June 24.

Nest is recommended for mature audiences only. *

The characters in Nest include the historical figures of Susanna Cox, her master Jacob Geer and his wife Elizabeth, and Daniel Boone. Fictional characters include a successful publisher Drumble, a young writer Joe, and the Chaplain.

Playwright Bathsheba Doran was born in the U.K., but moved permanently to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in 2000. Her own changing identity as a "new" American, British-born, gives her particular insight into the "new" America of the early 19th century, according to Signature.

"I explore the story of Susanna Cox," stated Doran, "through a multifaceted prism of the turbulent times when America comes into its own and attempts to understand, explain and exonerate itself as a new-born nation with new ideals, new geography, new literature, new ethics, and new heroes. Susanna's hanging creates a vortex, whose power draws in every character and makes them confront their dreams of a future and freedom in their brave new world. It is the play about breaking taboos and crossing frontiers, whether sexual, social or spiritual."

Artistic director Eric Schaeffer stated, "For a long time I thought that the story of Susanna Cox would be a good subject for a play. I grew up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, and the reenactment of Cox's trial and hanging still takes place there every year at the Kutztown Folk Festival. Even after 200 years, Susanna's situation still speaks to us, and the historical implications are fascinating. And even then, the real-life event inspired art — there was a very popular ballad written at the time: 'A New Mournful Song Containing the History of Susanna Cox.' Bathsheba Doran is a terrifically smart and talented writer, and when I saw her play Living Room in Africa in New York, I knew she was the right person to write this play for Signature."

Doran began her career as a writer and performer at Cambridge University, where she studied English Literature. Her plays include, among others, Living Room in Africa (Off-Broadway), Until Morning, Odes and Gameshows, The Parents' Evening, 2 Soldiers and Feminine Wash.

She has been produced at the Edinburgh Festival, The Atlantic Theater in New York City, The Old Vic Theatre, and the Drury Lane in London. Her adaptations include Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt directed by Andrei Serban, Great Expectations (Off-Broadway with Kathleen Chalfant at the Lucille Lortel), and Maeterlinck's The Blind for CSC. She is the recipient of three Lecomte du Nouy Lincoln Center playwriting awards, and her work has been developed by the O'Neill Playwrights Center, the McCarter Theatre, and Sundance among others.

A former playwriting fellow at Juilliard, her work spans both drama and comedy.

The creative team includes set designer James Kronzer, costume designer Kate Turner-Walker, lighting designer Chris Lee, sound designer/composer Matthew Nielson and production stage manager Katherine C. Mielke.

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