Four New Plays Test the Waters on Stage at Bay Street

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A scene from "My Lord, What A Night." Courtesy photo

Before Emma Lively and Tyler Beattie sit down to write, they invent a new world — one they want to enter together.

With each fictional step forward, a new piece locks into place: the look of the world, its feel, the way it will sound. The characters, the dialogue, the music, the magic.

And the story the playwrights will tell within it.

In the case of “Bliss,” the pop-rock score sets the stage for four princesses who prove it’s possible to have the prince andslay the dragon — “We wanted to create princesses that sounded like badasses,” Beattie said — but the world isn’t ready to allow it.

“‘Bliss,’ in the most lighthearted fun, silly way — it’s a story with unicorns and spells and creatures and romance and humor and adventure — really asks, ‘What do we show our kids? What do we tell them is a prince or princess ideal? What is that supposed to mean in this day and age?’” he said. “I think our generation has been caught between that, between the old and the new fairy tale.”

On Sunday afternoon, their fantastical musical will close Bay Street Theater’s sixth annual New Works Festival, featuring a diverse program of four distinctive works by up-and-coming talent, according to Artistic Director Scott Schwartz.

“They will give our audience a broad experience of what if happening in live theater right now,” he said of the three plays and musical, adding, “We are a home of new works, and we believe in supporting writers as they develop their plays and musicals into what, we hope, will be the classics of tomorrow.”

From Amy Berryman’s focused vision in “Walden” to the humanity Jack Confora brings to musical icons in “Delmonica,” the festival kicks off on Friday with “My Lord, What A Night,” the latest effort from playwright Deborah Brevoort.

Set in 1937, the play begins with legendary singer Marian Anderson, who has just given a performance in Princeton, New Jersey, when she is refused a room at the Nassau Inn because she is African-American.

But then, in steps Albert Einstein, who offers her a room at his own home — a true story Brevoort first read when she was just 7 years old, only understanding its significance and unusual matchmaking decades later.

“I realized right away that that was a play,” she said of the story. “Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein were so different that the fact that they became close friends is instantly interesting.”

With little source material to reference, Brevoort was left to her own devices, imagining the conversation that unfolded between them that night, one that cemented a life-long bond. Two years later, Anderson would sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall because she was black.

The performance became known as the “Concert that Sparked the Civil Rights Movement” and established the monument as a symbol and site of civil protest.

“It all began with her,” Brevoort said. “The play became about how you respond to injustice, and that is an issue that is very personal to me because I am married to an African-American man, who has had five racially profiled events occur with New Jersey police, where he has been harassed for no cause. And every time this happens, this is an issue that we, as a family, have to deal with.”

Riddled with contradictions and complexities, there are no easy responses to these egregious wrongs, she said. But writing “My Lord, What A Night” helped sharpen her perspective of the dilemma, she said, and the human cost of it.

“This play dramatizes an event that continues to affect every person today, whether we realize it or not,” she said. “The Women’s March on Washington is invoking the symbol starting with Marian Anderson. She made the March on Washington what it is.

“We don’t know it, when we put on our pink hats and march on Washington, that we are participating in something that she started, and that continues to define American society,” she continued.” I want people to understand this play and its importance, but also, I want people to see how far we haven’t come. The issues of 1937 are the issues of 2019.”

In a way, Anderson also blazes the path for the four princesses in “Bliss,” a story that began as a fairy tale and quickly evolved into so much more, the co-creators explained.

“What a lot of modern fairy tales do is correct the stories,” Beattie said. “They change the princess into this new stereotype. So we have these four protagonists that are very individual, and we really have an opportunity here to tell a story that says, ‘You can be a princess no matter what. And all that matters is being your authentic self, and finding what truly is your own bliss, as opposed to what somebody else told you it had to be …’”

“No matter what it is,” Lively added. “To really dig into the existing belief systems in ‘fairy tale society’ was very eye-opening to me, and very upsetting — and something that was important for us to dig into. It was an uncomfortable reality we wanted to shine a light on.

“In our version, it’s about how princesses wantto act and walk and talk and be,” she continued. “It’s important for girls to know they have to be themselves — that they have to speak up.”

“Title Wave @ Bay Street: The Sixth Annual New Works Festival” will kick off with “My Lord, What A Night” on Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Additional readings will include “Walden” on Saturday, May 4, at 2 p.m. and “Delmonico” at 8 p.m., and “Bliss” on Sunday, May 5, at 3 p.m.

All readings are free, but tickets are required, valid until 10 minutes prior to each reading before all open seats are released to the waiting list. For more information, call (631) 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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