InterAct Theatre Company, the Philadelphia home of new plays, will give Thomas Gibbons' A House With No Walls, its world premiere Jan. 19 — but its debut status is not isolated to Philly.
The race-themed drama is part of the National New Play Network's 2007 Continued Life Fund Project, which means it will be produced as a "rolling" world premiere by four companies around the country: Florida Stage (West Palm Beach), Curious Theatre Company (Denver) and New Repertory Theatre (Boston). The stagings are all discrete and have unique creative teams.
This cooperative venture "is designed to ensure that new plays will see future productions beyond the initial world premiere," according to NNPN. "Partnerships of three or more theatres, including at least two NNPN members, are eligible to receive funding that supports multiple productions of the same new play. Because all of the partners commit to producing the play prior to the opening of the initial production, thus reducing the negative impact of critical reviews, each theatre takes part in a 'rolling' world premiere that guarantees an opportunity for the play to grow and flourish through contact with a wide national audience."
The InterAct opening is Jan. 24. Performances continue to Feb. 18.
Directed by InterAct co-founder and producing artistic director Seth Rozin and penned by Philadelphia playwright Thomas Gibbons (Permanent Collection), A House With No Walls dramatizes a fact-inspired "fictionalized conflict between liberal and conservative African-Americans who clash over the location of a new American Museum of Liberty which is scheduled to be built on the grounds of the slave quarters of George Washington's Philadelphia home," according to InterAct notes.
Following the success of Gibbons' Bee-Luther-Hatchee and Permanent Collection, the new play is the third and final installment in his "race" trilogy.
The play features "Cadence Lane, a rising star in the world of academia who has just published a startlingly conservative book, and Salif Camara, an ultra-liberal, Afro-centric political activist." The work is billed as a "volatile debate over whether or not African Americans should embrace the legacy of slavery as their primary identity or discard this mantle of 'victimhood.'"
The present-day conflict is mirrored by the factually true story of two of George Washington's slaves, Oney Judge and her brother, Austin. The action of the play bounces between past and present, "sometimes straddling a moment when the two times coexist."
The cast includes Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. (as Salif Camara), Tracey Conyer Lee (as Cadence Lane), Lavita Shaurice (as Oney Judge), Seth Reichgott (as Allen Rosen/Tobias Humphreys), Bowman Wright (as Austin Judge/Jacob Easton) and Tim Moyer (as Steven Gardner/"George Washington").
The creative team includes set and lighting designer Peter Whinnery, sound designer Kevin Francis, costume designer Andre Harrington, stage manager Michele Traub and technical director Andy Campbell.
Performances take place at The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. For reservations or more information, call (215) 568-8079, or visit www.InterActTheatre.org.
For more information about the National New Play Network visit www.nnpn.org.
This world premiere is also part of the first annual Philadelphia New Play Festival: Where Theatre Begins. Piloted by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, the festival will be held Feb. 8-18. The festival is a multi-organizational celebration of new work, featuring fully-mounted world premiere productions by eight of Philadelphia's leading theatre companies, plus a variety of readings, symposia, discussions, and more.
According to InterAct production notes, The central conflict of A House With No Walls is inspired by the controversy that arose in Philadelphia in 2002 over the construction of the new Liberty Bell Center on the site of the former President's house, including the slave quarters used to house the nine slaves owned by George Washington during his presidency. When pressed about the irony of the proposed location, the National Park Service, which oversaw the design and construction of the center, said that it had no intention of exploring the issue, and that no mention would be made of America's legacy of slavery on the site of one of the world's most renowned symbols of freedom and hope. Following an outcry from the African-American and historical communities, as well as Congressional intervention, the Park Service agreed to a center dedicated to the history of the President's House, including a site dedicated to the slaves living at the house and to the history of slavery in America in general. The process is still ongoing, with the memorial not expected to be completed until July 2007, more than five years after ignition of the debate.
For more on the Liberty Bell Center controversy, visit www.ushistory.org/presidentshouse/