Tina Benko Stars in JACKIE, Beginning Previews at Women's Project Theater Today

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Tina Benko Stars in JACKIE, Beginning Previews at Women's Project Theater Today

Previews begin today (February 24) for Tina Benko starring in Jackie, the North American premiere of the play by Nobel Prize winning Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, best known in the United States for her novel The Piano Teacher and the 2001 film based on it. Directed by Tea Alagic from the English translation by Gitta Honegger, Jackie opens Tuesday, March 5, at 7:30pm at Women's Project Theater's new home, New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street.

Jackie, an intensely theatrical dissection of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and the myths surrounding her well-coiffed veneer, is a disturbing exploration of submission, power, and the hypocrisy of everyday life.

Ms. Jelinek writes in her stage directions for her solo play Jackie: Jackie should appear in a Chanel suit, I think... One could also take as a model that last photograph in Central Park (with Maurice Tempelsman), the one on the bench, trench coat, wig (hair lost because of chemo), sunglasses, and Hermès scarf. In any case, she should work hard. I imagine all her dead loved ones, her children, well, the embryo and the two dead babies aren't that heavy, but those dead men, Jack, Bobby, Telis ("Ari"), they'll be quite a load, so, how shall I put it, she should drag those dead ones behind her like in a tug-of-war. Or like a Wolga boatman with his boat.

Notoriously private, Elfriede Jelinek (b. 1946) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004 The Nobel cited "her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power" when making the award. Ms. Jelinek, who suffers from severe acute anxiety syndrome that keeps her homebound, did not appear at the Nobel ceremony nor submit a biography for the Nobel Prize press release. (A great article on her body of work is at www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2004/jelinek-article.html).

Jackie is part of Ms. Elfriede's cycle of "Princess Plays" that she describes as a satirical counterpoint to Shakespeare's histories, which in German are called "Kings Plays." She has female role models such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Princess Di and Jackie Kennedy, who, for the 20th Century, is the essential princess. The production history surrounding Jackie is mysterious, and this production may well be the world premiere of the English language translation.

According to Ms. Honegger, Ms. Elfriede's later performance texts remind her of Stephen Colbert. "Because when he drives the logic to its most absurd, when he takes the rhetoric of Paul Ryan and people like that, and when he aims at the totally nonsensical punch line, which is also so true, that is pure Jelinek­the sense of nonsense, you know, that nonsense which turns out to be the truth," Ms. Honegger said in a recent interview.

The set for Jackie is by Marsha Ginsberg, costumes by Susan Hilferty, lights by Brian H Scott and sound by Jane Shaw.

"Our 35th anniversary season questions the state of the American dream," said Julie Crosby, Producing Artistic Director of Women's Project Theater which just closed it's first mega-hit, Bethany. "In Jackie, Elfriede Jelinek brilliantly dismantles the way in which Americans have cast one of their most revered icons, one who embodies all the beauty and power and wealth of our national dream destination­a mythological Camelot."

Tina Benko recently played the title role in Toni Morrison's play Desdemona directed by Peter Sellars at the Barbican Theatre in London. Other theatre credits include Katori Hall's Whaddaboodclot!! at Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Little Foxes and Restoration at New York Theatre Workshop, Marie and Bruce at The New Group, Age of Iron and The False Servant at Classic Stage Company, Ten High at Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Rough Sketch at 59 East 59. TV and film includes Admission, The Contest, The Avengers, Lucky Days, Photo-Op, Royal Pains, Unforgettable, and three seasons on the Showtime series Brotherhood. In addition to guest star roles in a number of Law and Orders, she guest starred in an episode of Ugly Betty with its star America Ferrera, who heads the cast of Women Project's Theater's current premiere, Bethany.

Director Tea Alagic directed Women's Project's highly acclaimed Aliens With Extraordinary Skills by Saviana Stanescu in 2008. An alumna of Women's Project's Directors Lab, she directed the world premiere of The Brothers Size by Tarell McCraney at The Public Theater and later at The Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Her original devised work includes The Filament Cycle, which performed at La Mama, the 4+4 Festival in Prague, BAC London, Philadelphia, Colorado, Denver, and Potsdam; and Zero Hour, about the Balkan War.

Women's Project Theater memberships for the entire season, start at $60 and may be purchased at www.womensproject.org or by calling 212 765-1706. Single tickets ($60+) can be purchased online at www.NYCityCenter.org, by calling CityTix at 212 581-1212, or at the New York City Center Box Office at 131 West 55th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues).

Women's Project Theater, the 35-year-old non-profit theater dedicated to producing plays written and directed by women, will present its 2012-2013 season of new plays featuring women theater artists at a new home, New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, January 11 to May 19.

Women's Project Theater was founded in 1978 by Julia Miles to address the significant under-representation of women in the American theater, and has since built a tremendous legacy. Although even today women playwrights and directors severely lack parity in pay and opportunity, the extraordinary women artists who have broken through the glass ceiling have all crossed the threshold at WP, including Eve Ensler, Lynn Nottage, Maria Irene Fornes, Suzan-Lori Parks, Diane Paulus, Sarah Ruhl, Paula Vogel, and Anna Deavere Smith, among the many. Throughout its 35-year history, Women's Project Theater has produced and/or developed over 600 plays and published 11 anthologies of plays.

Recently acclaimed plays produced by Women's Project Theater include last season's How the World Began and the Obie-winning Milk Like Sugar and, from season's past, Freshwater, Aliens with Extraordinary Skills, crooked, Sand, Or, Smudge, Lascivious Something and Apple Cove.

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