The Resident Acting Company (RAC), Drawn From The Former Pearl Troupe, Emerges With Staged Reading Of THE BIG NIGHT

The Resident Acting Company (RAC), Drawn From The Former Pearl Troupe, Emerges With Staged Reading Of THE BIG NIGHT

On June 25, The Resident Acting Company (, a new troupe drawn from the performing ensemble of The Pearl Theatre Company, will present a staged reading of "The Big Night" (1928) by humorist Dawn Powell, a harsh, biting comedy about a woman whose husband has been fired from an advertising agency. The play was the author's masterpiece but failed on Broadway in a production of The Group Theatre. The version to be offered is a restoration by Michael Sexton from the author's original notes and drafts. It retains some of The Group Theatre's "improvements" but includes the author's original ending. The reading will be at 7:00 PM at The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park South, directed by Bradford Cover, Artistic Director of the troupe.

Originally titled "The Party," this play was written in 1928 in response to Ms. Powell's husband being fired from his job as an advertising executive. It was eventually picked up by The Group Theatre and went through a great deal of rehearsal and revision. Powell was never happy with the version they ended up with. The production ran for nine performances and was badly received. The restored version, edited by Michael Sexton, assembles the comedy into something that is closer to what Powell originally intended. It is set in 1932 in Myra and Ed Bonney's apartment in recently built Tudor City. Prohibition is in effect and they are throwing a party for a potential client who also happens to be an old "acquaintance" of Myra's. The ensuing shenanigans are bitingly funny and dark.

Fran Lebowitz has championed Dawn Powell, describing her as "the best American writer you never heard of," praising her as "a fabulously funny writer." But Powell's humor in "The Big Night" was not enough for The Group Theatre's Cheryl Crawford and Harold Clurman, who later admitted they had overworked the play, trying to wring social significance and psychological complexity out of an edgy, disillusioned human comedy.

The upcoming reading is the culminating event of "The Power Series," a series of four readings at The Players Club that collectively constitute the launch event of the Resident Acting Company. The three preceding readings were Chekhov's "Three Sisters" March 19, "Much Ado About Nothing" April 26 and Sophocles' "Electra," translated by Nicholas Rudall, May 30. All four plays explore the concept of power and how it relates to issues women have faced in the past and today.

The Resident Acting Company (RAC), an actor-led ensemble, contains former members of the Pearl Theatre Company's resident troupe (a few of them are "in the family" but not presently participating). The roster includes Jolly Abraham, Rachel Botchan, Robin Leslie Brown, Bradford Cover, Dominic Cuskern, R.J. Foster, Dan Daily, Chris Mixon and Carol Schultz. The actors of "The Big Night" are Ron Bopst, Rachel Botchan, Robin Leslie Brown, Bradford Cover, Maxwell Cover, Dominic Cuskern, Dan Daily, R.J. Foster and Tabatha Gayle.

The Pearl Theatre Company was founded in 1984 by Shepard Sobel. Performing classical repertory with a resident acting company, its troupe of actors trained together and performed show after show together, forming a common theatrical aesthetic and artistic bond. The Pearl began in a storefront in Chelsea and moved to Theatre 80 St. Marks, City Center and finally, to a new theater at 555 West 42nd Street. Operating for 33 years as an Off-Broadway troupe, it earned Drama League awards, a Drama Desk for "nurturing a stalwart company of actors..." and several Obies. Shepard Sobel was succeeded as Artistic Director by J.R. Sullivan in 2009 and Hal Brooks in 2014. The company closed after 33 seasons in June, 2017. Now members of its acting company are banding together to continue The Pearl's artistic tradition of addressing the "big classics" with a resident ensemble.

Bradford Cover, who was also a member of the Pearl's Resident Acting Company, has been selected as Artistic Director of the new troupe. He is an actor and director and son of the late Franklin Edward Cover (1928-2006), who was best known for starring as Tom Willis on TV's "The Jeffersons." Cover stresses the uniqueness of the RAC as a classical repertory company in Manhattan, saying "It's about having a group who have worked together for a long time addressing the 'big classics,' the beefy ones. They're a family of artists. What they bring to these plays is a different level of excitement for an audience--a quality of work that actually goes deeper into the heart of a play and finds the gold that is there, mining it and sharing it with each other. That doesn't happen with a pickup company in three and a half weeks of rehearsal or less." Cover stresses that the "magic" of such a troupe is grounded in the trust between actors that ripens over time.

Cover describes the Pearl Theatre's programming model as a broader range of classics than is done by any other Equity classical company in NYC including the New York Shakespeare Festival. Beside Elizbethan Drama, genres include Restoration Comedy, Jacobean Comedy and Tragedy, Commedia dell' Arte and the entire classical canon from Sophocles to Tennessee Willliams and Eugene O'Neill. Mixed into this is "a new play every so often that interacts with the classical repertory in some profound way."

The Resident Acting Company is a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas. It is presently assembling a Board of Directors, writing by-laws and preparing for events next season. Goals include another series of staged readings, a fundraising event in October and a full production by Spring, 2019.

Photo: Dawn Powell, circa 1930

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