Review: FURLOUGH'S PARADISE at Alliance Theatre

The Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition 20th Winner

By: Feb. 19, 2024
Review: FURLOUGH'S PARADISE at Alliance Theatre
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The Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition 20th competition winner FURLOUGH’S PARADISE written by a.k. payne and directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden has its world premiere on the Hertz Stage at Alliance Theatre Jan 31 – Mar 3, 2024.  The Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition receives stories from United States MFA graduate programs and then selects four finalists and one winning play. The winner's play is fully produced as part of the Alliance Theatre’s regular season. The finalists are also introduced to various development opportunities for their works "including staged readings with industry professionals." This competition is an opportunity for student playwrights to transition to the world of professional theatre.

“These characters are fighting for moments,” says payne. “Because it’s been taken from them, they are fighting for moments to be in the same room together. A lot of the play is about being present and how we witness each other. How do we share space together. And so, my hope, for audiences, is the same – that they are invited into a chance to share; to share breath and to share air with people, I think that is really special.”

FURLOUGH’S PARADISE is about Sade and Mina, two cousins raised as close as sisters, who return to home for a funeral. After many years apart, Sade, on a furlough from prison, stays for three days with Mina who is on a brief reprieve from her busy life. The two try to make sense of their past while they grieve. While memories from their past threaten to pull them apart, they have three days to give into their true desire to connect before the correctional officer's impending arrival to take Sade back to prison. 

The expertly deft, emotional, and nuanced performances includes duo Asha Duniani (Synchronicity Theatre; Tyler Perry Studios) as Mina; and Kai Heath (Baltimore Center Stage; Kennedy Center) as Sade. Audiences are rivoted by the slightest movement of an eyebrow, recognizing the breadth of layers of feeling represented by each situation revealed. This play relies on emotional connection from narrative island to island, building upon itself like the incongruous shared past of these two cousins. Without these beautiful performances, the subtle influence of this intensly empathtic, collective experience might not be possible between the art and the audience. This work, from page to stage, is thorough and thougtful, and a passionate example of the great power of our stories told in our theaters.

The play transitions seemlessly between the surreal and deeply visceral to witty and satirical with a standing ovation to the clear, kind, and generous vision of the playwright, the director, the run crew, and the design team's eloquent and effective artistry. Thanks to Chika Shimizu (Scenic Design), Shilla Benning (Costume Design), Thom Weaver (Lighting Design), Milton Cordero (Projection Design), Christopher Lane (Sound Design), Julie B. Johnson, PhD (Movement Integration), Laura Morse (Mental Health Consultant), Ashey Thomas (Dramaturg), and all for their work.  

“I am excited to be selected as the winner of the 20th annual Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. I am grateful for any space to share work, to share work with audiences, and to have resources to fully actualize a dream,” added payne. “I think a lot about plays as like blueprints imagining freedom, or blueprints for imagining worlds, and the invitation to gather people. I feel like, with this particular play, the blueprint for me is about how do we imagine space to be together. And how is that revolutionary? So, I'm excited.”

Photos: Greg Mooney




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