Playwrights Horizons Presents Craig Lucas's I WAS MOST ALIVE WITH YOU
Playwrights Horizons (Artistic Director Tim Sanford, Managing Director Leslie Marcus)kicks off its 2018-2019 season of "topicality and risk" (The New York Times) with the New York premiere of three-time Tony Award nominee Craig Lucas' I Was Most Alive with You, August 31 - October 14in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street). Inspired by the Book of Job,Lucas' play begins at an often-humorously fraught Thanksgiving dinner and explodes onto emotionally and philosophically expansive terrain, as one character attempts to grasp the narratives of his and his loved ones' lives while they slip far beyond anyone's control. Director Tyne Rafaeli (The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias, Actually) and Director of Artistic Sign Language Sabrina Dennison (Santa Sangre, the world premiere of I Was Most Alive with You) stage this production that features two casts simultaneously speaking and signing. Subtitles and intermittent spoken interpretation are included, making I Was Most Alive with You a rare example of a work that is equally accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences.
In I Was Most Alive with You, a TV writer, Ash (Michael Gaston, Lucky Guy on Broadway, First Reformed, "The Man in the High Castle," "The Leftovers"), and his Deaf sign language teacher son, Knox (Russell Harvard, the world premiere of I Was Most Alive with You, Tribes, There Will Be Blood, "Fargo"), see their lives as blessed. Both in recovery, they have learned to consider parts of themselves that might present hardship or social struggle as gifts. At Thanksgiving dinner, Knox signs, "I'm grateful for my family, and for three things I used to think weren't gifts at all: Deafness, being gay, addiction. They are gifts. Each brought to me great clarity."
But amidst this personal clarity, there is also interpersonal miscommunication, as those around the dinner table coordinate and isolate with each passing statement across lines of deaf (physically), Deaf (physically and culturally), hearing, Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, atheist, gay, straight, addict, sober, class, gender, racial, ethnic, and generational identities. The evening's miscommunications and deep-seated familial tensions lead indirectly to an event that threatens to throw the ways they have all come to know and shape their lives and selves into chaos. As misfortunes multiply, the idea of controlling fate, in writing or in life, begins to seem impossible, and the ability to see both the lightness and darkness of life as gifts-to proceed with grace-is tested.
Craig Lucas first experienced Deaf actor Russell Harvard's vast talent in There Will Be Blood and recalls turning to his husband and saying, "'Now, who in the name of God is that actor who in two minutes onscreen is stealing this scene from Daniel Day Lewis?'" Harvard's performance in Barrow Street Theatre's Tribes confirmed for Lucas that the There Will Be Blood scene "wasn't just P.T. Anderson beautifully editing a movie," but was, instead, "a great actor melting the camera." I Was Most Alive with You is the result of the playwright's desire to pen a role for Harvard, paired with his desire to write a play inspired by the Book of Job.
Lucas describes this second aspect of the play's genesis: "There was a point in my life where many things happened all at once-like Job-where everything seemed to be taken away. It isn't held in high regard in America, but Stoic philosophers felt we had to embrace everything as it came to us, something called amor fati. And that basically means that whatever appears in the road in front of you, however cataclysmic and terrifying, you greet it, you wrap your arms around it, and you hold it close to you. That is your life. If you want to know what misery is, reject reality." Lucas continues, recalling living through the AIDS epidemic, "It arrived and it was worse than anything I could have ever imagined. Every single person I loved got sick and died, it was like a bad dream. If I could go back and live my life without it I would, but that is what happened. And that grief and loss and slam to the gut for those of us who were lucky enough to survive, that has been the meaning of my life."
Tyne Rafaeli says, "The play explores our powerlessness in the face of suffering. It's a deeply human, personal, family drama that just so happens to be propelled by one of the most complex narratives of our civilization, the Book of Job. Between the language from the Book of Job that is threaded through the piece, and the bilingual expression (English and ASL), the play has a poetic, musical and epic quality that makes Craig and I sometimes feel like we're working on an opera."
Because of the dual casts, and the priority of spotlighting a visual language, Rafaeli thinks it is key to shape movement and space, even more than usual, to guide where the audience is looking at all times. Much of the play operates in flashback; there are hardly transitions in Rafaeli's vision of the piece; as memories warp in and out to pose the question: Can the stories we tell ever make sense out of our suffering?
The Playwrights Horizons staging of I Was Most Alive with You follows an acclaimed world premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston in 2016. The New York premiere will feature Marianna Bassham (the world premiere of I Was Most Alive with You, Moonrise Kingdom) as Astrid; Tad Cooley (the world premiere of I Was Most Alive with You, "Secrets and Lies") as Farhad; two-time Obie Award winner Lisa Emery (For Peter Pan..., Marjorie Prime, Marvin's Room at Playwrights; Six Degrees of Separation) as Pleasant; Michael Gaston as Ash; Russell Harvard as Knox; two-time Tony Award nominee Lois Smith (Marjorie Prime, After the Revolution, 100 Saints You Should Know at Playwrights; Buried Child, Grapes of Wrath, Lady Bird, "True Blood") as Carla; and Gameela Wright (the world premiere of I Was Most Alive with You, "She's Gotta Have It") as Mariama. The shadow cast includes Beth Applebaum (The Dusk Cages), Kalen Feeney (Agency, Skin), Harold Foxx (Deaf West and Pasadena Playhouse's Our Town), Seth Gore (theatrical debut), Amelia Hensley (the world premiere of I Was Most Alive with You, Deaf West's Spring Awakening), Anthony Natale ("Switched at Birth"), and Alexandria Wailes (Deaf West's Spring Awakening and Big River).
The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), David C. Woolard (costume design), Annie Wiegand (lighting design), Jane Shaw (sound design), Alex Koch (projection design), Daniel Kluger (original music), and Brett Anders (Production Stage Manager).
Performances of I Was Most Alive with You take place August 31 - October 14: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7:30pm. Matinee performances take place Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.
Single tickets go on sale Tuesday, August 7 at noon. Tickets for preview performances start at $44 and tickets for after opening, September 25 onward, start at $59.
Critics are welcome September 19 at 7pm, September 20-22 at 8pm, September 22 at 2:30, and September 23 at 7:30pm for an official opening on September 24 at 7 PM.
A Six-Show Subscriptionpackage to Playwrights Horizons' 2018-19 season is now available ($310, four Mainstage and two Peter Jay Sharp Theater productions). In addition to discounts on all season productions, subscribers receive priority booking and seating, ticket exchange privileges, parking and dining discounts, and exclusive mailings of Playwrights Horizons Bulletins. Flex Passes (customizable bundle, $220+) and Memberships ($45 to join, $25 preview tickets) are also now on sale. Patron packages start at $1,800. Packages are available at www.phnyc.org.