Red Letter Theater's PHEDRA'S LOVE Plays 8/27-30 At Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater

Notoriously scandalous British playwright Sarah Kane radically reworks Seneca's classical tragedy of incest and unrequited lust in the highly anticipated production of Red Letter Theater's Phaedra's Love, a brutal dark comedy exploring the themes of obsession, desire, and honesty. First debuted at the Gate, London in 1996, this regional premiere is directed and designed by Red Letter Theater Artistic Director David Hanzal, and features a host of some of the Twin Cities' favorite actors plus some wonderful new faces. Hailed as a play "delivered with punch and laced with black humor" (Financial Times) with writing that is "both daring and accomplished" (Time Out) and bursting with "sulphurous dialogue... full of reeking toughness" (Evening Standard), Phaedra's Love is "pure theater. Or rather, impure theater: dirty, alarming, dangerous" (Observer). Phaedra's Love also serves as the inaugural production of Red Letter Theater. This activity made possible, in part, by funds provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council through an appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature.

Red Letter Theater presents the regional premiere of PHAEDRA'S LOVE, by Sarah Kane, August 27-30, 2009 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, 810 West Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55408

Ticket Prices $12, $10 students, seniors, and groups of 10 or more


General admission: 612.825.8949 (Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater box office)
To obtain free tickets for press, or arrange for interviews with the cast and crew, please contact producer David Hanzal at 651.338.9425 or via e-mail at

Performance Schedule

Thursday, August 27 7:00 P.M. - opening
Friday, August 28 7:00 P.M.
Saturday, August 29 7:00 P.M.
Sunday, August 30 7:00 P.M. - ASL-interpreted performance & post-show discussion; closing
Doors open at 6:00 P.M. on all performances for dining and drinking.


Phaedra's Love is Sarah Kane's contemporary, radical reworking of Seneca's classical tragedy. Hippolytus (Nicholas Leeman), the spoiled prince, is driven to a reclusive life. Emotions, love in particular, and need of any type are an unbearable threat to him. His uncontrollable sexual impulse, which would otherwise draw him into contact with others, must express itself in masturbation and the humiliation of his sexual partners. Phaedra (Heather Stone), his stepmother, is desperately in love with him. Her drive to submit herself to the impossibility of her desire, to lose herself within it, is the opposite of Hippolytus. Phaedra's longing for Hippolytus forms the second of the twin impulses that move this contemporary royal family towards a violent destruction. With additional performances by Helen Buron, Kayla Hambek, Peter Heeringa, Eva Nelson, Jonathan Peterson, Steve Ramirez, Andrew Sass, Linda Saetre, Larissa Shea, this Red Letter production will also feature wigs by David Pipho, who previously designed for the Jungle Theater's critically-acclaimed production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, cutting-edge fashion designs by local artist Megan Wannarka, and an original score by experimental percussionist Dylan Jack.

About the Playwright- Sarah Kane (February 3, 1971 - February 20, 1999)

October 1989: Kane begins studying drama at Bristol University. In the course of her studies, she writes three twenty-minute monologues - Comic Monologue, Starved, and What She Said.
July 1992: Kane graduates from Bristol University with a First Class Honors Degree.
October 1992: Kane begins an MA in playwrighting at Birmingham University.
July 1993: After her first year at Birmingham, Kane completes the first two scenes of Blasted, which are given a workshop performance.
March 1994: Kane becomes a literary associate at the Bush Theatre in London, where she works while finishing Blasted.

January 18, 1995: Blasted, directed by James McDonald, debuts at The Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. The play's graphic portrayal of rape and violence stirs huge controversy among critics and the public, sending Kane to the front pages of newspapers and tabloids.
October 1995: Skin, an eleven-minute film written by Kane and directed by Vincent O'Connell, is first screened at the London Film Festival. It is eventually aired on Channel 4, a British television station, in June 1997.

May 15, 1996: Phaedra's Love, directed by Kane herself, debuts at the Gate Theatre.
April 30, 1998: Cleansed, directed by James McDonald, debuts at The Royal Court Theatre Downstairs. At the time, it is the most expensive production in the Royal Court's history. With Cleansed, Kane moves even farther away from realism with its pared dialogue and emphasis on theatrical and poetic imagery.

August 13, 1998: Crave, directed by Vicky Featherstone, debuts at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. The play marks a drastic shift in Kane's style and craft. Much in contrast to her past works, she completely does away with setting, linear plot, and stage directions. Even the characters are stripped down, each one designated only by a letter (C, M, B, A). In turn, Kane focuses even more on a minimalist and lyrical approach to language.
February 20, 1999: Having been treated for depression throughout her life, Sarah Kane commits suicide in the midst of treatment at the London's King's College Hospital.
June 23, 2000: 4.48 Psychosis, completed just before her death and directed by James McDonald, debuts at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. Kane continues to hone in on what she started in Crave, as 4.48 Psychosis completely forsakes any notion of plot, character, or specific time and place, instead presenting the audience with language not exchanged between people, but exchanged solitarily within the mind.

In-yer-face theater, according to Aleks Sierz, who coined the term, is "a theater of sensation; it jolts both actors and spectators out of conventional responses, touching nerves and provoking alarm." Most often known for their vulgar, albeit shocking, portrayals of violence, rape, and other cultural taboos, these artists, referred to as the "New Brutalists" by other scholars, willingly create discomfort and confrontation with their audiences. As Sierz says, "Unlike the type of theater that allows us to sit back and contemplate what we see in detachment, the best in-yer-face theater takes us on an emotional journey, getting under our skin. In other words, it is experiential, not speculative."

In the beginning of the 1990s, very little new drama was being produced in England, to the point that in 1994, eighty-seven prominent British playwrights petitioned the Guardian as a way of enlightening the public of this issue. Even Michael Billington, long time Guardian critic, feared that the British stage was turning into a "dusty museum." This unrest, though, led to the rise of a new crop of young playwrights, including Mark Ravenhill, Rebecca Prichard, and Sarah Kane, who began debuting new works at small, yet highly respected, theaters like the Royal Court and the Gate Theatre. These new plays completely veered away from traditionAl West End theater with their aggressive and experiential subject matter.

Although Kane's inclusion in this movement may seem indisputable, Kane was among the first to disagree: "I do not believe in movements. Movements define retrospectively and always on the grounds of imitation. . . . The media look for movements, even invent them." She specifically recalled that "Blasted was considered the beginning of a movement called ‘New Brutalism.' Someone said to a Scottish playwright that you couldn't call his work ‘New Writing,' because the play wasn't brutal enough. That is exactly the problem with movements, because there are exclusive rather than inclusive." It has been highly debated whether or not Kane's first play Blasted initiated in-yer-face theater. Whether it did or not, or whether such a movement even exists, the cultural impact of Blasted cannot be overstressed. The play's unconventional and blunt portrayal of rape shocked London's audiences and divided its critics, some heralding Kane as a new voice of the British stage, most writing off the play's graphic imagery as mere adolescent shock tactics. The bombastic media coverage sent Kane to the front pages of newspapers and tabloids. For better or worse, Blasted was the first time in over a decade that a piece of theater attained such mainstream attention, even if Kane herself never intended for the calamitous upheaval generated by the production.

In the wake of the Blasted controversy, the Gate Theatre, nestled discreetly in the West End, approached Kane to adapt a Western classic. Kane initially proposed Georg Büchner's Woyzeck and Bertolt Brecht's Baal, yet they rejected both ideas. When they suggested that she adapt something Greek or Roman, Kane was reluctant. Regarding their conversation, Kane recalls, "I thought, ‘Oh, I've always hated those plays. Everything happens offstage, and what's the point?' But I decided to read one of them and see what I'd get. I chose Seneca because Caryl Churchill had done a version of one of his plays [Thyestes] which I had liked very much. I read Phaedra and surprisingly enough it interested me." Yet, instead of doing a straightforward adaptation based on previous well-known versions by Seneca, Euripides, or Racine, Kane wanted to liberate herself from the burden of what had already been done: "I only read Seneca once. I didn't want to get too much into it - I certainly didn't want to write a play that you couldn't understand unless you knew the original. I wanted it to stand completely on its own."

Phaedra's Love undeniably does veer away from its source material, especially when considering Kane's interpretation of Hippolytus. In the previous versions, Hippolytus is a pure, virginal figure, a beautiful leader, a hunter of great prowess who, in the story, takes a supporting role to Phaedra. In Kane's version, Hippolytus becomes the main focus, and Kane completely subverts The Commonly held perception of this mythic figure by transforming him into an apathetic, grotesque sloth. Yet this does not go to say that Hippolytus is an unappealing character; in fact, Kane maintains the opposite: "[The] thing about [Seneca's] Phaedra was that I thought Hippolytus was so unattractive for someone supposed to be so pure and puritanical, and I thought actually the way to make him attractive is to make him unattractive but with the puritanism inverted - because I wanted to write about an attitude to life - not about a lifestyle. So I made him pursue honesty rather than sexual purity which I hadn't cared for anyway." Kane goes on to say, "For me Hippolytus was always sympathetic because he's always completely and utterly direct with everyone no matter what the outcome is going to be for him and for others. You can never misunderstand anything that he's saying. And I suppose that's one of the things I personally strive for - to be completely and utterly understood. Hippolytus is for me an ideal."

In addition, for Kane, Phaedra herself mirrors Hippolytus in a very similar way: "Phaedra completely pursues what she wants. She's not very in touch with herself about what she wants but she does pursue it completely honestly. To the point where she's prepared to die for it." Both Hippolytus and Phaedra openly pursue their own personal convictions with unashamed and unabashed honesty, and they both meet their demise because of it. At the same time, though, the characters are also polar opposites for Kane: "I'm simultaneously Hippolytus and Phaedra, both lethally cynical and obsessionally in love with someone who's completely unlovable. So everytime I wrote a scene I was writing myself into two completely opposite states. I was connecting two extremes in my head. Which was both depressing and liberating."

The Phaedra's Love creative team includes Megan Wannarka (costume designer), David Pipho (wig designer), Dylan Jack (composer), Emily Meranda (stage manager) and Max Mondi (dramaturg).

Helen Buron (Woman 2) - Sandbox Theatre (The Horse, the Bird, the Monkey, and the Dancer); Momentum New Dance Works (en masse), Gallery Theatre Company (The Hollow; Girls in 509); A-Stage Productions; Performing Arts Ministry; Lakeshore Players; Heritage Theatre Company.

Kayla Hambek (Nurse) - Æδem Theatre Company (Where the Wild Things Are); Bethel University Theatre Department (Enchanted April; The Madwoman of Chaillot; The Good Woman of Setzuan; Kiss Me, Kate).

Peter Heeringa (Man 1) - Sandbox Theatre (The Horse, the Bird, the Monkey, and the Dancer; Zelda: Wonderland); Jon Micheels Leiseth & Fort Red Performance Lab (RAVENOUS); Lakeshore Players; Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Nicholas Leeman (Hippolytus) - Starting Gate Productions (Barefoot in the Park); Chameleon Theatre Circle (Talk Radio); Pioneer Place Theatre (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest); Theatre in the Round (Sabrina Fair; The Mousetrap); Theatre L'Homme Dieu (Picnic; Brigadoon); Urban Samurai Productions (Protection Program); nimbus theatre (Agamemnon); 20% Theatre Company (After Ashley); Actors' Theatre of Minnesota (We Gotta Bingo); Lakeshore Players; Bare Bodkins Theatre Company; Central Missouri Repertory; Chaska Valley Family Theatre; Minnesota Fringe Festival; Comedy Sportz (performer, 2005 - Present)

Eva Nelson (Woman 1) - Skylark Opera/North Star Opera (The Desert Song; Our Town; Naughty Marietta; The Student Prince; Lost in the Stars); Theatre Pro Rata (The Life of Galileo); Commedia Beauregard (The Disturbing Chair); 20% Theatre Company (3.1.81); Frank Theatre (Vinegar Tom; Mother Courage and Her Children); Cromulent Shakespeare Company (Titus Andronicus); Minneapolis Musical Theatre (Jerry Springer: The Opera); Great River Shakespeare Festival (Cymbeline; Romeo and Juliet).

Jonathan Peterson (Doctor/Priest/Theseus) - Troupe America, Inc. (Here's Love; Miracle on 34th Street; Babes In Toyland); Ordway Center for the Performing Arts (Into the Woods); Children's Theatre Company (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible...; Reeling); Skylark Opera/North Star Opera (The Student Prince; Lost in the Stars; Countess Maritza; Wonderful Town; Song of Norway; Kismet); Frank Theatre (The Cradle Will Rock; Puntila and His Hired Man Matti; Venus; The Taming of the Shrew); Theatre Latté Da (A Man of No Importance; Sunday in the Park with George); Flying Foot Forum (The Enchanted Pudding Pot); Park Square Theatre (Dracula; Hamlet; Fashion; The Crucible; Julius Caesar); Theatre Pro Rata (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead; Hamlet; Emma); Great American History Theatre; Bedlam Theatre; Minneapolis Musical Theatre; Starting Gate Productions; Outward Spriral Theatre Company; Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

Steve Ramirez (Policeman) - STL Productions; Off-Broadway Musical Theatre; Morris Park Players; Heritage Theatre Company; Sparks Theater.

Linda Saetre (Nurse) - Paul Bunjan Playhouse; Bemidji Community Theatre; STL Productions; Morris Park Players; Heritage Theatre Company; Plymouth Community Theatre.

Andrew Sass (Man 2) - Teatro del Pueblo (72 Hours of Darkness); nimbus theatre (Pirandello's Henry IV); Walker Art Center; Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Larissa Shea (Strophe) - Upright Egg Theatre Company (reCollect; Present Project); nimbus theatre (Pirandello's Henry IV); Theatre Limina (Summer Shorts); ThE BRiNK (Paradise Hotel); Chameleon Theatre Circle (The Tempest); STL Productions; Prairie Fire Children's Theatre; Seaside Repertory Theatre.

Heather Stone (Phaedra) - Sandbox Theatre (June of Arc; The Horse, the Bird, the Monkey, and the Dancer; War with the Newts; Zelda: Wonderland; Koogoomanooki; Victoria in Red; company member); Pioneer Place Theatre (Escape from Happiness; Crimes of the Heart); Theatre Pro Rata (Metamorphoses); Gremlin Theater (The Water Engine); Girl Friday Productions (Our Town); 15 Head (Vacationland!; Sacred Space; The Enchanted; Red/Instructions to Follow); Joking Apart Theater; Theatre Unbound; Park Square Theatre; Outward Spiral Theatre Company; Jungle Theater.

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