Luna Stage Kicks Off 2018-2019 Season With NJ Premiere of PIRIRA
Luna Stage will launch its 2018-19 Season with J.Stephen Brantley's award-winning play Pirira, directed by Luna's new Artistic Director Ari Laura Kreith. Set simultaneously in Malawi and New York, the play explores the challenges of international aid across interpersonal borders, and how we bridge seemingly impossible cultural divides.
Inspired in part by Brantley's experiences as a writer for Madonna's NGO Raising Malawi, the play is set amidst riots that took place in the city of Llilongwe on July 20, 2011, as American aid worker Jack and MBA auditor Ericka are unexpectedly forced to take shelter in the storage room of Jack's struggling NGO. Meanwhile, half a world away, Malawian college student Gilbert and his gay co-worker Chad begin another day in the back room of a Manhattan florist. By day's end, the foursome discover that their lives are connected across geography, language, and time.
Pirira runs Thursday-Sunday from October 4-28. Tickets are on sale now at www.lunastage.org/pirira. A number of special events are also planned in conjunction with the production, including a multigenerational community read of William Kamkwamba's autobiographical The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which inspired elements of the play.
Luna's production marks the regional premiere of Pirira, and is the play's second production. The first, directed by Kreith at Theatre 167 in 2013, transferred Off-Broadway and received the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation Award for Outstanding Premiere of a Play. In the five intervening years, Kreith and Brantley had discussed reviving the piece but the timing never seemed right. When choosing her inaugural season at Luna, Kreith felt Brantley's play would be a perfect first production. "Bringing this play to Luna allows us to frame our first season as a series of powerful cross-cultural conversations about central issues that affect us all," says Kreith.
Now a Montclair resident, Kreith comes to Luna from Theatre 167, the company she founded in Jackson Heights, Queens and named for the number of languages spoken in the neighborhood, which has been called the world's most diverse community. At Theatre 167, she conceived and directed The Jackson Heights Trilogy-167 Tongues, You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase, and Jackson Heights 3AM-three full-length plays collaboratively written by 18 playwrights, performed by 37 actors playing 93 roles in 14 languages, which she produced at multiple locations in Queens and as a 6-hour epic in Manhattan. Kreith's other directing highlights include Mourning Sun, which premiered at Theatre 167 and toured to Uganda, two collaborations with Pulitzer-finalist Tina Howe, commissions for Queens Theatre and The New Ohio, site-specific work at Queens Museum and the NYC Transit Museum, and the European premiere of Adam Guettel's Myths and Hymns.
Questions raised in Pirira include how and why we stand up to injustice and inequity-both at home and abroad. In a taut, 70-minute, three-language, two-continent play, Brantley touches on the importance of clean water, girls' education, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, and personal responsibility. "At a time of such tribalism in our own country, it's useful to look beyond our borders-beyond both our national boundaries and our personal biases-to consider how our choices can impact people, for good or bad, in far off places," adds Brantley. "I hope that Pirira reminds us that no matter how deeply entrenched we may be in our own cultures, and traditions, and personal journeys, we still have much more in common than not."
Playwright Brantley received the 2017 Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation for the body of work he has created in the New York theatre community, and is also a member of the Indie Theatre Hall of Fame. His other plays include Billy Baal, Eightythree Down, The Emilies, Furbelow, and The Jamb.
Brantley worked with Theatre 167 on The Jackson Heights Trilogy plays and The Church of Why Not, and this production marks his 14th collaboration with Kreith. The pair are also developing Shruti Gupta Can Totally Deal, a Bollywood epic, for production in 2019. "I'm grateful for this opportunity to bridge my two worlds by bringing work that I developed at Theatre 167 to my new home at Luna Stage," says Kreith. Theatre 167 veteran actors John P. Keller (playing Jack) and Kevis Hillocks (Gilbert), both new to Pirira, will appear in the production. Naja Selby-Morton (Ericka) and David Gow (Chad) round out the cast of four. Keller and Selby-Morton are both NJ-based actors, Selby-Morton is from Newark, and Gow is from New Brunswick, while Hillocks and Gow are based in NYC.
Luna Stage's MainStage season will feature four new plays: one world premiere and three regional premieres. Following Pirira will be The Assignment by Camilo Almonacid, Roan @ the Gates by Christina Gorman, and Heartland by Gabriel Jason Dean. The plays are set in locations around the world, and explore how people can come together across social and cultural divides. "Within that framework," says Kreith, "we navigate questions ranging from international aid to gender politics, from Internet privacy to love across linguistic divides, from violence to forgiveness, and from fear to hope." Tickets and Season Passes are now on sale at www.LunaStage.org.
About Luna Stage
Luna Stage develops and produces thought-provoking theatre that gives voice to emerging American Playwrights and new life to contemporary and classic plays that speak to our times. Committed to creating vibrant, inclusive, and catalytic experiences onstage, in our classes, and in the communities we serve, Luna collaborates with artists from diverse disciplines, backgrounds, and aesthetics to explore the myriad perspectives of our society.
Luna's classes for children and adults, and its developmental programs for early career artists, inspire community members to nurture their own creativity and vision.
Luna Stage has contributed to the development of over 80 new works for the stage, earning a reputation for artistic excellence. Some of those plays have gone on to productions in New York City and beyond. Luna's unique approach to producing, as well as the work itself, fosters an environment of inclusivity, understanding, and infinite possibility.