McCarter Theater Center to Present Eleanor Burgess' THE NICETIES
After sparking thousands of conversations about race, history, and power in Boston and New York, the world-premiere production of Eleanor Burgess' The Niceties will run at McCarter Theatre Center from January 11 through February 10. Directed byKimberly Senior (Disgraced on Broadway), The Niceties features Lisa Banes and Jordan Boatman as a white professor and a black student involved in a polite clash of perspectives which quickly explodes into an urgent and dangerous debate threatening to ruin both their lives. "Scintillating," raves Peter Marks in The Washington Post. "The story of America, it seems, is destined to be wrestled over to the bitter end."
After a workshop at the Contemporary American Theater Festival and a developmental production at Portland Stage in 2017 and early 2018 respectively, Eleanor Burgess' "barnburner of a play" (The Washington Post) began to exhibit a cross-cultural impact with the playwright fielding calls and emails from congresspersons, religions leaders, educators, and non-profit organizations across the country. Now, McCarter audiences can experience this incendiary work first hand, and join in the conversation.
About the production, McCarter Artistic Director Emily Mann said: "I am thrilled to bring Eleanor's rigorous, thought-provoking play to McCarter. There are no easy answers to the questions the play raises: What is the full history of America? Who gets to tell that story? In her writing, Eleanor takes great care to complicate ideas and assumptions while giving real weight to both sides of a thorny-and extraordinarily relevant-argument."
The Yale-educated Burgess used a 2015 incident at her alma mater as inspiration for the play. That fall, a campus email cautioning students against insensitive Halloween costumes generated a response from a professor who defended the holiday as a time of transgression. The debate sparked weeks of protests and months of scorching discussion. Burgess, who had graduated several years before, says the wildfire of on-campus and online uproar about the incident, and the inability of people on both sides to talk rationally about it, left her to contemplate why things got so out-of-hand.
"I was obsessed with why interactions were going so badly between smart and well-intentioned people," Burgess says. "It made me evaluate, as an undergraduate history major and former high school history teacher, what I was taught, what I believed, and what I taught to others."
The Niceties cast features Lisa Banes as the professor Janine (Present Laughter on Broadway; numerous film/TV roles including Gone Girl, Royal Pains, and Once Upon a Time) and Jordan Boatman as the student Zoe (Hulu's The Path).
The design team for The Niceties includes scenic design by Cameron Anderson (The Screwtape Letters at NYC's West Side Theater), costume design by Kara Harmon (The Color Purple at Portland Center Stage), lighting design by D.M. Wood (McCarter's The Night Governess), and sound design and original music by Elisheba Ittoop (West Side Story andSunday in the Park with George at the Guthrie Theater). Casting is by Alaine Alldaffer.
The Niceties runs January 11 through February 10 in the Berlind Theatre. Tickets start at $25 and are on sale now online at mccarter.org, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at the McCarter Ticket Office, located at 91 University Place in Princeton.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson