Neimah Djourabchi, Michelle Beck and More to Star in New York Premiere of RICHARD & JANE & DICK & SALLY
The Playwrights Realm (Founding Artistic Director Katherine Kovner and Producing Director Roberta Pereira) announced today the complete cast and creative team for the New York premiere of Noah Diaz's Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally, directed by Taylor Reynolds (who recently helmed Clubbed Thumb's acclaimed production of Will Arbery's Plano), April 3-May 2, at the Mezzanine Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 W 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019). With lyricism and humor, Diaz's Off-Broadway debut envisions the bittersweet evolution of characters who, through a series of iconic 1950s readers by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp, have for generations shaped American perceptions of the suburban nuclear family. In Diaz's theatrical universe, Dick (now Richard), played by Neimah Djourabchi, and his sister Jane (Michelle Beck) are grown up; Richard is recently widowed and hasn't spoken to Jane in ages, after she left the family home for the big city. After learning Richard is terminally ill, Jane comes back to find his household in disarray: his son Dick Jr. (Jay Cobián) sports his mother's clothes in hopes of conjuring her; his daughter Sally (Treshelle Edmond)-who is deaf and feeling the crushing weight of her father's desire for her to fit into the hearing world-converses with the family dog, Spot (Noah Averbach-Katz); and his dead wife, Mother (Vanessa Kai), remains very present in the household and beyond.
Diaz's play exposes the gap between the idealized and narrow archetypes we internalize as children and the painfully complex real-life experiences and social constructs that drive our development as adults. Created for a non-homogenous cast of actors, with the directive that Sally be played by a deaf actor, Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally is a co-production with Baltimore Center Stage-where it is currently being presented as part of Stephanie Ybarra's inaugural season as the theater's artistic director-as well as a collaboration with The Sol Project, a national theater initiative amplifying the voices of Latinx playwrights, founded by Jacob G. Padrón. The Realm engagement will feature two ASL-friendly performances, as well as a childcare matinee.The creative team includes Stephanie Osin Cohen (Scenic Designer), Alicia J. Austin (Costume Designer), Reza Behjat (Lighting Designer), Frederick Kennedy (Sound Designer & Composer), James Caverly (Director of Artistic Sign Language), and Ada Karamanyan (Casting), and stage management includes Kara Kaufman (Stage Manager) and Seth Betzler (Assistant Stage Manager).
Diaz says, "During the time I wrote the play, as my family experienced a kind of cyclical grief over my grandmother's passing, I saw a really strange momentum within grief and impending death: a thing is knowable, and inevitable even, and yet we must keep moving towards it. I'm biracial, half-white and half-Mexican, and it was my father and his sisters, the Mexican side of my family, that was experiencing the brunt of this grief. Historically in theater when we see a family sitting around a table grieving, it's a white family. Where does that side of my family have a seat at the table in terms of seeing themselves reflected onstage in that way?"
Through his previous work, Diaz became acutely aware of the rifts in hearing families over their children's speech-whether they grow up oral or signing-and about the isolation and lack of communication many of the teenagers he worked with at a boarding school experienced upon returning to their hearing families for weekends. The Dick and Jane books, he recalls, were implemented to help teach the kids to be oral, and they were forced to read them aloud phonetically, in what was, he considers, "an oppressive tool-a barrier to the other language these young kids could be using, sign language."
As the play both lives in, wittily interrogates, and subverts a normative vision of the American family and the delicate threads that hold it together, it does the same with the conventional dramatic structure. Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally plays out in one household, with moment-to-moment scenic chronology-but the set resembles a doll's house, with the audience looking into every character's existence all at once. Here, with all characters simultaneously onstage, the passage of time and movement through space can slip away from realism, and fray based on each characters' individual experience of grief.
Director Taylor Reynolds explains, "From the beginning I've been very drawn to the idea that the nuclear family is contained in this house, where we see everyone existing on the stage at least for the majority of the time-so even when people are not active in the scene that's happening, we're still able to see them active in whatever space they're in. Just because you aren't a focal point in someone else's narrative at a given time doesn't mean your life stops-the story of your life, the story of your grief, the story of your processing continues. This opens onto a lot of play with time, how a moment may feel like forever, and it can be three months and it all feels like it happened in 30 seconds."
The Playwrights Realm Founding Artistic Director Katherine Kovner says, "I don't normally produce people who are still in graduate programs, but I was so excited by the scope of Noah's talent that I just had to! His voice is ambitious, funny, and trenchant, and supporting early-career playwrights like him is exactly what The Realm is about. I'm honored to be launching Noah Diaz's professional career in this co-production with Baltimore Center Stage and Sol Project. Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally delves into the heart of what it means to be a family, what brings us together, what pulls us apart, what makes us laugh and what makes us cry (I defy anyone to come see the play without doing a little crying and a little laughing) and that's my kind of play!"
Baltimore Center Stage Artistic Director Stephanie Ybarra says, "Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally is a deeply personal play for me, and I suspect it will feel deeply personal for anyone who encounters it. Playwright Noah Diaz, with his singular voice, is telling the story of a family dealing with loss, sibling dynamics, miscommunication, boatloads of love, and the family dog-sound familiar? It resonates in new ways with me every time I read it, which I think, is the telltale sign of a new theatrical classic."
Sol Project founder Jacob G. Padrón says, "The Sol Project is honored to partner with The Playwrights Realm and Baltimore Center Stage to continue our work of amplifying the voices of outstanding Latinx playwrights. This collaboration on Noah Diaz's inventive, poignant, and stirring new American play marks our fifth production. Noah brings a fresh perspective to these characters, showing us the profound effects of grief and misunderstanding among a very familiar family. This world premiere joins the kaleidoscopic body of work The Sol Project is building, in community, to contribute to a new American theater."
The play emerged as a pastiche of settings, emotional states, and social questions from a transitional stage in Diaz's life. In the summer just as he was preparing to attend graduate school for playwriting-after having spent six years working in a program studying and helping with deaf adolescent language acquisition-his grandmother fell gravely ill. His family experienced three weeks of grief as she was dying, resuming the process all over again after she passed. He found himself writing amidst this time of mourning-experiencing firsthand how a nuclear family grieves collectively and individually-while also sorting through the reflexive perception of the middle class American nuclear familial experience as white.
Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally will run from April 3 to May 2 (see above schedule) at the Mezzanine Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 W 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019). Critics are welcome as of April 11 at 8pm for an official opening on April 15 at 7:30pm. Tickets go on sale March 12. To purchase, visit www.playwrightsrealm.org.