Aurora Theatre Company Presents THE FIRST GRADE, 1/22 - 2/28

Aurora Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of lauded Chicago playwright Joel Drake Johnson's THE FIRST GRADE. Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross directs this new play from Johnson, whom The Chicago Reader declared "balances gallows humor with acute insight and compassion. He creates characters so real you wonder what will happen to them after the final blackout." Featuring Julia Brothers and Warren David Keith, along with Rebecca Schweitzer, Paul Santiago, Tina Sanchez, and Adrian Anchondo, THE FIRST GRADE plays January 22-February 28 at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. 

Exploring with great humor and passion the price one pays for being a totally engaged member of society, THE FIRST GRADE follows the sometimes comic, sometimes frightening journey of a woman whose attempts to save her physical therapist from harm leads her into a chaos that includes a class of first graders, her depressed daughter, and an ex-husband with whom she still shares a home. THE FIRST GRADE originated as one of last season's Global Age Project (GAP) finalists and is the first main stage production to develop from the GAP. Playwright Joel Drake Johnson was also recently named a GAP finalist for a second year in a row for his new play A Guide for the Perplexed, which will receive a staged reading as part of this year's GAP festival on Monday, February 1; A Guide for the Perplexed will receive its main stage World Premiere next season at Victory Gardens, starring Kevin Anderson.

THE FIRST GRADE will be produced as the fully-staged anchor production in the Global Age Project (GAP), an Aurora Theatre Company initiative that encourages playwrights and directors to explore life in the 21st century and beyond. In addition to A Guide for the Perplexed, this year's GAP finalists include The Serving Class by Garret Groenveld, Miss Lily Gets Boned by Bekah Brunstetter, and Collapse by Allison Moore. The selected plays will be presented as staged readings in a four-week festival at the Aurora Theatre, Mondays, February 1-22, at 7:30pm. All GAP readings are free and open to the public.

THE FIRST GRADE will star Julia Brothers, who previously appeared in Aurora Theatre Company's hit production of Salome, as Sydney. Brothers has appeared in productions at Magic Theatre, TheatreWorks, Marin Theatre Company, San Jose Stage, and Brava, in addition to numerous Off-Broadway productions; additional credits include productions at Pacific Repertory Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company, where she recently appeared opposite Marlo Thomas in George Is Dead, written and directed by Elaine May. Her television credits include a recurring role on the NBC daytime drama "Days of Our Lives."

Warren David Keith returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Nat in THE FIRST GRADE. Keith was most recently seen at Aurora in last season's critically acclaimed production of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award, Best Supporting Actor); additional Aurora credits include Hysteria, Death Defying Acts, and A Life in the Theatre. A veteran of the Bay Area stage, Keith's credits include productions at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, Magic Theatre, California Shakespeare Theater, TheatreWorks, and Marin Theatre Company, among others.

Also returning to the Aurora is Rebecca Schweitzer as Angie. Schweitzer, who appeared in Aurora Theatre Company's West Coast Premiere of Craig Lucas' Small Tragedy, has additional credits at SF Playhouse (The Story, Coronado), Marin Theatre Company (The Crucible), Marin Shakespeare Company (The Tempest), and Playhouse West (Here on the Flight Path).

Paul Santiago returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Rick in THE FIRST GRADE; he last appeared in the company's acclaimed West Coast Premiere of Ellen McLaughlin's The Persians. Additional credits include productions at Campo Santo, Teatro Visión, TheatreWorks, Marin Theatre Company, SF Playhouse (Monster), San Jose Stage (Inherit the Wind), and Alter Theater (American Whup Ass), among others.

Making their debuts at Aurora Theatre Company are Tina Sanchez as Mora and Adrian Anchondo as Jaime. Sanchez's credits include productions at Word for Word (The Halfway Diner), L.A. Theaterworks, Company of Angels, and The Phoenix Company. Anchondo's regional credits include productions at Pennsylvania Repertory Company, Civic Theatre of Allentown, and Off-Broadway at Emerging Artists Theatre; he has understudied and appeared in workshop productions at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Crowded Fire Theater, and California Shakespeare Theater.

Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross helms THE FIRST GRADE. Ross inaugurated Aurora Theatre Company with Barbara Oliver in 1992. He has directed 19 productions for the company, including last season's critically-acclaimed production of The Best Man, Mae West's SEX, The Birthday Party, Marius, Blue/Orange, Betrayal, and Lobby Hero, which went on to be presented as a co-production between Aurora Theatre Company, Jonathan Reinis, Inc., and the Napa Valley Opera House. For Aurora Theatre Company, Ross has also directed acclaimed productions of The Shape of Things, The Entertainer, The Weir, Death Defying Acts, Abigail's Party, The Mystery of Irma Vep (co-directed with Danny Scheie), and The Aspern Papers, among others. He also wrote and directed A Karen Carpenter Christmas in both San Francisco and Seattle. Prior to coming to the Bay Area, he worked for eight years at The Public Theater in New York as Executive Assistant to Joseph Papp and as co-Director of Play and Musical Development. While in New York, Ross also penned the book adaptation of the New York Drama Desk nominated musical Up Against It, based upon Joe Orton's screenplay for The Beatles.

Playwright Joel Drake Johnson is a member of Chicago's Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble, where his plays Four Places, Before My Eyes, and The End of the Tour were first produced. Steppenwolf Theatre produced his plays The Fall to Earth, A Blameless Life, and Tranquility Woods; his work has also been seen at Chicago Dramatists Theatre (A Blue Moon). Johnson taught playwriting at Northwestern University and DePaul University, and is currently working on a third commission from Steppenwolf; he is a four-time Joseph Jefferson Award nominee for Best New Play.

Following THE FIRST GRADE, Aurora Theatre Company founding Artistic Director Barbara Oliver returns in April to direct Henrik Ibsen's rarely produced masterwork John Gabriel BORKMAN. Closing the season is the Bay Area Premiere of Stephen Karam's innovative comedy SPEECH & DEBATE, directed by Robin Stanton in June.

For tickets ($15-55) and information the public can call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Aurora Theatre Company continues to offer challenging, literate, intelligent stage works to the Bay Area, each year increasing its reputation for top-notch theatre. Located in the heart of the Downtown Berkeley Arts District, Aurora Theatre Company has been called "one of the most important regional theaters in the area" by the San Francisco Chronicle, while The Wall Street Journal has "nothing but praise for the Aurora." The Contra Costa Times stated, "perfection is probably an unattainable ideal in a medium as fluid as live performance, but the Aurora Theatre comes luminously close," while the San Jose Mercury News affirmed "[Aurora Theatre Company] lives up to its reputation as a theater that feeds the mind," and the Oakland Tribune declared "it's all about choices, and if you value good theater, choose the Aurora."

Aurora Theatre Company gratefully acknowledges Sponsors Deborah Dashow Ruth and Leo P. Ruth, Cindy and Stephen Snow, and Associate Sponsors Ellen and Barry Levine, Gail and Bob Hetler, Hilary Perkins and John Wingate, and Carol and John Wingate for their support.

Aurora Theatre Company gratefully acknowledges the following foundations and government agencies for their support: Actors' Equity Foundation, Alameda County Arts Commission, Berkeley Civic Arts Program & Civic Arts Commission, Dramatists Guild Fund, The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Koret Foundation, Norway House Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, The Shubert Foundation, The Tournesol Project, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, The Wood Foundation, and The Zellerbach Family Foundation.

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