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Mosaic Theater Company of DC to Open First Season with UNEXPLORED INTERIOR

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Mosaic Theater Company of DC announces its inaugural production, the epic world-premiere drama Unexplored Interior (This is Rwanda: The Beginning and End of the Earth) by longtime New York actor, first time playwright, Jay O. Sanders, to be staged by Helen Hayes Award-nominee Derek Goldman (Our Class, In Darfur) at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in the 260-seat Lang Theatre. This sweeping, assiduously researched play represents the scope and scale of Mosaic Theater Company's artistic and cultural ambitions as a space for bold art and big conversation around some of the most pressing social issues of our day.

Unexplored Interior takes us deep into the heart of Rwanda and the people so radically transformed during those fateful months 21 years ago when 800,000 were killed in 100 days. The play follows Raymond (Desmond Bing), a film student at NYU, who is compelled by a mentor's death to return to his homeland to uncover a deeper horror: the roots of violence that have destroyed his family and led to the unknown fate of his beloved grandfather, Felicien (Bill Grimmette), a Tutsi master storyteller, whom Raymond must find and whose legacy he seeks to redeem. The ghosts of King Leopold and Mark Twain (John Lescault) intertwine with other mysteries Raymond pursues in the course of making his own investigative film, as a jailed Hutu government minister (Michael Anthony Williams) recalls his love affair with a Tutsi woman (Shannon Dorsey), while Raymond's best friend Alphonse (Freddie Bennett) sits in prison as well for an unknown crime, and the Canadian head of UN peacekeepers, General Romeo Dallaire (Jeff Allin), is haunted by those who he was unable to save and struggles with his own will to live.

"Why are we opening our inaugural season with a brand new play about genocide in Africa?" asks Mosaic Theater Founding Artistic Director, Ari Roth. "Because Mosaic is an identity-driven theater, made up of artists and audiences from diverse backgrounds, fused by our connection to traumatic history. As African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, South Asians, Africans, we have all been ravaged by loss; disfigured by violence. The persistence of genocide in our time forces us to summon Holocaust history and understand how atrocities still live in our moment; how African-American identity is heightened by an identification with the under-told story of African pain. Conjoining these consciousnesses makes for a kinetic fusion, and that's what we have with this inaugural production. A joyfully animated ensemble brings a story of urgency to a new DC stage. That's both cause for celebration, and commemoration."

Roth continues, "The world's response to the unleashing of violence in Rwanda was shamefully passive. The United Nations' demurral to intervene was shameful. As the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was opening its doors 11 months earlier, attracting record numbers of crowds in its first year of operation in 1993, we saw the phrase "Never Again" rendered hollow as an average of 333 people were murdered every hour, every day, 24 hours a day, for 100 days straight. In our life time. Never again. Our response was Hurricane Katrina- like... We got there too late. We got there with aid, after the killing. Where was the UN? Our task now is one of Corrective Remembrance-through purposeful, artful, authentic humanizing and memorializing, we remember Rwanda as it was, as it must become anew from all that was lost."

A labor of love, Unexplored Interior represents the dedication of an artist driven to confront some of the world's most impenetrable injustices, and the enduring support of a far-reaching artistic community that has nurtured this project for years-including a series of workshops and readings at Cherry Lane Theatre, The Public Theater, Lark Theater and The Flea Theater-as well as a groundbreaking partnership with Google through which a public reading at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York in 2014 was live-streamed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in Rwanda in commemoration of the 20-year anniversary of the genocide.

"I have been working relentlessly for the last ten years to bring human attention, understanding and connection to the tragedy of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda," explains playwright Jay O. Sanders. "In it, I saw my own ignorance and was determined to undo it. At the center of the world's relationship to Rwanda is a basic inability to comprehend, and therefore a wish to side-step, one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. A tragedy made possible because collectively we looked away and allowed it to happen."

"I feel tremendously honored to be working on the world premiere of Jay O. Sanders' brave and hugely ambitious play as the inaugural Mosaic production," shares director Derek Goldman. "It's meaningful not only because the play is a remarkable window into a devastating piece of contemporary history that we must never forget (and that many of us know too little about), but it launches an important new center in the DC theatrical landscape for socially-relevant performances that matter-with Mosaic's first-rate team working under Ari, Serge Seiden and Jennifer Nelson's creative leadership. It was inspiring during our auditions to experience firsthand the extraordinary depth of the talent pool, especially for young actors of color in our city, which has been largely under-tapped until now."

This inaugural production features an expansive and diverse 14-member ensemble of local actors, representing the breadth of DC talent. The company is led by Helen Hayes Award-nominee and Arena Stage veteran Bill Grimmette (Blood Knot) as the aged storyteller Felicien, and relative-newcomer Desmond Bing (Arena Stage's upcoming All the Way), who plays his young filmmaker grandson Raymond. They are joined by Helen Hayes Award winner Erika Rose (In Darfur), reuniting here with director Goldman, along with DC favorites Jeff Allin (After The Revolution), JaBen A. Early (The Convert), Shannon Dorsey (Arena Stage's upcoming All the Way), John Lecault (Life Sucks), Jefferson A. Russell (Ironbound) and Michael Anthony Williams (King Hedley II).

Goldman continues, "This story about a young Rwandan artist trying to come to terms with the legacy of his people and the death of his entire family speaks to all of us concerned with theater's capacity to speak truth to power, and to humanize others whose lives may seem remote, but whose humanity is very much our own."

The production is complemented by a host of community engagement events, including panels with expert policy makers, the return of the acclaimed Peace Café, community conversations, and Friday happy hours. Confirmed panelists include United Stages Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Michael Abramowitz, United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp, and research associate with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Rwanda Genocide Donna J. Maier.

Jay O. Sanders (Playwright) has spent the last 40 years as a stage and screen actor, and has been the voice behind a long list of documentaries for PBS and National Geographic. After graduating with the first theater class of S.U.N.Y. at Purchase, he began his career at NY's Shakespeare in the Park, then joined the resident company here in D.C. at Arena Stage under Zelda Fichandler. He has played many of the great roles in Shakespeare and other classics and has devoted much of his time to birthing new American plays. He is an original cast member of Richard Nelson's Apple Family series, created over the course of four years at the Public Theater, filmed for WNET in 2013, and recently toured Europe. His feature films include The Day After Tomorrow, Half Nelson, JFK, Edge of Darkness, Tumbleweeds, Glory, and Angels in the Outfield.

Derek Goldman (Director) is an award-winning director and playwright/adapter, producer, developer of new work and published scholar, whose work has been seen around the country and internationally. Recent highlights include Grounded (Everyman and Olney), Our Class (Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Resident Play) and In Darfur (with Erika Rose, Helen Hayes Award for Lead Actress) at Theater J, and Three Men in a Boat (Synetic).

The creative team for Unexplored Interior includes choreographer Vincent Thomas (Brother's Size), set designer Lucianna Stecconi (Bad Jews), lighting designer Harold F. Burgess II (Grounded), costume designer Ivania Stack (The Motherfucker with the Hat), properties designer Michelle Elwyn (The Admission), sound designer Christopher Baine (The BFG), projections designer Jared Mezzocchi (Race), dialect coach Kim James Bey (Ruined), fight choreographer Paul Gallagher (The Admission), technical director Michael Redman and production stage manager Kate Kilbane.


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