What does it mean to be alone? While this question resonates in light of our nationwide pandemic experience, it is present in the play DNR. At the midpoint of our 2019/20 truncated theatrical season, The Living Room in Kansas City produced the world premiere of DNR by VICTOR WISHNA about a hospital volunteer, a terminally ill patient, and an exploration of the complexities of human connection. Another world premiere asked the question, ‘What does it take to awaken from bigotry?’ Produced by InPlay Theatre Company at Kansas City’s Just Off-Broadway Theatre, Woke, a musical by Keith Andrews, addresses race and homophobia while exploring the lives of two young men in 1960’s Alabama.
Westport Center for the Arts also chose Just-Off Broadway for the world premiere of Stealing Kandinsky: A Case from the Stolen Art Files. This play by Scott Myers centers around Vassily Kandinsky, considered a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis, and a modern art museum known for collecting such works. Speaking of Nazism, Kansas City’s Coterie Theatre partnered with University of Missouri-Kansas City theatre to present the world premiere of The White Rose: We Defied Hitler by DAVID MEYERS. Based on the gripping and intriguing true story of Sophie Scholl, the play examines the role of ordinary people in extraordinary times.
Kansas City’s Unicorn Theatre launched the NNPN Rolling World premiere of JACQUELINE GOLDFINGER’s Babel. Metro Theater Company of St. Louis, along with the Nashville Children’s Theatre, co-commissioned the world premiere of IDRIS GOODWIN’s Ghost at the St. Louis Grandel Theatre. Ghost is an adaption of Jason Reynolds’ highly acclaimed 2016 bestseller of the same name.
A feature of nineteenth century St. Louis is the focus of Madam, a musical by Colin Healy about the right to be remembered, the meaning of love, and the power of ‘no.’ Produced by Fly North Theatricals, Madam received its world premiere at Bluff City Theatre in Hannibal, then relocated to St. Louis for an extended run at .ZACK. This theatre was also the venue for the Midnight Company’s world premiere of playwrights Joe Hanrahan and Barbara F. Freed’s A Model for Matisse. The play—based on the documentary film written and directed by Freed—is a warm and colorful portrait of the unconventional relationship between artist Henri Matisse and Monique Bourgeois.
The Tennessee Williams Festival St Louis was proud to premiere Bryan Batt’s coming of age play, Dear Mr. Williams, at the Curtain Call Lounge. Audiences and critics were mesmerized and charmed by its raw tracing of parallels between the life trajectories of Batt and Williams. Playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth received its world premiere thanks to the commissioning and production of the West End Players Guild.
The Springfield Contemporary Theatre premiered SANDRA ASHER’s Death Valley: A Love Story, which tells the true story of Carol Emerson and David Nutter and traces the course of a woman clawing to re-assemble herself.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic’s March cloud marred all theatres across our region, most going dark on Friday the thirteenth. Kansas City Repertory cancelled two world-premiere productions: Kyle Hatley’s Frankenstein: A Ghost Story and Legacy Land by STACEY ROSE. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has postponed the world premiere of Dreaming Zenzile, a musical based on the life of Miriam Makeba, by Somi Kakoma. So, we wait—appreciating how one of the most persuasive reasons to see theatre is that it is live.