|Theater For The New City|
NEW YORK -- When the chips are down, are we men or beasts? That's the question of a new tragicomedy by W.M. Akers, "Dead Man's Dinner," which Theater for the New City will present March 23 to April 9 in a production by resident company Squeaky Bicycle Productions, directed by Kathryn McConnell. The piece is an absurdist adventure story set in a dystopian future. New York has been under siege for ten years and three women are struggling to survive in a frigid, rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side. Olympia and her daughter Petra have spent years surviving any way they can. When Petra falls in love with Jackie, an injured soldier, their food supplies are stretched to the limit. Death creeps closer and each woman is torn between love and hunger. Hunger always wins.
The play is realistic at its base, but dialed up a bit with a gossamer level of giddiness. There are reverberations of the experiments of ethologist John B. Calhoun, who tested the effect of overcrowding on rats and advanced an animal model of societal collapse. Amid themes of starvation and desperation in the play, the characters' fear of losing human connection is at its core. The result is a surprising poignancy. The piece is dominated by the battle for Petra's love between her mother and her girlfriend. It is set in an apartment that was once nice but has been turned into a fortress: grimy, utilitarian and militaristic. The door to escape it seems barricaded; it turns out a man has died against it. Everything inside becomes a survival tool, including a skillet that is wielded as a deadly weapon against intruders. With dark humor, the three women are pushed to a brink where we find out where their breaking points are.
Playwright W.M. Akers creates relatable characters and cleverly nods to the unique glories and challenges the city has to offer them. These three women experience the siege from three different socioeconomic and generational vantage points, leaving audiences to wonder how they would respond if faced with such dire circumstances.
Akers hails from Nashville, TN. He graduated in 2010 from NYU's dramatic writing program, where he received the John Golden Playwriting Prize. A journalist in his "day job," he is a features editor at Narratively and also writes for Deadspin, Vice and others. Squeaky Bicycle has presented two of his previous plays, both directed by Kathryn McConnell. "Tales of Love and Lasers" was three sci-fi stories about people trying to find love and fight loneliness in space. "Pop Dies in Vegas" was about a Justin Bieber-type musician faking his own suicide to live on in legend. Akers' "Cary’s Chainstore Massacre," which Kathryn McConnell directed for another company, was based on a plot to blow up a New York Barnes & Noble by a neighboring independent bookstore. Most of Akers' plays are comedic in their essence. He tends to sets exotic tales of war and conflict in very familiar settings and says that he tries to write serious stuff but then he "gets silly." His plays often tend toward gallows humor with a heavy dose of heart.
Creation of "Dead Man's Dinner" came about as Akers was reading "How To Cook a Wolf" by M.F.K Fisher, a meditation on cooking through hunger, and "Leningrad: Siege and Symphony" by Brian Moynahan, a chilling history of the siege of Leningrad. The perspective on how humans in extremis go to great lengths to preserve their humanity was inspiration for this piece. For Akers, "Dead Man's Dinner" is either a science fiction or an alternate universal survival play. It asks, "If everything breaks down, what is the last thing--for each person--that makes you stop caring or turns you into an animal?"
Director Kathryn McConnell is a co-founder of Squeaky Bicycle Productions. Her other Squeaky Bicycle productions include "Ten Ways on a Gun," "The Last Five Years," "The God Particle," "Tales of Love and Lasers," "The Tragedie of Cardenio," "For Better or Worse," "Récit" and "Supernova." She has a BFA in Dramaturgy from the University of Oklahoma and has worked with Workshop Theater Company, New York Women in Film and Television, Sanguine Theatre Company, NYWIFT, Sanguine, the Hippodrome Theatre, Westport Country Playhouse, OKC Theatre Company, and others. (kathrynamcconnell.com)
Annalisa Loeffler plays Olympia, the mother; Zohra Benzerga plays Petra, her daughter; Kate Garfield plays Jackie, Petra's girlfriend/lover and Marquis Wood plays both of the two brothers who encounter the three women at different times. Assistant director is Brandi Varnell. Set design is by Meg McGuigan. Lighting designer is Christopher D'Angelo. Sound designer is Meg Cully. Fight Director is Casey Mattison. Production manager is Tracy C. Wertheimer. Stage manager is K'Sandra Sampson.
Squeaky Bicycle (www.squeakybicycleproductions.com), founded in 2010 and dedicated to new works, is now a resident company of Theater for the New City. It is known for its productions of apocalyptic plays. In 2013, it produced "Alligator Summer" by Dylan Lamb at Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex. The play was an audacious farce in which two Louisiana families have taken refuge in an attic, Anne Frank style, after an endless army of alligators have overrun their town. It was subtitled "A Southern Gothic Atrocity in Three Acts." Most recently they mounted "Ten Ways on a Gun" at TNC. The company values the development process, seeking to nurture every contributor's artistic journey, offering a safe place to take risks and explore the depths of their talents. W.M. Akers and Dylan Lamb are resident playwrights of the company. Brandi Varnell is Artistic Director; Kathryn McConnell is Executive Producer and Literary Manager.
Brandi Varnell, Artistic Director of Squeaky Bicycle, writes, "Theater for the New City has been an institution for innovative new work for decades, one of the most known and respected downtown theaters. We could not be more appreciative and more inspired by our residency at TNC. Crystal Field and the staff of TNC have offered us such support and insight as we pursue our artistic vision. They believe in the unique voice of the artists they work with, and we are truly thankful to be nurtured by the innovators and creators at TNC."
WHERE AND WHEN:
March 23 to April 9, 2017
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City and Squeaky Bicycle Productions
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM. Added performance Monday, March 27 at 7:00PM.
$18 general admission; box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: 90 min. Critics are invited on or after March 23.