Urbanite Theatre collaborates with British playwright Anna Jordan for the second time to open its second season.
They hadn’t finished furnishing the theater. They hadn’t put on a single play or held one rehearsal yet. They had no idea if this was going to work.
But after reading Anna Jordan’s gripping drama “Chicken Shop,” Brendan Ragan and Summer Wallace couldn’t resist reaching out across the Atlantic Ocean to see if Jordan would let them not only produce her play, but also adapt it to an American setting. The duo got more than just a play. They got a partnership.
“In reality, we had no business asking for the U.S. premiere and saying we’d like to adapt it,” says Ragan, co-founding artistic director of Urbanite Theater. “We pitched ourselves to her via email and the reasons we really fell in love with the play and why our venue would be the perfect fit.”
Jordan and the Urbanite turned out to be a dazzling match. The small theater’s inaugural play sold out every performance, including a week of added performances.
Sarasota theater audiences were as taken with Jordan’s stirring drama as Ragan and Wallace had been. Even six months later, people are still approaching Ragan and Wallace about “Chicken Shop.”
“She’s really interesting in that she can write such honest dialogue, true to how contemporary people speak,” says Wallace, co-founding artistic director of the Urbanite Theatre. “Then she’ll turn around and write this beautiful, poetic passage that will blow your socks off. It’s almost Shakespearean what she’s able to do with language.”
The Urbanite hopes to duplicate the impact of “Chicken Shop” with another production of a Jordan play: “Freak.” The play focuses on the intimate and internal drama of female sexuality with the story of 15-year-old Leah, who is facing the dilemma of losing her virginity with her popular boyfriend, and 30-year-old Georgie, who faces an existential and sexual crisis.
“I felt ‘Freak’ was a risky play,” says Jordan. “It deals with sex in a very kind of frank way. It deals with female sexual desire that you don’t often see in plays. We have a lot of plays where women appear sexy or sexualized, and you have a lot of plays dealing with the sexualization of women and how they respond to it. I wanted to look at the role women play themselves.”
During a night of rehearsal, Wallace (who is playing Georgie) and recent Booker High School graduate Ellie McCaw position themselves on a sparse stage that includes just a few chairs and a gray bed.
And even though they share the same tight physical space, the two characters are in two completely different worlds.
The two women deliver monologues discussing their family, friends and past love lives until converging in a final scene where they finally meet. That dichotomy between the two female leads who represent two sides of female sexual discovery and desire fuels the play.
And just as they did in “Chicken Shop,” Ragan and Wallace have emailed and Skyped with Jordan in London and given her American substitutes to various trademark British slang or pop culture references.
“I feel like I’ve gotten to know Brendan and Summer through doing this, and it’s been a great relationship,” says Jordan. “When I first started writing plays, I never even thought of my plays being produced in America.”
And with increasing patron support (the Urbanite sold approximately 400 season subscriptions when it announced its second season in September), Ragan and Wallace hope to be a home for more playwrights’ new plays.
“We want to nurture new plays and expand our reach,” says Wallace. “We just want to keep growing.”