The upcoming season, which starts next month, features a mix of comedic and thought-provoking plays that will start conversations.
Urbanite Theatre Co-Artistic Directors Summer Dawn Wallace and Brendan Ragan didn’t intend for their theater company’s 2019-2020 season to have a theme, but one definitely emerged in the planning process.
“A lot of the plays explore identity,” Wallace says. “A theme sometimes emerges, because of what’s speaking to us at that time … (but) we’re always trying to introduce Sarasota audiences to new contemporary voices and playwrights on the cusp that we think are important for them to discover.”
Both Wallace and Ragan agree that the scripts behind this season’s lineup tell stories that are particularly important to discuss in 2019, and will continue to be relevant in 2020.
“We’ve got really good stories in these plays, but beyond that, they all ask questions about topics we need to be talking about right now,” Ragan said. “You react to your own culture and audience and certain plays rise to the top, based on what you’re feeling.”
The pair announced Urbanite’s upcoming season in a release April 3, and we spoke to them to get their take on each of the plays that will make up the 2019-2020 lineup.
The 2019-2020 Urbanite Theatre Season
By Eleanor Burgess
Directed by Natalie Novacek
May 31-June 30
Ragan calls this an exciting debate-style play by a former history major at Yale University. With that background, playwright Eleanor Burgess has a familiarity with the play’s subject matter, U.S. history, but also with academia and relationships and power dynamics — all of which, Ragan says, are the fascinating and troubling subtopics that make the play so good.
Set in 2016 before the presidential election, the story follows student Zoe, who is called into her professor's office to speak about her recent paper regarding slavery's effect on the American Revolution. A polite disagreement quickly turns into an exploding debate on the timely topics of race, power and history.
“It’s a little tiny time capsule piece where we get to look at inciting incidents that lead to some of the struggles and difficulties we’re having with race right now in America,” Ragan says.
By Stacey Gregg
Directed by Summer Wallace
July 26-Aug. 25
This one-person play follows Kes, a young person questioning his identity and discovering his sexuality and gender. After falling in love for the first time online, he’s accused of criminal conduct, forcing him to confront how he sees himself.
“The play really examines ‘how do we choose who we are?’ and ‘is it OK to not know?’” Ragan says.
Modern Works Festival
Wallace says the response was overwhelmingly positive to Urbanite’s inaugural Modern Works Festival in October, so the theater company will yet again bring several new plays by female writers to the Urbanite stage this fall.
The second annual festival will feature a collection of staged readings of the three best scripts submitted, which will all be workshopped before they’re read. At the end of the nearly weeklong festival, an audience vote will help determine the top playwright who will win a $3,000 honorarium for her new work.
“Audiences really loved (learning) the process behind how a play gets developed,” Wallace says of last year’s event. “This year we’re creating more of a festival atmosphere, moving everything into a one-week period so audiences have the opportunity to see several things in one day if they want to — performances and a panel or talk of some sort.”
“The Thanksgiving Play”
By Larissa FastHorse
Nov. 8-Dec. 15
This play questions whether or not it’s possible for a group of all-white community theater makers to create a culturally sensitive production honoring Native American Heritage Month.This ferocious satire dissects political correctness in a way that Ragan hopes will make audiences laugh out loud — something that doesn’t always happen in what tends to be Urbanite’s often intense artistic environment.
“We gravitate towards material that is meaningful and culturally important that can often mean a lot of serious content,” he says. “So it’s always refreshing when we can offer something purely fun and light that will leave you thinking as well.”
Ragan says this play “brilliantly skewers” PC culture and how attempting to be sensitive to backgrounds that are different than our own can completely backfire with even the best of intentions.
By Ike Holter
Directed by Brendan Ragan
Jan. 10-Feb. 16
This dark comedy starts with a Chicago man returning to his former apartment a year after his assumed death to fix his relationships with the people mourning him.
Ragan calls Ike Holter a brilliant, ferociously talented writer who he and Wallace predict will soon be a household name.
“It (‘Sender’) speaks to me because he’s a younger playwright and the characters are millennials grappling with different levels of maturity,” he says. “It investigates the challenges of millennials like student loans and the economy and politics and technology and social media without being about all of that … I don’t think there’s anyone better to comment on this landscape than someone who’s a part of it.”
By Cory Finley
March 13-April 19
This slight dip into the horror genre, as Wallace says, follows the seemingly blooming relationship of characters Matt and Anna … until the sewers under their apartment begin to talk. This mix of comedy, mystery and macabre is a psychological study of hurt and healing, especially in relation to the people we love.
Wallace says the play gets a little into mental illness as a character starts to hear sounds coming from his toilet that nobody else is hearing. It’s a story of distorted reality, and the confusion between what’s real and what’s not real.
“We go on a journey with the main character experiencing what he’s seeing,” she says. “The audience is on his side.”
Ragan calls it a psychological thriller for these reasons, but notes that there are also moments of “great fun and camp,” especially because it begins like a romantic comedy before it gets dark.
Tickets are now on sale, including master passes (new this year) for the Modern Works Festival. Click here or call 321-1397 to purchase.