The upcoming season at Urbanite Theatre includes a new landmark in the organization’s history.
For the first time, Urbanite will be producing the world premiere of a work that it commissioned and was a part of developing from the time it was a one-page treatment. “That Must Be The Entrance To Heaven,” by Franky D. Gonzalez, was developed as a part of Urbanite’s 2020 Charles Rowan Beye New Play Commission.
Years later, it’s become a reality and will be shown to the world for the first time on June 9, 2023.
The theme for the upcoming season is “Heredity,” and Brendan Ragan, the co-founder of Urbanite Theatre, says each of the works explores family ties in some form or fashion.
“Theatrically and stylistically, the plays are very different,” he says. “So we do have a zany dark comedy in 'The Burdens.' We've got a very tender father/daughter drama in 'Birds of North America.' There's a more affecting drama in 'Backwards Forwards Back.' I think you could even classify 'That Must Be The Entrance To Heaven' as a tragedy. And of course, 'Mr. Yunioshi' at the beginning of the year is also quite a poignant comedy, but it is a comedy.”
“Mr. Yunioshi,” the first show of the new season, will be a limited special engagement that runs from Sept. 7-11. The work, written and performed by J. Elijah Cho, explores the infamous yellowface performance of Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“The Burdens,” written by Matt Schatz and directed by Ragan, is about a pair of grandchildren who are waiting for their grandfather to pass away and leave them an inheritance. Ragan says the play has an innovative format in that it’s largely told through text message, illustrating how technology has brought us closer but also divided us.
“I think immediately most people are going to think, ‘Oh, that means all of the dialogue is going to be projected up on to the wall so we can read it like a text message,’” he says. “But the concept of the show is actually that they speak these text messages out like normal dialogue, typos included. So sometimes, they may say things that don't totally make sense.”
“The Burdens” will have its Urbanite run from Oct. 21 through Nov. 27.
The next play to hit the stage, “Birds of North America,” by Anna Ouyag Moench, will be performed at Urbanite from Jan. 6 through Feb. 12, 2023. Ragan said it felt like a good play for Urbanite because it is topical and relevant due to the nature of our society over the past few years, when family relations have become strained.
“We felt it was relevant and important because it shows two family members who are full of love for each other,” he says. “They desperately want a good relationship. But they are different. They have experiences and they don't mean to but they end up hurting each other quite a bit by having differing opinions. And like any father and daughter from two completely different generations, sometimes they get further apart the more they try to get close together.”
“Backwards Forwards Back” by Jacqueline Goldfinger will run from March 24 through April 23, 2023, also directed by Ragan. This one-man play starring L. James centers on a soldier returning from war who has to confront his own PTSD. James is a former U.S. Army soldier, and Ragan says that he brings an authenticity and life experience to the role that is irreplaceable.
Urbanite will also host its Modern Works Festival from May 3-7, 2023.
The final show of the season, “That Must Be The Entrance To Heaven,” is the Gonzalez vehicle about four Latino boxers who are chasing a world title and an improvement in their social status. Ragan says this play has gotten quite a bit of buzz on the theater circuit, and he’s excited to bring its world premier to the stage from June 9 to July 9, 2023.
“We felt like (Gonzalez) brought a lot of authenticity and an interesting perspective,” says Ragan. “Immigration will always be an important topic, but particularly now it is. It was just one of those perfect worlds all kind of coming together. That's why we selected his play to be written, and then over the course of the next two years, it's come a long way.”