March 31, 2008

Blogging Breaking Ground: Day One


My name is Lauren and I'll be your HTC blogger for the next week. Having spent two years interning with the artistic department here at the Huntington (and working on the Breaking Ground Festivals of '06 and '07), I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to return Boston to work on BG2008 as a Festival Producing Associate. I now live in Minneapolis and work at the Guthrie.

[Note: Apparently, the land of 10,000 lakes wins the cantilever-showdown architect Jean Nouvel started between our states -- see here. Also, in Minneapolis, not only do we have the most theater seats per capita (second only to New York), but we also carve our dairy industry princesses out of 40 lb. blocks of butter. Yes, you read right.]

I'll be reporting from the Calderwood Pavilion this week, both from inside the rehearsal room and readings. Get ready for the breaking news on Breaking Ground, courtesy of yours truly. Interested in more details on Breaking Ground events? Visit the BG2008 page on the HTC website, here.

The latest: We're in music rehearsal for Thursday night's reading on UNKNOWN SOLDIER. We have an incredible cast that includes Maria Thayer, Sara Saltzberg, Stephen Plunkett, Damian Baldet, Kate deLima, Aimee Doherty, Curly Glynn, Charlie Pollock and Brendan McNab . The musical, by Daniel Goldstein and Michael Friedman, sounds wonderful so far and it includes some quite interesting and amazing lyrics.... Be here on Thursday night for the fun.

Stay tuned for updates sometime soon.


The Cry of the Reed Previews

The Cry of the Reed began previews this past Friday Night in the Wimberly after a long but very productive tech week. Our designers have all gone home and now we will use the next 10 performances, and about 20 hrs of rehearsal, to give the director, actors, audience, and playwright some time with each other to discover what more this play has to offer.

The Globe had a couple of preview articles on Friday - read this one first, and then this one.

I think this show is one of the most visually arresting works we've done in the Wimberly, and the simplicity of the design is one of the reasons it works so well. Simple never means without challenges, and we had a few.

Here are a few factoids for you:

The walls are constructed completely from found objects from a salvage yard. They arrived aged, beat up, and weathered, but we needed to make them structural. And there are ten working doors. Doors that need to latch shut, stay open at exact angles, and withstand lots of banging, fighting, leaning, and slamming. Pretty typical criteria - but not when you aren't allowed to build a casement around the door.

We wanted to make the Wimberly feel even more intimate by bringing the audience closer and right into the the action. We lowered the proscenium - building a new header that beautifully matches the existing gold leaf arch.

We have also suspended a fabric canopy over the audience house using a fabric that we were able to make look like canvas. But it also needed to work with our life safety systems in case of an emergency - we were lucky enough to find a product that is inherently flame retardant, will allow smoke to escape up through it, and water from the sprinkler system to rain down on the areas it was intended to cover. Thank goodness for synthetics and new manufacturing processes. This fabric has seams every foot that disintegrate should there be a fire.

And then there is the floor - the director and playwright wanted to use sand or dirt. But we needed to find dirt that did not kick up dust (or allergies), provided solid footing, and was relatively easy to clean up. We found that too. But it's not dirt - it's rubber.

Take a look a the show - tell me what you think and send in your questions.

March 25, 2008

Sinan Unel talks about "The Cry of the Reed"

Sinan Ünel, a dual Turkish and American citizen, was part of the first class of Huntington Playwriting Fellows and, along with Fellows Ronan Noone and Rebekah Maggor is receiving a production of his work at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA this season. Ünel, whose award wining play Pera Palas recently received a critically acclaimed production in London, took a few moments from his rehearsal preparations to speak with Literary Manager Ilana Brownstein.

Sinan, your plays tend to be epic in scope, taking in wide swaths of history and letting that history influence your modern-day characters. How do you begin the writing process for this kind of work?

I guess each play is different, but at the beginning I start by basically just reading stuff. Inevitably, I come across something interesting that I think about for a while, and that’s how it usually starts — a germ of an idea that comes from what I’ve been immersing myself in. With The Cry of the Reed, at first I was thinking about the Persian poet Rumi, and dervishes, but the play really only began to take shape when I read about this journalist who’d been abducted in Iraq. This is common for me — I’ll have a vague idea of something I’m interested in, then I see an article in a newspaper (in this case, a very small article), and all of a sudden it becomes a full play in my head.

How do you proceed from that point?

For me, the fun of being a playwright starting a new play is to have this thing you live with every day. It’s growing and taking shape, and becoming something. Your relationship to that thing becomes very private, like a romance. You don’t want to let anybody in there for the time being, but at the same time, you’re sort of nurturing it and you’re looking forward to the time when it’s going to be ready and you can show it off. I know it may be eccentric of me, but I really love living with that nascent idea, by myself.

The Cry of the Reed deals intimately with issues of religion — in this case, various sects of Islam. Is part of your interest in this topic derived from growing up in a country that has a large Muslim population but is decidedly secular in its governance and society?

I guess my fascination is not with religion, it’s really with faith. Of course in today’s climate, we talk about religion more than we do about faith, and obviously those two things are connected. But my questions have always been: what is faith, why do people have faith, and how does it serve them? I started reading about Sufism — Sufism is about the meaning of God in a very personal way, not in a social or political way. It is probably closer to Eastern religions than it is to what we think of as Islam today. It brought me to my main character, Ayla, whose faith is about survival from grief. I write because I don’t know the answers. And I think that faith is really about not having answers, or more specifically, it’s not about having the answer. Because the moment it’s about having the answers, then it’s distorted, and it’s the problem that we have in the world today.

Finally, I know you wrote this play with Cigdem Onat in mind to play Ayla, as she will in our production. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Cigdem was a big part of the process of writing for me. First of all, she understands the culture I’m writing about. She understands Sufism, and it’s her wisdom – she has the wisdom Ayla has. In many ways, she is this character; I wrote Ayla to contain aspects of Cigdem within her. While I was writing the play, we talked about spirituality and her vision of the world, and her understanding of faith. She didn’t really know what I was working on at the time, but she was a true mentor to me through this process. I’m thrilled to be working with her on this production.

March 21, 2008

Shining City Audience Reaction

click here.

Inbox Friday 3/21

a few things out there worth checking out.

The 39 Steps will be moving to a commercial Broadway production at the Cort, starting late April.

Streamers, again directed by Roundabout helmer Scott Ellis, may play the Laura Pels in NYC next season. Click to read the Playbill article.

Brooks Ashmanskas (Present Laughter) and Kate Baldwin (Falsettos) will take the leads in She Loves Me coming to the Huntington in May/June. Read more here.

Read this.... I think it's time for new leadership at the Boston Parks Department. To see reader reaction click here

Do you support the notion that creativity and the Arts should be taught in public schools in MA? Click here to read more and be sure to tell House Speaker Dimasi it's time for a vote.

More Breaking Ground 2008 info here.

March 12, 2008

Breaking Ground 2008

The press release with full details should be out any day - but here are some of the details of this year's 5th Anniversary Breaking Ground Festival at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts - April 3-6, 2008. Hope to see you there!


Unknown Soldier

Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Book and Lyrics by Daniel Goldstein

Directed by Will Frears

This epistolary chamber musical’s intimacy beautifully conveys the tale of WWI-era lovers separated by time and space. When a modern-era woman discovers their letters, the past becomes present as she enlists the help of a researcher far away, and their correspondence begins to mirror that of previous generations. Unknown Soldier is the result of a commission from the Huntington’s Stanford Calderwood Fund for New American Plays.


Sense of an Ending

By Ken Urban

Directed by Evan Cabnet

An African-American journalist arrives in the land of his ancestors to uncover dark truths about an act of genocide. The trip becomes something more troubling, however, when he finds he may be part of the story. After he meets a survivor, the journalist struggles to understand the nature of man's inhumanity, and to find the path that returns us to the best versions of ourselves. Ken Urban is a current Huntington Playwriting Fellow.


Thomas Repair

By Mat Smart

Directed by Melia Bensussen

A family crisis ensues when a mysterious girl appears in Jacob Thomas’ quirky repair shop. She’s blue – literally and figuratively – and as she attempts to “come clean,” the relationships around her are thrown into chaos. Things left unsaid begin to fester and rot, and she proves she might be the only one who knows how to fix what’s long been broken. Thomas Repair is the result of a commission from the Huntington’s Stanford Calderwood Fund for New American Plays.



By Nathan Jackson

Directed by Amanda Charlton

In this family serio-comedy, the sons of an African-American family are torn between familial obligations and the dreams they’ve established for themselves. With dashed hopes for higher education, an ailing patriarch who sees his dead wife, and the mounting expenses of a new baby, the boys help each other face the major decisions of their lives. Together they just may discover a new definition of what it means to be a family.


Caroline in Jersey

By Melinda Lopez

Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara

Things aren’t looking so great for Caroline. Her husband has left her for a younger woman, she’s about to be thrown out of her sublet in New Jersey, her landlady thinks she’s crazy… and the spirit of Arthur Miller’s accountant lives in her refrigerator. Thrown into this mystery, Caroline must discover the truth about her haunting (and herself) to help to heal a broken family across two planes of existence. Melinda Lopez is a 2003-2005 Huntington Playwriting Fellow; Caroline in Jersey is the result of a commission from South Coast Repertory Theatre.

March 6, 2008

The Cry of the Reed - Cast

March 6, 2008


Award-winning Massachusetts playwright and Huntington Fellow Sinan Ünel ’s new play mixes a ripped-from-the-headlines plot with a unique family story.


The Huntington Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Sinan Ünel’s “The Cry of the Reed,” directed by Daniel Goldstein.

March 28-May 3, 2008


“The Cry of the Reed” plays at the Huntington’s Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston


$15-55. $25 for patrons 35 and under (online only with code 1723); $5 senior and military discount. $15 limited back row seats. $15 student rush tickets two hours before curtain.

BOSTON – An ambitious Turkish-American journalist eager for the next big story finds herself detained by Iraqi insurgents and embroiled in an international incident in the Huntington Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Sinan Ünel ’s “The Cry of the Reed,” playing March 28-May 3 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.

“Cry of the Reed,” directed by Daniel Goldstein who helmed the Huntington’s acclaimed 2005 production of “Falsettos,” was featured in the 2007 Breaking Ground Festival of new play readings. Ünel also was in the first group of Huntington Playwriting Fellows from 2004-2005.


Turkish-American photojournalist Sevgi Okan defies her editors to revisit war-torn Iraq. Though intent on staying safe while pursuing the next big story, Sevgi and her Canadian colleague Philip are detained by insurgents who question their motives, their faith, and their identities.

Determined to rescue both Sevgi and their failing relationship, her boyfriend Josh seeks out Sevgi's estranged expatriate American mother Ayla, living now in Turkey as a devout and worldly Sufi teacher with thousands of followers.

As Sevgi fights for her freedom, befriending her captors while bombs fall around them, Josh’s search leads to a deepening friendship with Ayla and her loyal servant. And when Sevgi’s increasingly desperate detention becomes international news, Ayla is called into action.

Playwright Sinan Ünel is an alumnus of the first class of Huntington Playwriting Fellows. His “Pathétique” and “The Cry of the Reed” were featured in the 2004 and 2007 Breaking Ground Festivals, respectively. His previous plays, ”Pera Palas,” “Tolstoy’s Den,” “Thalassa My Heart,” and “Three of Cups” have been produced around the world including at Lark Theatre Company, Long Wharf Theatre, Arcola Theatre, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, The Gate Theatre, Theater @ Boston Court, Open Stage Theatre, Austria’s Landestheater, Germany’s Theater Kosmos, Provincetown Theater Company, and Provincetown Theatreworks. He won the John Gassner Memorial Award and the Daryl Roth Creative Spirit Award, and his screenplay “Race Point” won first place in the 2001 New Century Screenwriting Contest. Ünel teaches at Boston’s Emerson College.

Director Daniel Goldstein has Huntington credits that include the award-winning 2005 revival of “Falsettos,” “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and “Unknown Soldier,” a musical he co-wrote with Michael Friedman that will be read at the 2008 Breaking Ground Festival in April. Other credits include the world premiere of Beau Willimon's “Lower Ninth” at the Flea Theater, the Off Broadway musical “Walmartopia,” “Godspell” at Paper Mill Playhouse, which will transfer this fall to Broadway, “But I’m a Cheerleader” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and “Bathsheba Doran’s Living Room in Africa” at Gloucester Stage Company. Goldstein was associate director for the Broadway production of “All Shook Up!” and resident director for the first national tour of “Mamma Mia!” His one-person show “=celebration” has played off Broadway, New Haven, San Francisco, and the HBO Aspen Comedy Arts Festival.


In alphabetical order:

Amir Arison (Hakan/Kadir) appeared Off Broadway at Signature Theatre Company, Naked Angels Theater Company, MCC Theater, and more. Regionally, he has appeared at Oklahoma’s Lyric Theatre, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, Long Wharf Theatre, Yale Rep, and Paper Mill Playhouse.

Lisa Birnbaum (Sevgi) has regional credits that include productions at Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C., Yale Repertory Theatre, and roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Anything Goes” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. An alumna of the daytime serial “The Guiding Light,” Birnbaum also is a 2007 Yale School of Drama graduate and a 2004 Tufts University undergraduate.

Sean Dugan (Josh) is a Boston actor who has starred in several American Repertory Theatre productions including “Three Sisters,” “Enrico IV,” “Antigone,” “Richard II,” “The Idiots Karamazov,” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” In addition to much Off Broadway work, he had a recurring role in the HBO series, “Oz.”

Laith Nakli (Tariq/Emir/Mumtaz) has significant film credits including “Arranged,” “The Visitor,” “Sadiq,” and “A Piece of America.” On TV, he’s been seen in “Third Watch,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Sopranos,” and “Rescue Me.” He also has appeared at the New York Arab American Comedy Festival.

Cigdem Onat (Ayla) is an international actress, director, and teacher who received a Drama Desk nomination and Theatre World Award for her work in “The Time of the Cuckoo” at Lincoln Center Theater, directed by Nicholas Martin. This Turkish native starred in a 2006 Turkish-American production of Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days” for Istanbul Theatre Festival and World Theatre Olympics.

Darren Pettie (Philip) appeared on Broadway in “Butley,” directed by Nicholas Martin. Other New York credits include work at Primary Stages, Playwrights Horizons, Atlantic Theater Company, Vineyard Theatre, and The Public Theater. He appeared in Commonwealth Shakespeare Festival‘s “The Taming of the Shrew” and he’s recently been on TV in “Cashmere Mafia,” “Gossip Girl,” “Mad Men,” and many more.

Rafi Silver (Nabil) appeared Off Broadway in “Masked” at DR2 Theatre. Regional credits include “Amadeus” and “Visiting Mr. Green” at Syracuse Stage. He also appeared in the film “Rehearsing” and the television series “All My Children.” Silver is a 2006 graduate of Syracuse University.


Eugene Lee (Scenic Designer) designed the set for the Huntington’s world premiere, “Mauritius” in 2006, and is currently represented on Broadway by “The Homecoming,” and “Wicked,” for which he won his most recent Tony Award. Lee currently is working with McCarter Theatre Center, Primary Stages, and The Public Theater. Since 1974 he has been production designer for TV’s “Saturday Night Live.” He was recently inducted into New York’s Theatre Hall of Fame.

Laurie Churba (Costume Designer) created costumes for the Huntington’s production of “Rabbit Hole.” New York credits include “The Price,” “The Tricky Part,” “Private Jokes-Public Places,” “Something Old-Something New,” “Golden Boy,” and “Waiting for Lefty.” A veteran of regional theatre companies, Churba also serves as assistant costume designer for TV’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Michael Chybowski (Lighting Designer), head of lighting design at Brandeis University and 1999 OBIE award winner for Sustained Excellence, has worked for theatre and dance companies including Goodman Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Mark Morris Dance Group (with whom he’s long been associated), and New York Shakespeare Festival. In New York he lit Broadway’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” the 40th anniversary concert version of “Hair” in Central Park, and productions at most major Off Broadway theatres.

Eric Shim (Composer/Sound Designer) was a 2007 Lucille Lortel Award nominee for Outstanding Sound Design. His work has been heard recently at Atlantic Theater Company, the Daryl Roth Theatre, the Juilliard School and more He composed music for the film “Winter Passing” and scored award-winning documentaries for the National Audubon Society and the Houston Zoo. He was assistant director for Stravinsky's “L'histoire du Soldat” at Boston Symphony Orchestra, and is resident composer for the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater New Music Series.

Gail P. Luna is the Production Stage Manager for “Cry of the Reed” and Katie Ailinger is Stage Manager.


Listed events are free with the purchase of tickets to any performance of “The Cry of the Reed.” All events take place at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA unless otherwise noted.

April 1 – “Tuesday Talks” Series. Explore in depth the issues from the play, with a question-and-answer forum featuring a series of experts. This event features Boston Globe reporter Charles Sennott. After the 7:30 p.m. performance.

April 8 – Emerging Playwrights Forum. “The Cry of the Reed” author Sinan Ünel talks about his inspirations for the play. 6:30 p.m.

April 15 – “Tuesday Talks” Series. Explore in depth the issues from the play, with a question-and-answer forum featuring a series of experts. After the 7:30 p.m. performance.

April 20 – Humanities Forum. Get the historical and literary context of the play in a lively session after the 2 p.m. performance.

April 24 – Actors Forum. Cast members take your questions after the 7:30 p.m. performance

April 29 – “Tuesday Talks” Series. Explore in depth the issues from the play, with a question-and-answer forum featuring a series of experts. After the 7:30 p.m. performance.

April 30 – Actors Forum. Cast Members of the cast take your questions after the 2 p.m. performance.

# # #


Ünel, Goldstein, and members of the cast are available for interviews. Contact John Michael Kennedy at or 617 273-1537 for details.

RSVPs are now being taken for the April 9 Media Review Night. Click here for information.

March 4, 2008

Ghosts, Dervishes, and Cavemen

What a day! It's not often that we kick off three shows in one day, but we did today. I figure I'm due a little procrastination (in the form of this blog post) before getting back to my budget spreadsheets tonight.

Our stellar Chicago cast and Director Bob Falls arrived for the first day of tech rehearsals for Shining City today, and unfortunately brought a touch of the flu with them. But we are otherwise off to a great start with a relaxed rehearsal schedule over the next few days leading up to an invited dress on Thursday and our first preview on Friday. The buzz from Chicago on this production is great and excitement is growing here in Boston.

We always look for a outside project to bring in this time of year as our spring schedule is so tight, and when Nicky heard that the Goodman was interested in doing something with us, and that Bob Falls was doing this project, it was really a no-brainer. This is a great story, fantastic acting, and a brilliant new play by Conor McPherson. And I love getting shows from the Goodman - I know there won't be any scary surprises and the work will be first rate.

Let's hope our resident BU Theatre ghost and the one in Shining City decide to go along with the "no scary surprises" premise that I'm going with here.

Meanwhile - down at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA rehearsals for The Cry of the Reed got off to a great start - first with a little design meeting with the legendary scenic designer Eugene Lee and director Danny Goldstein to nail down a few outstanding issues. Those who like to see designs that shake things up a little may well enjoy this Wimberly Theatre experience. The Huntington goes down and dirty. I really want you to be surprised when you walk in the space, so I'm not going to publish much in the way of preview visuals. As a sidenote: I seriously hope that Eugene writes his memoirs someday soon - he is an outstanding raconteur and I would love to hear a few more of his entertaining stories.

I heard the read-through in Deane Hall was amazing today (had to go back the the BU Theater, ya know). Tommorrow the company is digging right in, talking with a few local experts about Sufism, and learning the intricacies of the Dervish Whirling. It has been an interesting design process, and promises to be an exciting rehearsal and tech period, and I am anticipating (with measured enthusiasm) some scary surprises for this production. See you in the South End (I always like that) in about three weeks.

While The Cry of the Reed rehearses Theatre Mogul will make use of the Wimberly presenting Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman.

If Irish ghosts and Islam aren't your cuppa perhaps you'll enjoy a good old fashioned battle of the sexes. Our house crew and the Caveman gang are busy getting ready for performances starting tomorrow through March 16 only.

There are three more things that I am really excited about, and I hope to write more about in the future, are the casting for She Loves Me, having Peter Dubois in house with us for two weeks this month, and our 5th Anniversary Breaking Ground Festival in April.

I'm don't start rumors often but I'm going to let it slip - hope I won't get slapped too hard - and drop a few She Loves Me cast names; Jessica Stone, Marc Vietor, Dick Latessa, Nancy Carroll, Jeremy Beck, and Brooks Ashmanskas are a few of those coming and (along with Nicky) are sure to deliver an amazing evening of classic American musical theatre.

Peter is here to wrap up season planning for next year and we are aiming for a season announcement in the next month. It looks exciting - a few classic gems, some new works, some international and NY hits, and definitely a sampling of Peter's directing. It will undoubtedly be a transitional season for us as Peter gets to know us, our Audience, and the larger Boston theatre community (and we get to know him). I expect that the real institutional work and Peter's footprint won't be readily visible for a while - but I am encouraged and enthused about what is coming down the pike thus far.

Breaking Ground is April 3 - 6 and is coming together nicely. I hope to get a couple of new bloggers on board to tell you more about these new plays. There will be a combination of Huntington Commissions (national), works by our Huntington Playwriting Fellows (regional playwrights including a new work by Melinda Lopez), and some gems we've found along the way.

As always - feel free to comment and send me your questions. My muse has been on vacation and could use a little encouragement in getting me back to the blogosphere.

Photo Credits: Top - John (John Judd, l.) confides in therapist Ian (Jay Whittaker) the circumstances that led to his wife's death in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Shining City, written by Conor McPherson and directed by Robert Falls. Runs March 7–April 6, 2008 at the Huntington's B.U. Theatre. Photo: Peter Wynn Thompson. Middle - Mevlâna mausoleum, Konya, Turkey.