photo by Bill Sigafoos
Grey Garrett as "Lottie" and Charley Raintree as "Junior" in Firehouse Theatre's "This World We Know."
In the first production at the Firehouse Theatre Project since New York transplant Joel Bassin took over as producing artistic director, This World We Know delves into deep-seated issues between a brother and sister resulting from a troubled childhood. In a near-packed house on opening night last week, Bassin, along with playwright Kelly Younger and director Kerrigan Sullivan, greeted theater-goers as they entered the spruced-up lobby and bar area of the theater complete with new rugs, wall décor and lighting.
“This play is about forgiveness, and I think that’s a really apt way to begin the handoff from [former producing artistic director] Jase [Smith] and, of course, previously Carol [Piersol],” Bassin says. “This was a great choice for the Firehouse as the theme also coincides with forgiveness for the theater in the community.”
Bassin adds that the theater has been making progress, and he’s really excited for what’s to come. Younger agrees, noting that this was his first time in Richmond, but he is impressed with what the theater is doing. “When theaters are willing to take a chance on a new play, it’s great because everything is new — new talent, new ideas and some really original creativity,” says Younger.
As the lights dimmed and the play began, cast member Marc P. Taylor strummed an acoustic guitar and sang a song with lyrics foreshadowing what was to come in the play, often incorporating the phrase, “this world we know.” The play opens in 1976 with a brother and sister, nicknamed “Junior” and “Lottie,” arguing about an incident that has occurred. Older versions of themselves, Neil and Charlotte, are simultaneously present on the stage, and the play begins to transition between the past and present as this tale of family, forgiveness and mending old wounds unravels.
The serious, yet relatable overtones of the play are broken up by moments of humor, which elicited laughs from the audience. Aside from a preview the night before, opening night on Feb. 6 was the first time Younger saw his play performed in front of a live audience, and he was pleased with how well received it was. He credits the talented cast of Grey Garrett, Charley Raintree, Catherine Bryne and Scott Melton with being able to bring his written work to life. “I’ve worked with a lot of actors in a lot of different cities, and I’m extremely impressed with the talent here in Richmond,” Younger says adding.,“They are really committed, so professional and just willing to take risks.” Younger resides in Los Angeles, where he currently has another full-length play, Kalamazoo, running at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. Other award-winning pieces he has written include Mandate, Lady Gregory’s Ingredients and Off Compass.
In her directorial debut of a full-scale production at the Firehouse, Sullivan says “I’ve always had an interest in developing new plays.” Currently a theater professor and the department chair of Visual and Performing Arts at John Tyler Community College, Sullivan is excited to have had a hand in the production, and she hopes that people will be drawn in to see it.
Younger, along with Sullivan and Bassin, is pleased that the theater is devoted to bringing new American plays into the limelight.
“It’s risky for a theater to take on something new. Everybody can do Death of a Salesman and people know what to expect …” Younger says. “It’s a big risk to take on something new, but there can also be big rewards and that can lead to a big payoff.”
Winner of the 2013 Festival of New American Plays, This World We Know runs through March 7. Regular tickets are $35. 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org. —Nicole Cohen