Merrimack Repertory Theatre Celebrates New Playwright Commissions, New Reading Series – MRT’s FIRST LOOK
MRT will celebrate the commissioning of two of the country’s most adventuresome playwrights, Trista Baldwin and Vichet Chum, with the launch of a new reading series, MRT’s First Look. The series will kick off September 24 with a new adaptation of a classic, spinetingling thriller, Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight by Steven Dietz, according to Courtney Sale, the Nancy L. Donahue Artistic Director, and Bonnie J. Butkas, Executive Director.
The initial three readings will be free and presented over Zoom. Some readings will include the entire play; some, portions of the play. The readings will also be available on the MRT website for three additional days after the live Zoom reading. An RSVP is required via the show’s web page at www.mrt.org/firstlook. Those who RSVP will be emailed the access information for Zoom the day before the reading.
Sale said, “With our mission of producing remarkable new work, we are delighted this fall to support the development of three sublime writers: Trista Baldwin, Vichet Chum, and Steven Dietz. MRT audiences will have the opportunity to hear their works in progress, including two commissioned by MRT, and learn more about the playwrights and connect with a dynamo team of artists. These writers possess boundless creativity, sturdy craft, and tremendous heart. I am excited for all of us to spend more time in their words and worlds.”
The opening round of MRT’s First Look will include Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight in a new stage version by Steven Dietz, directed by Courtney Sale, at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 24; The Rise and Fall of Holly Fudge by Trista Baldwin, directed by Courtney Sale, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 22; and a new piece by MRT favorite Vichet Chum, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 12. Pirronne Yousefzadeh (Associate Artistic Director and Director of Community Engagement at Geva Theatre Center) will direct; the title will be announced later.
The psychological thriller Gaslight, also known by the title Angel Street, is most famous for the 1944 Hollywood version, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, garnering a Best Actress Oscar for Ingrid Bergman. One of the great film noirs, Gaslight tells the story of a cruel, cold-hearted husband, who employs all sorts of sinister tricks, to manipulate his wife into believing she is going insane, so he can take advantage of her. The play gave rise to the term “gaslighting,” which means to psychologically abuse victims with the intent of making them doubt their own memories and perceptions.
The film is also famous as the vehicle that introduced an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury to American audiences as a conniving, smart-alecky maid. The American stage premiere on Broadway in 1941 starred a virtually unknown, 30-year-old Vincent Price.
Best known for the international hits God’s Country and Lonely Planet, Dietz is the first playwright to receive permission from the Hamilton estate to update the classic for the stage. His other thrillers include Dracula: Mina’s Quest, The Shimmering, and On Clover Road. Sale, one of Dietz’s former students and a frequent collaborator, will direct.
Just in time for the start of the holiday season, MRT’s First Look will present the winsome comedy The Rise and Fall of Holly Fudge by Baldwin, best known for American Sexy and Patty Red Pants. Her work also includes Ghosted, a commission for Courtney Sale and Seattle Children’s Theatre, about teens suffering from anxiety and depression.
Baldwin described the play as, “Carol Sprague is a white single mom who makes award-winning black and white fudge. She serves it every holiday. She gifts it to her co-workers. But with her Black daughter’s girlfriend crashing Christmas, her neighbor’s new-found love of confectionary, and the protests erupting on her front lawn, Carol is finding it tough to make this the most wonderful time of the year.”
An audience favorite, Chum appeared in 2018 in his autobiographic play KNYUM at MRT. He also appeared the next year in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley and Jack Kerouac’s The Haunted Life. His plays focus on Cambodian American stories, and he will reveal his entry for MRT’s First Look at a later date.
Audiences for the free readings must register for the Zoom ‘webinar’ via the series page www.mrt.org/firstlook.