Backstage drama always seems to make for good onstage drama. The world that goes on behind the scenes—including the dysfunctional personal lives of seemingly perfect stars—is bursting with potential for a compelling story.
Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts clearly agree. On May 31, Bay Street Theater’s Mainstage season kicks off with The Forgotten Woman, a world premiere by Jonathan Tolins. The play, which is being billed as “High notes. High art. High maintenance,” is about Margaret Meier, an up-and-coming opera star forced to deal with her many personal problems—her dull marriage, her child, her weight—when a reporter, who turns out to be her high school crush, comes to interview her in her Chicago hotel room before a show. Other characters include her husband and her manager’s associate, who is taking care of her.
“I’m a big opera fanatic and know people who work for the Met,” explains Tolins. “I went to parties where I got to meet these great opera singers and I was touched by how different they are offstage. They’re not ordinary, but they’re often insecure. Some ended up where they are because of an accident of nature and then had to work really hard. There’s always the fear that the voice could go away at any time. Opera singers are very aware of where they are in their careers.”
But don’t worry that the play may be over your head if you’re not an opera fan—Tolins knows opera is not the most mainstream subject, and the opera Margaret is starring in, Ariadne auf Naxos, isn’t as recognizable as Carmen or La Boheme. “There’s always someone onstage who doesn’t know opera,” he says. “Part of the play is about how to love an art form that is so far removed from the center. You will understand it!”
Earlier this year, Artistic Director Scott Schwartz told Dan’s Papers that The Forgotten Woman is being advertised as a play, rather than a drama or comedy. Tolins agrees with the sentiment. “My plays start off funny and have laughs throughout, but eventually go to places unexpected and, often, places more emotional,” he says. “I promise there are laughs but there are also some serious emotional moments. You might want to bring a hanky,” he warns wryly.
Tolins is an accomplished writer, having written The Twilight of the Gods, If Memory Serves, The Last Sunday in June, Secrets of the Trade and Buyer & Cellar. The latter, a one-man show about an unemployed actor who finds himself working in Barbra Streisand’s basement, enjoyed an acclaimed Manhattan run starring Michael Urie. “They’re all very different,” Tolins says of his works. Tolins and husband Robert Cary also contributed new material to the Broadway revival of On the Town. He has worked in television, including on Queer as Folk, Grease Live, the Academy Awards and more. Tolins is also a consulting producer on the upcoming CBS series BrainDead, starring Aaron Tveit, Danny Pino, Tony Shalhoub, Nikki James and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Tolins is excited for Bay Street audiences to see The Forgotten Woman, noting the theater’s growing reputation for producing great new work. “The cast is incredibly talented, the production [is great]…get tickets right away!”
Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts is located at 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. The Forgotten Woman, written by Jonathan Tolins and directed by Noah Himmelstein. Previews begin on May 31, and the show opens on Saturday, June 4 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit baystreet.org.