One actor, one piano and an entire cast of colorful characters set aboard the sinking Titanic. Sounds like a wild, must-see production, right? Well, it’s only one of four in-process shows being debuted at Bay Street Theater this weekend, as part of the 8th annual Title Wave: 2022 New Works Festival.
This will be Bay Street’s first in-person New Works Festival in three years, and as such, they’re pulling out all the stops. “We really wanted to make it special, to make it the most spectacular festival we’ve done yet, and to make it really representative of the broad range of theater and the broad range of voices out there working today,” Artistic Director Scott Schwartz says. After the open submission process brought in 600 submissions from around the country, the Bay Street team narrowed their picks down to the final four projects that will receive staged readings: two plays and two musicals, a first for the festival.
Jumping out of order a bit, the Saturday night show, May 7 at 8 p.m., is the insane high-wire act that is One Man Titanic. The one-man musical features music by Joe Kinosian, lyrics by Kellen Blair and a book by Scott Rothman. As fate would have it, this reading marks a reunion for Kinosian and Blair, whose two-man musical Murder for Two received an early reading at Bay Street in 2010 and would later become an Off-Broadway hit directed by Scott Schwartz before he had joined Bay Street, he recalls, adding that their latest show is bursting with “wild, zany theatricality.”
Rothman remembers recently joining forces with Kinosian and Blair for a production that unfortunately fell through, and not wanting to give up on a potential collaboration. “We thought our sensibilities were very similar, and we started getting on the phone once every week or so to discuss possible things to collaborate on,” Rothman says. The trio was determined to come up with a “one-man high-wire act” that would have audiences questioning, “Can he pull it off?”
Themes surrounding The Wizard of Oz and World War II were tossed around then tossed out as the trio developed the dramatic undercurrent of their one-man tour de force. “We realized slowly as the thing went along that there was some other reason why he was forced to do all of this alone when there should’ve been 20, 30 other actors with him,” Rothman says, adding that it was when the idea of a Titanic musical came about. “It seemed thematically like it could have more heft. We thought that the (one-man musical) idea would be funny, but we thought once we came up with the Titanic idea that there was an emotional weight to that, particularly the famous band going down with the ship, and that we could say something about the importance of art in the face of great tragedy.”
Loosely based on the original history of the Titanic — no Jack or Rose here — One Man Titanic will see Kinosian become each of the ship’s five band members, as well as various crew and passengers, as he acts and sings every line of the show. “It’s a real incredible feat to watch him pull this thing off,” Rothman shares.
The staged reading at Bay Street will be the first time One Man Titanic will be seen “on its feet in any form” beyond basic Zoom readings, and the trio is excited to get it in front of audience — a sentiment likely shared by each New Works Festival playwright. “For us, it’s all about seeing what’s working and what isn’t, and it’d be great just to feel out the audience, see what they think and gauge their response,” Rothman adds.
The New Works Festival’s other musical, Madeline Myers’ Double Helix, will kick off the festival on Friday, May 6 at 8 p.m. Featuring sweeping music, the show offers a deep dive into the “really dramatic, kind of cutthroat scientific race that happened in the 1950s when scientists all around the world were all trying to discover the structure of DNA,” says Schwartz, who will direct the staged reading.” The belief was, correctly, that that was going to change the world and be a discovery that was unparalleled in the history of science … and that whoever discovered it would get great acclaim and become legendary.”
Unfortunately for the brilliant Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin who was the first person to photograph the structure of DNA with an X-ray, that fame would be snatched away from her by James Watson and Francis Crick who used her findings, without credit, to win the Nobel Prize. The show — which stars Samantha Massell as Franklin and Aaron Lazar as her research assistant Jacques Mering — delves into Franklin’s suspenseful story, as well as her fascinating character as she tries to balance work, life and romance.
On Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m., audiences will be treated to a reading of Atacama by Augusto Federico Amador. The play takes place 30 years after the Chilean wars waged by the General Pinochet regime and follows two strangers, a mother and a father, as they search the shifting sands for their buried children, only to discover truths darker than they could’ve imagined.
“It’s about the relationship that these two parents form,” Schwartz says. “It’s about the world of Chile at that time, and it’s about life and parenting. It has this wonderful magical realism property.”
Finally, on Mother’s Day, Sunday at 3 p.m., Zero State by Oregon sex therapist Allison Moon tells a gripping science fiction story about a neuroscientist who develops a way to transfer one’s consciousness into another’s brain. She uses her revolutionary consciousness transferal technology to enter her late husband’s brain, where she discovers the truth about the man she thought she knew best — their marriage, intimate life and extramarital affairs come to light in the most uncomfortable way.
“It’s fun, it’s surprising, and we are saying that this is a ‘for adults’ play,” Schwartz says, explaining that while the staged reading isn’t graphic, the themes explored are intended for more mature audiences.
As is tradition, each staged reading in the annual New Works Festival will be followed by an audience talkback with the playwrights, where audiences can share their thoughts on the in-process productions. And with such a diverse range of theatrical genres and themes being presented in-person for the first time since the pandemic began, there’s sure to be lots to talk about.
In light of this, Schwartz adds that Bay Street wanted to “come back with a bang.” It certainly looks like they have.
Tickets are $10 per show, and a New Works Festival pass to all four is only $25. Call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org for tickets and more info.