EXCLUSIVE: Suzan-Lori Parks, the playwright who won a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for her Topdog/Underdog, will make her on-stage debut this fall in the world premiere Public Theater Off Broadway staging of her Plays For the Plague Year.
Parks’ performance in the production – the complete cast was announced today – will be yet another big moment in the playwright’s Fall season: A Broadway revival of Topdog/Underdog begins previews at the Golden Theatre on Sept. 27.
In the new Plays For the Plague Year, Parks will play a character called “The Writer,” joining other just-announced cast members Leland Fowler, Greg Keller, Orville Mendoza, Kenita Miller, Lauren Molina, Martín Solá, and Pearl Sun.
Directed by Niegel Smith, Plays For the Plague Year will begin a strictly limited three-week engagement on Friday, Nov. 4 at the Public’s Joe’s Pub venue, with an opening night on Wednesday, Nov. 16. The production will run through Sunday, November 27.
The casting was announced today by Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director and Patrick Willingham, Executive Director. Parks is the Public Theater Writer-in-Residence.
The new work has its origins in the early days of the Covid pandemic. On March 13, 2020, as theaters went into lockdown, Parks “picked up her pen and her guitar and set out to write a play every day,” says the Public in today’s announcement. “What emerged is a breathtaking anthology of plays and songs that chronicle our collective experience and the hope and perseverance that occurred throughout that troubling year.”
Performed in the intimate Joe’s Pub music venue, Joe’s Pub, Plays For the Plague Year will be a theatrical concert featuring Parks’ music and plays, and is described as being “both a personal story of one family’s daily lives, as well as a sweeping account of all we faced as a city, a nation, and a global community.”
“When I started writing the project,” Parks said in a statement, “on Day One, I wanted to create something that we could experience together, whenever it was safe for us to be physically together again. While I could have just written down my thoughts in a journal, I decided to write plays instead, because plays are meant to be done with others, in the company of friends and strangers – and, for me, plays, and the resulting act of theatre-making, celebrate our humanity and demonstrate the process of community.
“During lockdown I feel like we all longed for that,” she continued. “And I also wrote songs, to accompany the plays, because singing with others creates magic. These plays and songs are meant to give us all the tools we need to process both what we’ve been through and what we’re still going through now.”
Said Eustis, “When the pandemic hit, Suzan-Lori began a personal practice: writing a play every day, a chronicle of the times we were living through. What emerges is a personal, intimate journal, but also a public window into that first, torturous year of the crisis. Plays for the Plague Year is funny, powerful, quirky, emotional, and deeply satisfying.”
The production will feature costume design by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Ania Washington, sound design by Dan Moses Schrier, projection design by Peter Nigrini, and prop management by Alexander Wylie. Ric Molina will music direct and will contribute to both vocal and instrumental arrangements for the production.
Parks’ upcoming musical The Harder They Come will premiere in spring 2023.