Spotlight On: J. Stephen Brantley
If you haven’t already heard of actor, writer, artistic director and all-around-hotty, J. Stephen Brantley, you will. He has emerged as one of Off-Off-Broadway’s leading talents, both on the stage and off.
His play Eightythree Down received multiple IT Award nominations in 2012 including a nomination for Outstanding Premier Production and this past year he was nominated for Outstanding Lead Performance in Kathleen Warnock's That's Her Way. He is the artistic director of indie theatre company Hard Sparks. His work as a playwright has been performed across the US, Canada and Ireland and in NY he has been commissioned by PS122, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and East Hampton's Guild Hall and Eightythree Down was published by Indie Theatre Now as part of their Best Of 2011 Collection. He has performed at venues across the city and in Provincetown and received the Micheál Mac Liammóir Award for Best Actor at the 2013 Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival.
The world premiere of his new play Pirira (in which he also appears) just opened at Theatre 167 in Long Island City. It takes place simultaneously in NYC and Malawi. As the tiny African nation erupts in riots, American aid workers Jack and Ericka take shelter in the storage room of a struggling NGO in Lilongwe. At the same 7,000 miles away (but sharing the same stage) Malawian student Gilbert and his gay co-worker Chad begin are dealing with their own struggles in the back of a Manhattan florist.
I asked this lanky talent powerhouse to tell me about the story and its inspiration, as well as his take on working in Indie Theatre:
JSB: Pirira takes place in Malawi and in NYC, tracking two simultaneous stories in real time on a single set, illustrating the ways in which very different lives can be closely linked despite cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers. The play was inspired party by my having written for NGOs working in sub-Saharan Africa and is based on actual events that took place in Malawi on July 20, 2011 and it may be the only American play that takes place in Malawi and features a Malawian character. (It is surely the only one that includes a rap in Chichewa and Pig Latin.) I'm passionate about the issues faced by countries like Malawi.
JSB: I'm very fortunate that Theatre 167, which champions multi-cultural, social-issues plays, gave me a true development process for Pirira. So often, 'development' means a couple hours of rehearsal and a staged reading. Director Ari Laura Kreith, along with several very generous actors, explored this script over a period of six months. I doubt any commercial company would have had the guts or patience or sensitivity to do that with this play. But then, I can't think of anyone other than Theatre 167 I'd have trusted as completely to do so.
PIRIRA plays through November 10th and also features Adrian Baidoo, Todd Flaherty and Flor De Liz Perez. Tickets and more information