Quotidian Theatre Company begins its 15th Anniversary Season by breaking new ground with its first musical, the Tony Award winner James Joyce's The Dead.
Since its inception in 1998, Quotidian has been dedicated to telling stories of everyday life. James Joyce's The Dead is adapted from James Joyce's famous 1916 short story set at a Christmas party. The early 20th century and the city of Dublin are familiar to QTC audiences, having served as settings for many of the company's past plays. The character-based plot and family-centric themes also suggest a comfortable fit for the understated theatre. But playwrights Richard Nelson and Shawn Davey have married the piece to music inspired by Irish tradition, and a musical is uncharted territory for the company.
"A wonderful 'chamber piece' of a musical" is how Quotidian's artistic director and co-founder Jack Sbarbori thinks of James Joyce's The Dead. He directs the play with an acting ensemble comprised of both company mainstays and newcomers. Renowned New York opera and cabaret singer Janice Hall makes her Quotidian debut as Gretta, and DC theatre favorite Steve Beall plays Gabriel in his fifth appearance at QTC. Jane Squier Bruns, who plays Aunt Julia, has kept Quotidian Theatre Company audiences spellbound as the matriarch Lyubov in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and as the struggling protagonist Carrie in Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, but she finds new challenges in James Joyce's The Dead.
The accent (it cannot be simply Irish; it must be Dublin), the music, the authentic step dance -- all "very challenging to learn. I doubt that we'll ever become a threat to River Dance," she says, "but the best thing is that we have such a group of talented singers, led by our wonderful guest leading lady from New York, Janice Hall."
Hall's excitement for the project is palpable. "It may be hard to believe that something called 'The Dead' would be a warm, gentle, and lyrical show just perfect for the holidays, but that's what it is," says Hall. "It is such a pleasure to be a part of this truly ensemble show, sharing the stage with a wonderful cast. James Joyce's story and the music of Shaun Davey are perfectly melded in this moving depiction of love, memory, and music."
Stephanie Mumford, who co-founded Quotidian Theatre Company with Sbarbori, says, "Jack and I were completely enchanted by the Broadway staging of the show," and says the piece "seemed ideal for QTC with its focus on the drama in everyday life. We regretted that the production costs would be prohibitive for our small professional theatre, however." But when Mumford's mother passed away last year, she left behind an endowment for Quotidian. "Now," Mumford says, "Mom's legacy has afforded us the resources to share this delightful and poignant story." It was decided that James Joyce's The Dead would open the company's 15th anniversary season, and that the production -- Quotidian's largest, most ambitious yet -- be dedicated to Mumford's mother.
Opening at Playwrights Horizons, the play had a triumphant Broadway run and national tour. Joyce's story was also the inspiration for the final film by iconic Hollywood director John Huston. Actors in QTC's production have been blogging about the rehearsal experience thus far at quotidiantheatre.wordpress.com.
QTC will continue its 15th season this spring as Gillian Drake directs Brit Herring and Quotidian company member Steve LaRocque in Lee Blessing's Pulitzer-nominated two-hander A Walk in the Woods; and next summer with the DC area premiere of The Birds, Conor McPherson's unique, morality-centered take on the Daphne Du Maurier story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's film. Sbarbori directs his sixth McPherson play with the production, which will feature Quotidian regulars Beall, Mumford, and Ted Schneider.