What's New on the Rialto
Speaking with Richard Kuranda
By Nancy Rosati
New York's newest repertory theater company has launched its first season. Founding Artistic Director Richard Kuranda started the company a little over two years ago. "It started out as a group of people sitting around, reading scripts, and helping playwrights with their development process. For the first year, we provided rehearsal space, stage management, actors and a director. We pretty much sequestered the writer and the entire creative team in a rehearsal hall for two weeks. At the end of two weeks they would emerge with a script and we provided a public performance. It wasn't for backers, but just so that the playwrights could hear their words and hear the reaction from a live audience."
Having successfully performed readings for two years, they decided to take the risk with a first season. "This fall we are up and running at the DR2 Theatre thanks to Daryl Roth and her wonderful management team. We're presenting a wide selection of works. We have a bunch of world premieres - one acts written by everyone from Lee Blessing to Romulus Linney, to J.T. Rogers [running now through November 16]. We're also putting up a production of Anouilh's Antigone [running now through November 22]."
After "taking baby steps this fall" as Richard describes it, the company will take on controversy head-on by mounting a production of Glyn O'Malley's Paradise in the late spring. "It was originally commissioned by the Cincinnati Playhouse. It won the Lazarus Award but was shut down before it even had any life. The Playhouse came under extreme scrutiny from the public in Cincinnati because the play deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's the story of two teenaged girls and how they come to terms with the war. The focus is on one of the first teenage female suicide bombers. It's just a wonderful piece. Unfortunately it was shut down in Cincinnati before it even had a production, so we picked it up."
When asked if he was nervous about taking on something that would clearly bring some conflict, Richard said he wasn't worried. "I think that any discourse, or any conversation that stems from a work of art, is pretty wonderful. We are slightly concerned about the way it will be perceived in the press, but I find it to be a very fair and balanced play. We gave it a reading at the Players Club in Gramercy Park last spring. We did come under a little bit of pressure from both sides. CAIR (Council on Islamic-American Relations) protested the reading. They did an email campaign and we had picketers outside of the Players Club. On the other side, we had far right Jewish groups complaining that we were putting on a story that was unbalanced. I believe it's a fair and balanced piece and we're quite excited about shedding some light on that whole scenario."
Because Epic Repertory Company was first launched in 2001, not long before the September 11th attack, they were confronted by challenges right from the start. Some artists left the city, and dollars were tight. However, they've since noticed a tremendous unity within the theatre community and are gratified by the support they have received. Due to a very restricted budget, their advertising has primarily been on the grass roots level. "A bunch of us started at Signature Theatre Company. Many of us have survival jobs in other theatre companies. We bring a tremendous wealth of experience to the operation and the management side of things, as well as the artistic side. It's really a team effort. We have around 65 artists in the company. Everybody does double duty. It's not unusual to see a playwright walking around town with a couple of brochures and window posters."
Richard feels the company's strength stems from their in-house talent. "We have three levels of participation. We have artists who are at the Master's level with Pulitzers or Tonys - people like Lee Blessing and David Auburn and Romulus Linney. We have people at the Journeyman level who have appeared on Broadway and Off-Broadway, like Rufus Collins from A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and Carolyn Craig. Then we have a Novice level, with people who are just starting out. That doesn't necessarily mean teenagers or young 20-somethings. We have a couple of people who are in their mid to late 30s at this level. It's provided a wonderful sense of community in the sense of a giving back. It's nice to see it. Everybody is coming without egos and just focusing on the work. Sometimes it's very successful and sometimes it's not. It's very refreshing to see everybody playing on the same field."
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