When a family of shepherds in the suburbs of Corinth learns their adopted son Oedipus has ascended the throne of Thebes, they plan a bender to end all benders. But who’s on cleanup after the party’s over?Equal parts irreverent comedy and emotional journey into family dysfunction, Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man by Kate Tarker examines with horror and humor the lasting effects of personal trauma. The first ever World Premiere commissioned for Wilma’s HotHouse, this searing new play directed by French physical theater master Dominique Serrand runs April 23 – May 12 at The Wilma Theater.
Tarker, a native of the Philadelphia area now based in New York, initially connected with the Wilma at the Carlotta Festival, which each year presents work of graduating playwrights from the Yale School of Drama, Tarker’s alma mater. She was approached to work with the Wilma as they were set to launch a then new resident acting company, now known throughout Philadelphia as Wilma HotHouse.
“Kate’s talent, originality, sense of humor, and her experimentation with language stood out and excited me so much that the Wilma commissioned Kate to be the first writer to write directly for Wilma’s HotHouse. In order to get to know the actors, Kate first started visiting and observing training sessions of Wilma’s HotHouse. At the time we were working with Greek director Theodoros Terzopoulos on his production of Antigone. His work inspired Kate to look at trauma and subversively explore its horror through comedy. That’s how the idea for Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man was born,” says Artistic Director Blanka Zizka.
The Wilma paired Tarker with Dominique Serrand, internationally renowned for founding the physical comedy theater company Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Christopher Bayes, a company member at Jeune Lune and a faculty member at Yale, trained Tarker in clowning techniques over the course of her studies, which had a profound impact on her theatrical sensibilities and ultimately led Tarker herself to request that Serrand direct the piece. Zizka notes, “I am thrilled to see Dominique and Kate work together, and to bring Dominique’s work back to Philadelphia.” This is Serrand’s second production at the Wilma, following a 1999 presentation of Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s unconventional Three Musketeers. Zizka says “Sadly Theatre de la Jeune Lune doesn’t exist any longer (the company shuttered in 2008), but their spirit lives on. With their aesthetics, originality, and what we today call ‘devised theater’ practice, Jeune Lune influenced many companies around the country, including Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company.”
The premiere of Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man caps off an impressive debut season for Tarker, whose madcap political comedy Thunderbodies received its world premiere at Soho Rep in New York in September 2018, a production listed on The New York Times’ Unforgettable Theater Moments of 2018. Says Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka, “Wilma’s production of Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man is the culmination of a three year development process, with three workshops held in Philadelphia and Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. We are honored to be able to support Kate in bringing her singularly inventive voice to life.” It also marks a new chapter in the history of Wilma HotHouse, kicking off a series of new play commissions from Jacqueline Goldfinger, Christopher Chen, and James Ijames.
Five HotHouse members are featured in the cast: Ross Beschler as Jaimie, the eccentric hairdresser, Taysha Marie Canales as Polybus’s daughter Alcinoe, Keith J. Conallen as Oedipus, the adopted son, Melanye Finisteras Merope, the wife of Polybus and Matteo Scammell as Messenger, the traditional bearer of bad news. Luverne Seifert, will be playing Oedipus’ adoptive father Polybus. He is Co-Artistic Director of Sod House Theater in Minneapolis, MN. He received a National Fox Fellowship for distinguished achievement in 2017, a McKnight Fellowship for Theater Artists in 2003 and an Ivey Award in 2009. He is currently a Senior Teaching Specialist in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.
Natalie Robin, Lighting Designer, is Philly-based and Head of Theater Design & Technology in the Ira Brind School of Theater Arts at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. This is her Wilma debut.
Elizabeth Atkinson, Sound Designer, is delighted to return to The Wilma. Liz previously worked with us onConstellations in the 2016-17 Season. She is a faculty member at Swarthmore College.
Sonya Berlovitz, Costume Designer, worked with Dominique Serrand for many years and has designed costumes for over fifty productions at Theatre de la Jeune Lune. She has also worked at South Coast Repertory, Playmakers Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Children’s Theatre Company, the Guthrie Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, and La Jolla Playhouse.
Kristen Robinson, Set Designer, is New York-based and returning to the Wilma after previously designingRapture, Blister, Burn during the 2014-2015 Season.
Honorary Producers are Dr. Peter Arger in honor of Donald Stanley Wilf, and Mari and Peter Shaw. This project was supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Support for Kate Tarker’s commission was provided by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Women Playwrights Commissioning Program.
Single ticket prices range from $33-$48 (all fees included). Student and theater industry tickets are available for $10 for every performance as a part of the Wilma WynTix Initiative. Tickets are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by visiting wilmatheater.org, calling 215.546.7824, or by coming to the theater.
About Kate Tarker
Kate Tarker’s plays include THUNDERBODIES (Soho Rep., NYTimes Unforgettable Theater Moments of 2018),Dionysus Was Such a Nice Man (Wilma Theater), and Laura and the Sea (2016 Kilroys list; finalist: 2016 L. Arnold Weissberger Award, Princess Grace Award, and Relentless Award). Her works have been developed at The Lark, The Vineyard, Rattlestick, Wilma, Ars Nova, NYTW, Magic Theatre, Cutting Ball, the Playwrights’ Center, Theatre503, and The O’Neill, among others. She is the recipient of a Jerome Fellowship, The Vineyard’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the National Science Playwriting Award, Theater Masters’ Visionary Playwright Award, a PWCenter/NET Ensemble Collaboration Grant, and she has been featured twice on the Kilroys List. Residencies: Tofte Lake Center, SPACE at Ryder Farm, and two-time MacDowell Colony Fellow. Alum of Ars Nova Play Group, New Georges Jam, and Playwrights’ Center Core Writer. Tarker has also collaborated with Pig Iron and SITI Company Conservatory, and currently holds commissions from Theater Masters, Soho Rep., and Playwrights Horizons. MFA Yale. Teaching: Wesleyan, University of the Arts, PlayPenn, and Playwrights’ Center. M.F.A. Yale. Kate lives in Brooklyn.
About Dominique Serrand
Paris native Dominique Serrand was Artistic Director and one of the co-founders of Theatre de la Jeune Lune (1978-2008). He studied at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Serrand acted, conceived, directed and designed (sets/ lights /video) for most Jeune Lune productions for over 30 years, concentrating primarily on directing. He staged several operas. Serrand’s directing venues include Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The La Jolla Playhouse, Yale Repertory Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Actors Theater of Louisville, The Guthrie Theater, The Children’s Theatre Company and the Alley Theatre, among others. He currently serves as the co-founder and co-Artistic Director for The Moving Company in Minneapolis. Serrand’s awards include: 2005 Tony Award Best Regional Theater (Theatre de la Jeune Lune); 2005 USA Artist Ford Foundation Fellowship; 2009 Bush Foundation Fellowship. Mr. Serrand has been knighted by the French government with the Order of Arts and Letters.
About the Wilma HotHouse:
Wilma HotHouse is, at its heart, Wilma’s investment in the artistic community of Philadelphia. It serves as the central vehicle to bring our work to audiences. Launched in 2016, Wilma HotHouse has become an incubator for artists, artistic exploration, learning, and practice; allowing us to dive more deeply into new projects and develop them over longer periods of time. The core group of actors performing on our stage are members of Wilma Hothouse.
Dionysus Sneak Peek: Pre-show discussions on Wednesday and Thursday evenings are an exciting way to learn more about the process of bringing the play to the stage.
Cafe Chats: Post-Show after every performance: An informal discussion about the production with Wilma artists and staff, held in Good Karma Cafe. On Wednesday, April 24 playwrights Kate Tarker and James Ijames will discuss their commissions for Wilma’s HotHouse.
Women and Myth Today, Sunday April 28, post-2:00 p.m. performance: A discussion about women authors who use mythology to examine modern society. Featuring Kate Tarker, Pulitzer Prize finalist Madeleine George and New York Times Bestseller Madeline Miller, held in Good Karma Cafe.
Beer Night: Friday, May 3, 8:00pm.: Patrons can grab a free beer from local craft breweries before the show with the pre-show beer tasting.
Open Caption Performance: Saturday, May 4 – 2:00 p.m.
Open Mic: Monday, May 6, 7:00 p.m.: HotHouse member Jaylene Clark Owens hosts Open Mics based on the themes of the shows in the current Wilma season. Participants are encouraged to showcase poetry, artwork, or songs inspired by the play.
Young Friends Night: Friday, May 10, 7:00 p.m.: A special pre- and post-show meet and greet for audience members age 21 – 40.