More Relevant Than Ever: “The Crucible” Opens At PlayMakers

In a time of political turmoil, Playmakers Repertory Company is breathing new life into a classic about witch hunts.

Opening Wednesday, Playmakers revisits Arthur Miller’s classic “The Crucible,” the play that opened Playmakers’ first season back in 1976. It’s set in the 17th century, during the infamous Salem witch trials – but Miller wrote it in the 1950s, amidst the “witch hunts” of Joseph McCarthy, so the play is meant to resonate in any time when people are unfairly targeted, ostracized, or persecuted.

Visiting artist Ariel Shafir stars as John Proctor; he says the play examines how we have to adhere to our principles even when that seems impossible – and that makes it more relevant now than ever.

“We all are faced with the gap,” he says, “between who we think we are, what we think we believe, and what we actually have to do to protect those ethics and principles.”

Fellow visiting artist Sarita Ocon plays John’s wife Elizabeth; she says her role is a reflection on the difficult choices that women face regarding their own principles, an especially timely topic this year.

“I still want to show a sense of integrity and courage in some of (Elizabeth’s) text,” Ocon says, “where she’s coming forward and speaking up about a situation that has created some dire circumstances.”

Shafir, Ocon, and director Desdemona Chiang spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL, and Shafir and Ocon read a scene from “The Crucible.”


“The Crucible” is an important piece of PlayMakers’ history, but director Desdemona Chiang is also leading the company into uncharted territory. She’s staging the show in the round, something she believes PlayMakers has never done before – to give audience members a chance to view not only the actors, but also each other.

“It’s valuable for audiences to see each other, to see the play through our fellow audience members,” she says. “There really is no way you can get away from the fact that (“The Crucible”) is about us, right now, today, in this place and time.”

The Crucible opens Wednesday, October 19, and runs through Sunday, November 6. For ticket information, visit

Will Arrington contributed to this report.

“We Drew A Circle And Took Him In!”: PlayMakers Opens 2016-17 Season

Class is back in session in Chapel Hill, and that also means it’s theater season again.

PlayMakers Repertory Company is opening its 2016-17 season this week with the world premiere of “Draw the Circle,” a one-man show written and performed by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen. Deen has written numerous plays that have been performed at major theaters in New York and across the country, but this is his first one-man show – and it’s an extremely personal project.

Photo courtesy of Deen.

Photo courtesy of Deen.

Deen is a transgender man from a Muslim immigrant family – and “Draw the Circle” is an autobiographical show about how they came to terms with his transition. It’s autobiographical, but Deen doesn’t play himself – instead, he plays his family members, a wide variety of them.

“Draw the Circle” touches on several sensitive subjects, where there’s often conflict and tempers often flare – but Deen says this show is a comedy, and the primary drivers are acceptance and love. “There are no bad guys in this play,” he said in a conversation with PlayMakers. “There are people struggling to love in a world that is changing around them, and sometimes the struggle is the love.”

Of course “Draw the Circle” is especially relevant in today’s political climate, where fear of Muslims is still rampant and transgender people are struggling for acceptance as well (especially in post-HB2 North Carolina). We often get pessimistic listening to those conversations, but Deen says “Circle” is an optimistic play – about how we can be more inclusive, more accepting, and more loving.

The title comes from a famous Edwin Markham poem that encapsulates the theme succinctly:

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, rebel, thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

Deen stopped by WCHL on Monday and discussed the show with Aaron Keck.


“Draw the Circle” opens on Wednesday, August 24, and runs through Sunday the 28th at PlayMakers. (It’s the first show of this year’s PRC2 series.) For more information, additional resources, and tickets, visit this link.

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen and Aaron Keck. Photo courtesy of Deen.

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen and Aaron Keck. Photo courtesy of Deen.

PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory Goes “Violet”

Chapel Hill’s theater scene is about to get a midsummer boost, as PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Summer Youth Conservatory hits the stage with its annual musical.

PlayMakers’ Summer Youth Conservatory brings together dozens of Triangle-area high schoolers for a summer of intensive training in the theater. Working with PlayMakers company members and visiting guests, the students spend over a month preparing a musical – developing their on- and off-stage skills along the way.

This year’s show is “Violet,” a musical written by Brian Crawley with music by Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori. Based on a short story by longtime UNC professor Doris Betts, “Violet” tells the story of a young woman in the mid-1960s who comes of age while journeying from North Carolina to Oklahoma to seek treatment for a disfiguring scar.

Learn more about “Violet” here.

The cast and crew includes nearly three dozen high schoolers from 17 area high schools – including Ainsley Seiger, who stars in the title role. A recent graduate of Apex High School, Seiger is a veteran of the Summer Youth Conservatory: she also appeared as Adelaide in last year’s “Guys and Dolls” and as Amber Von Tussle in 2014’s “Hairspray.” Seiger recently won the Triangle Rising Star Award as best actress – and in addition to her time in Chapel Hill, she’s also been in New York this summer, competing in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards.

Directing the show is another SYC vet, Matthew Steffens – a New York-based actor, director and choreographer who’s appeared on Broadway (and on screen in films like “Across the Universe”) and directed several Off-Broadway shows. (He also served as choreographer on “Guys and Dolls” and “Hairspray” for the SYC.)

Steffens and Seiger joined Aaron Keck on WCHL to discuss (and perform a piece from) “Violet.”


“Violet” opens at PlayMakers on Wednesday, July 20 and runs through July 31. For tickets and a full schedule, visit

PlayMakers Wraps Up Season With “Real Americans”

The American heartland is full of great characters – and a bunch of them are making their way to the Chapel Hill stage this weekend.

PlayMakers Repertory Company wraps up its PRC2 series this weekend with a one-man show called “The Real Americans,” written and performed by NYC-based playwright/journalist Dan Hoyle based on interviews conducted with Americans across the country. (The Huffington Post called the end result “nothing short of brilliant.”)

Hoyle – a master of many voices who specializes in “journalistic theater” – says he drove across the country in a van, avoiding the interstates, stopping in small towns and talking with folks about their lives. (How many interviews did he conduct? It’s hard to say: Hoyle says some of his best material came from random encounters that hardly count as ‘interviews’ at all.)

Dan Hoyle spoke this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


“The Real Americans” runs through Sunday, May 1, with shows at 7:30 pm each night and 2 pm on Sunday. Visit for tickets.

There Will Be Blood: “Sweeney Todd” At PlayMakers

It’s bloody, gory, grisly, morbid…and hilariously funny. And it’s one of the most beloved musicals of all time.

PlayMakers Repertory Company is wrapping up its 2015-16 mainstage season with the Sondheim classic “Sweeney Todd.” Helmed by New York-based director Jen Wineman and starring Broadway vets David St. Louis and Annie Golden (you’ve seen Golden as Norma on “Orange is the New Black”), “Sweeney” tells the tale of a falsely-imprisoned barber and his quest for revenge on the sinister judge who wronged him. (He also takes out a fair bit of vengeance on society as a whole. “It’s man devouring man, my dear, and who are we to deny it in here?”)

Following “Assassins” and “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd” is PlayMakers’ third Sondheim musical in as many years. (Musical director Mark Hartman has arranged the music for all three.)

Director Jen Wineman spoke this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


If you’d like to attend the tale, “Sweeney Todd” opens on Wednesday, March 30 and runs through Saturday, April 23.

For showtimes, tickets, and a schedule of related events, visit this link.

At PlayMakers, Shows Ripped From Tomorrow’s Headlines

You still have about a week to head to PlayMakers Repertory Company and catch their latest production, “We Are Proud To Present…” by Jackie Sibblies Drury. (The full title is a lot longer.) It’s a powerful experience: insightful and meaningful, simultaneously funny and gut-wrenching, written and staged in a way that’s probably unlike any play you’ve seen.

I saw it a couple days ago and I’m still ruminating on it. Here’s the plot in a nutshell, to the extent that there is one: we open on six actors, three white and three black, who are in the process of developing a play (sorry: a “presentation!”) about a forgotten historical atrocity, the early-20th-century genocide of the Herero people by German colonizers in southwest Africa. (A “rehearsal Holocaust”? No, dude, an actual holocaust.) Knowing their limitations, the actors want to tell the story as realistically as possible, using only the words and experiences of the actual survivors – but all they have to work with are letters written by the German soldiers. Are we just telling yet another story about white people, with the victims pushed to the back as setpieces? What if we look inside ourselves for inspiration? If we do that, won’t we just end up talking about American racism, with the Herero forgotten? Is there any way of avoiding that in the first place? Is that enough?

(Most plays, when you describe the plot, you talk about one event followed by another. In this play, the plot is one new question following another.)

Photo by Jon Gardiner via

Photo by Jon Gardiner via

I want to get the word out about this play now because…well, if you’re not a theatergoer, this has been happening right under your nose without your knowing it, but for the last year now, PlayMakers has been having a really incredible run of plays that speak directly to today’s headlines with remarkable specificity.

I think it started last year with a play called “An Enemy of the People,” which basically called the Flint water crisis six months before it hit the news. A perfectly well-meaning but ultimately self-serving businessman tries to cut costs and inadvertently winds up poisoning a town’s water supply; political and cultural leaders are in cahoots with the business leader, so they look the other way; and the whistleblower who tries to warn people is demonized and ostracized. (Presumably not long after the play ends, the town is forced to admit the whistleblower had been right all along, at which point Play Marco Rubio gets up and delivers a speech about how it’s not nice to point fingers.)

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Thomas Stockmann in "Enemy of the People." (Photo by Jon Gardiner via

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Thomas Stockmann in “Enemy of the People.” (Photo by Jon Gardiner via

Then this season began with a taut little show called “Disgraced,” which just so happened to hit the stage at the exact moment Donald Trump started winning polls and the Syrian refugee crisis became a cover story. A New York lawyer, Pakistani by birth, denies his heritage and rejects Islam as a backwards faith – but he still winds up losing a promotion, losing his friends, losing his family, and losing his job when he speaks up for an imam who’s being unjustly persecuted. (And how much has he really renounced the “backwards” side of the faith?) “Disgraced” was a hit-or-miss show for me, but there’s a dinner-party scene I still think about, so smart and complex and well-staged and powerful…and the title of the show is endlessly fascinating. “Disgraced.” The main character is “disgraced” by the end, but at what point does he become “disgraced”? Is it at the end of the dinner party when he reveals his ugly side? Is it when he speaks up on behalf of a social pariah? Is it when he first denies his heritage? Nope – as far as white America is concerned, he’s actually “disgraced” before the play even begins. If your background is Middle Eastern or Muslim, Americans will assume you’re a potential terrorist unless you prove otherwise – it’s our default setting – so it’s not enough to deny your heritage, you have to acknowledge and loudly denounce it, or else you’re automatically suspect. (If you just deny it, then, gosh, you’re hiding something. What are you trying to hide?) All of this played out on stage in Chapel Hill while, at the same time, just down the road, our own governor was standing in front of the cameras proudly refusing to accept any more so-called “refugees” because golly gosh, how do we know they’re not secretly terrorists? The timing was impeccable.

And now we have “We Are Proud to Present,” which is playing on stage right now – even as Donald Trump encourages his supporters to assault black protestors at rallies across the country – and even as the facts are still coming in about yet another police shooting. (We shouldn’t judge individual cases until all the details are in. We should be conscious, though, that statistically blacks and whites get treated differently, not just ‘somewhere else’ but also right here, not just by police but by society as a whole, not just by other people but also by ourselves.)

If you’ve been keeping up with PlayMakers recently, you already know what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t been following them – well, it’s worth being aware. They’ve been incredibly prescient lately, when it comes to choosing plays. Their shows always hit the stage right when the relevant issue becomes especially salient. It’s an uncanny talent.

Why am I mentioning this now, you ask?

Their next show is “Sweeney Todd.” Don’t switch your stylist.

“We Are Proud To Present…” runs through Sunday, March 13. Click here for ticket info.

PlayMakers Is Proud To Present “We Are Proud To Present”

It might be the longest title in PlayMakers Repertory Company history.

PRC’s next mainstage production is (deep breath) “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,” by Jackie Sibblies Drury – opening Wednesday, February 24, and running through Sunday, March 13.

The title is irreverent and comical, but it also refers to the troubling specter of colonialism and its aftermath – and fittingly, director Desdemona Chiang says the play too is wildly funny but also highly challenging. It’s about a group of actors in the present day, white and black, rehearsing a performance piece about a little-known colonial genocide (which really happened); the actors are well-intentioned, of course, but along the way their own assumptions and prejudices come to the fore – with “powerful, surprising, and terrifying” results.

Desdemona Chiang spoke last week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


“We Are Proud to Present” has played to rave reviews in New York; it’s making its Chapel Hill debut with PlayMakers.

Related special events include a discussion with the director and cast at Fearrington Village’s Granary Cafe on Monday, February 15, at 6 pm; an all-access performance with sign language interpretation and audio description on March 1; and free post-show discussions sponsored by the NC Psychoanalytic Society on March 12 and 13.

Visit the PlayMakers site for ticket information.

“Three Sisters” Arrive At PlayMakers, Say They’ll Reach Moscow Soon

It’s one of the most iconic plays of all time, and a new version of it is coming to Chapel Hill.

PlayMakers Repertory Company is staging Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” newly translated by Libby Appel, beginning Wednesday, January 20, and running through Sunday, February 7. The show will be directed by Vivienne Benesch, who recently took over from Joseph Haj as PlayMakers’ new producing artistic director.

“Three Sisters” is the story of Olga, Masha and Irina, sisters living in a provincial Russian town who yearn to move to Moscow but never quite seem to make it there. Benesch actually agreed to direct it even before she knew she’d be taking over as artistic director. “Life and art sometimes play the very best tricks on us,” she says. “I cannot think of a more perfect work to engage in at this moment than Chekhov’s vibrant meditation on the nature of time, love and our unexpected journey through life.”

Vivienne Benesch spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL.


For a full schedule, information about related special events, and a link to purchase tickets, visit

“Highway 47” Brings Family Drama To PlayMakers

It’s a family drama saga that’s half a century in the making, with roots going back almost 300 years.

Not quite your typical visit home for the holidays.

PlayMakers Repertory Company‘s PRC² series continues this month with “Highway 47,” a one-woman show written and performed by KJ Sanchez. Sanchez is the founding CEO of American Records and a voice actor who’s appeared on “Dora the Explorer” – but for this piece, she dug into her fascinating family history.

“Highway 47” is about a family dispute, but that’s only the beginning – or, more accurately, the end. It’s a story that began in 1734, when settlers were granted land in New Mexico. (You may have seen some of that land yourself: all the middle-of-the-desert scenes from “Breaking Bad” were filmed there.) More than two centuries later, with all the descendants of those settlers still holding the deeds, a legal dispute broke out (with Sanchez’s father at the center) that tore families apart and lasted nearly 50 years.

After the dust finally settled, Sanchez set out to write the story. Interviewing major players on all sides (including people who’d been her family’s enemies for decades), she pieced together a play that explores the conflict while also examining her own relationship with her father.

“My mother asked me not to tell you this story until she was dead,” she says in the play.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with KJ Sanchez.


“Highway 47” runs at PlayMakers from Wednesday, January 6, through Sunday, January 10. Shows are 7:30 pm every night in PlayMakers’ Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre, with an additional matinee show at 2 pm Sunday.

Visit for tickets.

Master Class: “Seminar” At PlayMakers

It’s a play about four young writers who sign up for a master class taught by a legendary novelist, as performed by four young actors who are currently studying under the man playing the writer. Hold on to your hats.

PlayMakers Repertory Company‘s 2015-16 mainstage season continues with “Seminar,” an acclaimed 2011 comedy by Theresa Rebeck. (Rebeck is the creator of the NBC show “Smash” and a former writer/producer for “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order,” among many other credits; her plays have been compared favorably with Neil Simon’s.) It stars PlayMakers vet Ray Dooley as the aforementioned legendary novelist; Dooley is also the head of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program, so he’s very familiar with the mentor role. (Though he says he doesn’t perform it in quite the same way as his character.)

The show opens on Wednesday, October 14, and runs through November 1 in the Paul Green Theatre on Country Club Road. It’s directed by Michael Dove, a Helen Hayes Award winner who serves as artistic director at the Forum Theatre in Washington, DC.

Ray Dooley spoke about “Seminar” with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


For ticket information and a schedule of related special events, visit this page on