“Pirira,” by J.Stephen Brantley, opens the 2018-2019 season of Luna Stage, on Oct. 4. It will be directed by Montclairite Ari Laura Kreith, who begins her first season as artistic director of the theater. The show runs through Oct. 28.
Inspired in part by Brantley’s experiences as a writer for Madonna’s NGO Raising Malawi, the play is set amidst riots that took place in the city of Llilongwe on July 20, 2011, as American aid worker Jack and MBA auditor Ericka are unexpectedly forced to take shelter in the storage room of Jack’s struggling NGO. Meanwhile, half a world away, Malawian college student Gilbert and his gay co-worker Chad begin another day in the back room of a Manhattan florist. By day’s end, the foursome discover that their lives are connected across geography, language, and time.
A number of special events are also planned in conjunction with the production, including a multigenerational community read of William Kamkwamba’s autobiographical “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” which inspired elements of the play.
Luna’s production marks the regional premiere of “Pirira,” and is the play’s second production. The first, directed by Kreith at Theatre 167 in 2013, transferred Off-Broadway and received the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation Award for Outstanding Premiere of a Play. In the five intervening years, Kreith and Brantley had discussed reviving the piece but the timing never seemed right. When choosing her inaugural season at Luna, Kreith felt Brantley’s play would be a perfect first production. “Bringing this play to Luna allows us to frame our first season as a series of powerful cross-cultural conversations about central issues that affect us all,” says Kreith.
Now a Montclair resident, Kreith comes to Luna from Theatre 167, the company she founded in Jackson Heights, Queens and named for the number of languages spoken in the neighborhood, which has been called the world’s most diverse community.
Playwright Brantley received the 2017 Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation for the body of work he has created in the New York theatre community, and is also a member of the Indie Theatre Hall of Fame.
Brantley has worked with Theatre 167, and this production marks his 14th collaboration with Kreith. The pair are also developing “Shruti Gupta Can Totally Deal,” a Bollywood epic, for production in 2019. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to bridge my two worlds by bringing work that I developed at Theatre 167 to my new home at Luna Stage,” says Kreith. Theatre 167 veteran actors John P. Keller (playing Jack) and Kevis Hillocks (Gilbert), both new to Pirira, will appear in the production. Naja Selby-Morton (Ericka) and David Gow(Chad) round out the cast of four. Keller and Selby-Morton are both NJ-based actors, Selby-Morton is from Newark, and Gow is from New Brunswick, while Hillocks and Gow are based in NYC.
Luna Stage’s MainStage season will feature four new plays: one world premiere and three regional premieres. Following “Pirira” will be “The Assignment” by Camilo Almonacid, “Roan @ the Gates” by Christina Gorman, and “Heartland” by Gabriel Jason Dean. The plays are set in locations around the world, and explore how people can come together across social and cultural divides. “ Tickets and more information are at lunastage.org.