New York’s Algonquin Hotel, landmark whose famed round table saw such denizens as George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Robert E. Sherwood, and Alexander Woollcott, played host to a new generation of American artists eager to support the twin inaugural productions of the American National Theatre (ANT) on Monday evening.
ANT, whose mission is to identify and present distinguished new American plays and musicals from across the country at a theatre center in New York, billed the evening “The ANT, Made & Played in America.” A reception preceded a reading of two select scenes and monologues from two plays entitled, respectively, The Immigrant and The Legacy. Both plays were written by Mark Harelik, a performer best known for work on stage (The Light in the Piazza, The Normal Heart) and screen (The Big Bang Theory, HBO’s Getting On).
“Mark Harelik’s The Immigrant and The Legacy are outstanding plays and incredibly timely, given the current U.S. immigration policy debate, and the ever-enduring importance of family in our lives,” Sean Cullen, ANT Founder & Producing Artistic Director whose screen work includes Michael Clayton and NBC’s recent live revival of The Sound of Music. “Mark is a first-rate theatre artist, acclaimed actor and playwright. The ANT is proud to present his plays in New York for the first time.”
A cast that included Cullen’s Sound of Music co-star Christian Borle, Kathleen Chalfant, Jacqueline Antaramian, Richard Topol and Russell Posner helped breathe life into the reading. The Immigrant, one of the most-produced plays in the history of American regional theatre, is about a Russian-Jewish immigrant who arrives in central Texas during the early 1900s, with director Randal Myler helming its upcoming New York debut. Legacy, a sequel to Immigrant set in 1962 Texas, will be directed by Laird Williamson here.
Over the course of a night that saw such celebrity guests as Frasier alum Peri Gilpin, Pulitzer Prize-winning producer Daryl Roth, and Tony Award-Winning producer Margo Lion, participants praised Cullen’s passionate efforts to create a unique platform that nurtures new theatrical works specific to the American experience. “Sean’s clarity and passion for this notion has just grown, it’s absolutely compelling,” Chalfant said.
She also emphasized the need for a local base of artistic expression. “The New York theatre suffers from an excess of Anglophilia,” the actress added, “both about English writing and English performance, and I think it is important that we have an institution that says ‘We can do it too.’ And you know, the regionals are the crucible of American theatre.” She and Borle also decried the willingness to cut arts education as a budget casualty despite its cultural relevance.
“As a student, it was essential to have a forum that was collaborative instead of competitive,” Borle explained. “In this crazy day and age, we need something that makes us look up from our phones, and look around at each other.”
“Art is the essential expression of the human spirit,” Chalfant agreed. “The thing that we make is in the middle – between the people in the stage and the people in the audience.”
Further information about ANT can be found at www.americannationaltheatre.org
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