For the first time in its history, the Yale Repertory Theatre’s Binger Center for New Theatre will send a show to Broadway.
After being named one of the New York Times’ Top Ten Productions of 2012, “The Realistic Joneses,” a play by Brooklyn-based playwright Will Eno that had its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre last year, will be staged on Broadway in March 2014. It will be the first ever Rep-commissioned production supported by the theater’s Binger Center for New Theatre to advance to Broadway since the Center’s founding in 2008. The Binger Center allots resources to the commissioning, development and production of plays and musicals at the Rep and across the U.S.
Director of the New Play programs at the Binger Center Jennifer Kiger said she commissioned Eno to write the play partly because of his ability to convey broad human experiences through a simple array of characters and sets on stage.
“I am intrigued by [Eno’s] ability to write about very large ideas, like who we are and why the universe works the way it does, and crystallize them into a small human scale,” Kiger said.
Eno said his play revolves around the anxiety of individuals who struggle to cope with challenges such as illness and mortality, noting that this anxiety is a force that can both unite and divide people. He said he thinks many audiences are able to relate to the events of the play; unlike much of his work, “The Realistic Joneses” does not contain a single supernatural element. “Joneses” is the most realistic play he has ever written, Eno said.
“The circumstances of the characters in the play are things that we all have to face,” Eno said. “The main thing was to try to come up with distinctive responses to the pretty common problems the characters, and all the rest of us, face.”
Playwright David Adjmi, whose 2012 play “Marie Antoinette” was commissioned by the Rep, said that Rep-commissioned artists’ works tend to present general themes in surprising ways. Though every playwright has a different artistic style, Adjmi said the universality of the themes explored in the pieces supported by the Binger Center unite the diverse body of commissioned work.
Kiger said the Binger Center’s process for commissioning artists is unique because the opportunity to write a play for the Rep constitutes only a part of the lasting relationship the theater aims to foster with playwrights. She noted that she had been an admirer of Eno’s work for over a decade before she commissioned him to write for the Rep, adding that she generally reads several works by a given artist before discussing the possibility of a commission. The Binger Center’s overall mission is designed to lend support to the artists during the entire writing process, Kiger said, adding that she thinks such thorough support is generally lacking in American theatre.
“A lot of times, what is missing is what happens between the commission and the premiere,” she said. “For us, it is as much of a commitment to the process as to the production.”
Yale School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95, who is also the artistic director of the Rep, highlighted the importance of creative risk-taking in the theater’s selection process for commissioning artists. Kiger said she offered the commission to Eno partially because he wanted to take a completely unexpected approach in writing “Joneses” at a time when he had already established a predictable artistic style with audiences. She added that since the Center’s founding, it has encouraged artists to be daring and inventive in introducing new ideas to the theater world. Adjmi said that he did not know of any other theater in the country that would have funded a production as idiosyncratic, challenging and expensive as his play, “Marie Antoinette.”
“We have an incentive and an obligation to take risks that other theaters wouldn’t take,” Bundy said. “We can’t be reckless or foolhardy about it but if a great university can’t take risks, who can?”
The next Rep production supported by the Binger Center, “The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls” by Meg Miroshnik DRA ’11, will open on Jan. 31, 2014.