Students hope to light up Broadway

The road to Broadway is never an easy one, but Yalies are not known for backing down from a challenge.

And indeed, a group of Yalies are taking a “long shot at a big dream,” in the words of Christopher Sanderson DRA ’05, the director and producer of the new play “The Parlor Game.”

Written by New Haven arts patron Cheever Tyler ’59, “The Parlor Game” took its first steps toward the Great White Way on Jan. 7, when it was treated to a public reading on the stage of the Shubert Theater.

Tyler, who is an attorney by day, began writing the play about five years ago, going through 25 drafts before arriving at the play’s current state. When Sanderson first read Tyler’s script, he immediately felt that it “needed to go to Broadway.”

“It’s really a gem of a play,” said dramaturg Michael D’Alessandro DRA ’06. Attending the reading was gratifying for D’Alessandro, because he was able to witness the fruits of his work on the script. “The script was in a much cleaner, more vibrant state than it was a few months ago. It has potential, absolutely.”

“The Parlor Game” is a “straight play about a gay man,” said Sanderson.

A man brings together friends and family on his birthday, reviving old grudges and twisted secrets in the form of a parlor game. A surprise ending ultimately comments on the ability of hope and love to transcend death.

Despite the fact that the campus was more or less empty during winter break, the reading elicited a crowd of over 550, which was thrilling for Sanderson and Tyler.

“The audience was so engaged and so receptive,” said Alexis McGuinness DRA ’06, who played the role of Grace in the show. “Because the lighting was different [from normally staged productions] you could see people’s faces and reactions. Even when people were quieter you could tell that they were really engaged.”

“I didn’t know Cheever was such an extremely well-loved member of the New Haven community,” said Sanderson.

The New Haven Arts Council donated postcards to advertise the reading, and the Shubert offered free use of its facilities.

Sanderson plans to transplant much of the cast and crew from the Shubert reading to Broadway if “The Parlor Game” makes it there.

“One of my goals was to put a Broadway-caliber cast into the readings,” said Sanderson.

Thus far, Sanderson has secured legal representation for the play from the firm Loeb and Loeb and has engaged a general manager in New York. The next stage on the path to Broadway — convincing investors — is currently in the works.

“I have a lot of confidence in Christopher. I think we’re riding a good horse here,” said Tyler.

Investment in “The Parlor Game,” however, is not a typical theater business venture: Sanderson is the founding artistic director of Gorilla Repertory Theater, a New York-based outdoors theater company. He plans to reinvest any profits from “The Parlor Game” back into Gorilla Rep, with the ultimate goal of provide free outdoor theater running in repertory in every borough of New York City.

“It should be as easy for a kid living in a tough part of the Bronx to access a production of Shakespeare as it is to check a book out of the library,” said Sanderson.

The problem of class division is a conundrum that weighs heavily in Tyler’s mind and served as an impetus for writing the script.

“Quite often, people think that having money will solve the problem [of insecurity]. And just look at what’s happening in America today, which is something that drives me absolutely crazy, — There is a horrible widening gap between rich and poor, which is having a disastrous effect on us,” Tyler said.

For Tyler, arts patron, filmmaker, photographer, poet and now playwright, art serves a major purpose in instigating change and addressing poverty.

“Art has many functions inside of a society. And certain functions within a community. Enclose a community and you insert art into it with an eyedropper. Drop by drop. You’ll see some changes in the community taking place,” said Tyler.

Tyler’s underlying message in the script and Sanderson’s larger vision for humanitarian theater are clearly working in tandem. Equipped with an ambitious dream and a Yale-heavy cast, crew and production team, the next appearance of “The Parlor Game” just may be in the bright lights in Times Square.

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