Theater Extension: WALDEN (TheaterWorks Hartford, CT)

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by Gregory Bernard on August 5, 2021

in Theater-Regional

Due to popular demand, TheaterWorks Hartford, in partnership with Riverfront Recapture, extends in-person performances of Amy Berryman’s debut play, Walden, to August 29. Directed by Mei Ann Teo and taking place on a natural, undeveloped site along the Connecticut River, the North American premiere marks a return to in-person events for TheaterWorks Hartford, as well as its first outdoor show in its 35-year history. Walden, which opened on July 29 and will stream online August 15–29, is set in the not-so-distant future and explores themes of climate change, space travel, and sibling rivalry. It features performances by Diana Oh ({my lingerie play}), Jeena Yi (Ivo Van Hove’s NetworkJudgment Day), and Gabriel Brown (Love and MoneyBobbie Clearly), all making debuts at TheaterWorks Hartford.

In Walden, after returning from a year-long Moon mission, Cassie (Jeena Yi), a NASA botanist, finds herself in a remote cabin in the woods, where her estranged twin sister, Stella (Diana Oh), a former NASA architect, has found a new life with climate activist Bryan (Gabriel Brown). Old wounds resurface as the sisters attempt to pick up the pieces of the rivalry that broke them apart.

The site-specific, outdoor, immersive staging of Walden is made possible by an award-winning team of designers. Upon arrival, audiences will be greeted by You-Shin Chen’s expansive environmental set design that includes a custom-built cabin, chicken coop, and vegetable garden. Lighting by designer Jeanette Oi-Suk-Yew embraces natural sources of light and slowly builds in intensity as the glow of dusk disappears. Alice Tavener’s costume design is both futuristic and DIY repurposed. All of these visuals are complemented by Hao Bai’s 360-degree sound design that has the audience wearing sanitized headsets during the performance, greatly enhancing the intimacy of the immersive environment.

In May, Sonia Friedman Productions presented the world premiere of Walden on the West End as part of the RE:EMERGE Season in a production directed by Ian Rickson. Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph gave it four stars, calling it “a fresh and ambitious new play… a giant leap for the West End.’ Arifa Akbar in The Guardian found it an “intelligent, soulful drama… an original play of ideas,” while Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard declared, “Walden bursts with big ideas. I urge you to see it.”

Walden came from my deep anxiety about climate change,” says playwright Amy Berryman. “It’s set in the future where climate change has intensified, and humanity is struggling with whether to save the planet or flee it. I was curious about the question of what we’re going to do when it’s too late to really turn things around. Are we there already?”

“I’m drawn to stories that are wrestling with our future,” says director Mei Ann Teo. “The outdoor, immersive staging allows us to transport the audience more deeply into the themes of the play. We surround the audience with the natural environment, our current climate crisis, and the imagination of the characters who are actively trying to imagine a new world.”

“With the production of Walden, it was important that we lived out our vision for the American Theater,” says taneisha duggan, TheaterWorks Hartford Artistic Producer. “We are not reaching for a status quo, but visibly displaying a way forward. The not-to-distant-future is multi-melanated, is on a continuum in gender and sexuality, is mindful of our relationship to our land, is, is, is…  We imagine, on the stage, the bridge from where we are today to the future–so that you, the audience, may build it. This work engages in the paramount question: ‘who are we, who do we want to be, and how in the heavens do we get there?’ Because I believe that theater, and the industry it supports, has an obligation to set the vision for our collective future through the art, and the way we make it.”

photos by Christopher Capozziello

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