For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director Ari Laura Kreith, Artistic Director of the New York-based multicultural theatre company Theatre 167. She tells us about her current project, the beautiful new play Mourning Sun, which is playing at the West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street, New York City, The show runs through December 6. For more information and tickets click here.
Q: What are you working on now?
I’m directing a new play called Mourning Sun with my company, Theatre 167. It’s playing at the West End Theatre through December 6. Set in Ethiopia and New York, Mourning Sun is a remarkable love story that spans continents and cultures. At 14, Biftu and Abdi listen to American pop music and fantasize about meeting Michael Jackson. When Biftu is forced into an arranged marriage, her body is broken and their dreams are destroyed. This explosive new play explores trauma and recovery, dislocation and identity, and the power of human connection to heal the deepest of wounds.
Q: Where did the impulse for this piece come from?
Playwright Antu Yacob grew up in Ethiopia and the United States. After her sister, a medical student, volunteered at the fistula clinic in Addis Ababa, she began researching stories of child marriage, which impacts 15 million girls a year. Yacob says she realized “If I didn’t have the mother I had, I could have been one of those girls.” She wanted their stories to be heard.
Q: How did you get involved with this project?
Antu and I were introduced by a mutual friend and colleague, John Keller, who also appears in the production. I love being “set up” with playwrights; my frequent collaborator Jenny Lyn Bader and I were introduced at a wedding! John and I have worked together numerous times and he had also seen my production of J.Stephen Brantley’s play Pirira at Theatre 167 which, like Mourning Sun, is set both in Africa and the US and examines rights and opportunities for girls and women. John had worked with Antu on multiple previous readings of Mourning Sun, and felt like there was a synchronicity there. So he invited me and Antu to work together on a 48-Hour Musical at his company, CoLab Arts, in New Brunswick this past April. It was totally a set-up! We had a wonderful time creating a short musical together with the band Red Giant — and then I read Mourning Sun, and now, six months later, we’re in production!
Q: What drew you to this piece?
So many things! I’m drawn to stories that invite us to stretch out of our personal cultural experiences, and identify with people and cultures to which we might previously not have felt a connection. And it’s really important to me to do work that tackles real-world problems head on, and to do so in a way that is both honest and hopeful. This play does that beautifully! I love plays that are multilingual and that use music in inventive ways. Antu’s sense of humor also really resonated with me, and I was excited by the challenges of the physical/visual storytelling. This play moves fluidly from one part of the world to another, and I was really lucky to have Jen Price Fick’s beautiful set and Matthew Fick’s lighting to make that possible.
Q: What’s next?
Theatre 167 is now in residence at the West End Theatre, and we’re going to be announcing details of our Spring 2016 production there soon. I can’t say too much about it yet, but it will be a return to Theatre 167’s multi-writer, multilingual roots. I’m also developing a top secret musical project with my husband Ben Morss — and another with Jenny Lyn Bader and composer Simon Gray based on a book called Gowanus Dogs that tells the story of a homeless man living under the BQE. More on that soon!