New York City’s Ground UP Productions will explore four new plays in a reading series in February 2024.

The indie Manhattan company Ground UP Productions will present four new plays in its winter 2024 staged reading series on four Mondays in February. The playwrights and plays are Dianne Nora’s Six Men Dressed Like Joseph Stalin (Feb. 5), Kenneth JonesTen Minutes On a Bench (Feb. 12), Chris Thorpe’s A Family Business (Feb. 19) and Jeff Talbott’s Joseph Cook (Feb. 26).

For more information about the free invitation-only 7 PM presentations at Theatre Lab in midtown Manhattan, visit the Ground Up website.

Learn more about the mission and history of Ground UP Productions (Kate Middleton, artistic director).

Here are the plays in a nutshell:

Playwright Dianne Nora

Dianne Nora’s Six Men Dressed Like Joseph Stalin, directed by Laura Dupper, 7 PM Feb. 5

This existentialist dark comedy tells the story of unlikely partners brought together by fate…or something more sinister. When Soso is left for dead on the Eastern Front, Koba is tasked with training him to perform the role of a lifetime: Stalin’s body double. While Soso is a performer — trained to dance, juggle, and tour the countryside entertaining peasants, Koba is an Actor’s Actor, a student of Stanislavski himself (maybe you’ve heard of his System?). Inspired by the life of Felix Dadaev, one of Stalin’s known doubles, the play draws on the historical events of Stalin’s life and the acting methods of the 1940s as the doubles prepare for the Conference at Tehran, when three so-called Great Men (or were they merely players?) decided the fate of the 20th century.

With Josh Evans and Kate Middleton. Stage managed by Kodi Lynn Milburn.

Dianne Nora (she/her) is a playwright, dramaturg and comedy writer. In 2019, an abbreviated version of her play Monica: This Play Is Not About Monica Lewinsky premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe, where The Spectator listed it among the “Best of the Fringe.” Her play for young audiences, “Journey Around My Bedroom,” was produced at New Ohio Theatre in 2020, and recommended by The New York Times. She assisted her mentor Tracy Letts on seven productions and workshops at Steppenwolf Theatre and on Broadway. She’s a headline and features contributor at The Onion, America’s Finest News Source. She’s a winner of Inkwell Theater’s Lerner Fellowship and Playhouse on the Square’s New Works at the Works Playwriting Competition, a recipient of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Creative Engagement grant, and she was a member of Goodman Theatre’s Playwrights Unit. She was a finalist for The Working Farm at SPACE on Ryder Farm, the Ingram New Works Lab at Nashville Rep, and Rough Magic Theatre’s SEEDS program, and a semi-finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center (in 2014 and 2018), and the Princess Grace Award for playwriting. BA: NYU; MPhil: Trinity College Dublin; MFA: Columbia University School of the Arts.

Playwright Kenneth Jones

Kenneth Jones’ Ten Minutes On a Bench, directed by Scott Alan Evans, 7 PM Feb. 12

A dating app called Ten Minutes On a Bench is the latest match-making craze, placing singles on a park bench to find common ground. The clock is ticking, but there’s no limit to the variety of quirky, sexy, heartbreaking and humane conversations between a couple dozen characters looking for love. A new salty-sweet romantic comedy about first impressions, dogs and cats, drinkers and smokers, impulse and caution, conversation and chemistry. Laugh, cheer and cringe witnessing the universal urge to connect. Sometimes, it only takes ten minutes.

With Ann Arvia, Seth Andrew Bridges, Ty Corbin, Stephen D’Ambrose, Christopher Gerson, Betsy Hogg, Elizabeth Howell, Barbara Kingsley, Kate Middleton, John Plumpis, Peterson Townsend and Kelsey Waltermire. Stage managed by Kodi Lynn Milburn.

Kenneth Jones is best known for his play Alabama Story  (published by Dramatists Play Service), seen in more than sixty cities around the nation. His comedy Hollywood, Nebraska had a three-state rolling world premiere in 2022-23 and is licensed through the author. His work has been produced or developed at Pioneer Theatre Company, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Clarence Brown Theatre, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Peninsula Players, Florida Studio Theatre, Red Mountain Theatre and beyond. Learn more at ByKennethJones.com or find his work (including Ten Minutes On a Bench) at New Play Exchange.

Playwright Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe’s A Family Business, directed by Kate Middleton, 7 PM Feb. 19

After a chance meeting with a disarmament expert, playwright Chris Thorpe fell into the world of nuclear treaty negotiation, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the ordinary people who are trying to achieve the extraordinary outcome of complete nuclear disarmament. Based on conversations with organizations and individuals involved in those negotiations, including ICAN, the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the play is partly a story about the what the people on either side of the nuclear debate are like, partly a conversation with the audience about how, and if, we find the space to talk about disarmament in our own lives.

With Stephen Heskett, Laura Standley, Seth Shelden and more. Stage managed by Kate August.

Chris Thorpe is a writer and performer from Manchester, UK. His work has touched on nationality and borders, political and social systems and their relationship to confirmation bias, our collective psychology around the climate crisis — and most recently the construction of cultural hierarchies and Iranian pop music (Things Hidden Since The Foundation of the World with Javaad Alipoor), and nuclear disarmament and global diplomacy (A Family Business with Staatstheater Mainz and China Plate).

Playwright Jeff Talbott

Jeff Talbott’s Joseph Cook, directed by the author, 7 PM Feb. 26

Beatrice and Donnelly Cook have returned to their small Western Nebraska town to tend to their dying father, even though they have very different ideas as to what that means. They don’t talk much, but that doesn’t separate them from any of the people in the town they fled as soon as they could flee. Family. It’s what you find in the gaps between all the words. Hopefully they’ll see what’s in that gap before it’s too late.

With Enid Graham, Kate Middleton, Joel Rainwater and Max Woertendyke. Stage managed by Kodi Lynn Milburn.

Jeff Talbott’s  The Submission was the inaugural recipient of the Laurents/Hatcher Award and was produced off-Broadway by MCC Theater; it went on to receive the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for New American Play and is published and licensed by Concord Theatricals. Other produced works: The Messenger (Pioneer Theatre Company), The Gravedigger’s Lullaby (Of-Broadway – TACT/Theatre Row; published and licensed by Dramatic Publishing), “i” (Pioneer Theatre Company), Civics and Humanities for Non-Majors (2018 O’Neill Finalist; commissioned and produced by Montclair State University) and A Public Education (Out of Box Theatre, 2015 O’Neill Finalist; workshops – Pioneer Theatre, TACT). Other plays: The Unsurprising and Yet Somehow Inevitable Upward Trajectory of Josh, White Guy From Ohio (2022 O’Neill Semi-Finalist); Joseph Cook (2019 O’Neill Finalist); Three Rules For the Dragon (2017 O’Neill Finalist, workshops – Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Colt Coeur and Premiere Stages), How To Build a City (workshops – TACT, Route 66), Elliot, All The Stars In The Midnight Sky and Samaritans. He writes musicals with composer Will Van Dyke: Imagine Harry (NAMT 2015, 2017 O’Neill Finalist), Wintersong (2016 Goodspeed Johnny Mercer Colony, 2017 NAMT Finalist), Seven Broken Hearts (2017 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat), The Circle and the Wheel (commissioned by Grove Entertainment and Barbara Whitman Productions), Ten Brave Seconds (currently optioned by Avalon Road Productions) and Fuzzy. They have released three EPs (“A View of the River,” “The Mayor” and “Forks Don’t Break”) and the singles “A New Year” (featuring Annaleigh Ashford), “I Hate To Love You” (featuring Daniel Quadrino) and “Take Me to the Party” (featuring Wesley Taylor). Together, Jeff & Will were finalists for the 2019 Fred Ebb Award and the 2021 Kleban Award. Talbott graduated with honors from the Yale School of Drama.