Jeff Talbott’s latest play, i, will get its world premiere in the 2017-18 season of Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, UT. The resident Equity company first developed the drama — a mysterious boy-meets-girl story — in January 2017 in its Play-by-Play new play reading series. The full production on Pioneer’s mainstage will run February 16-March 3, 2018.
“Sarah is having a rough time. She’s trying to shake it, but it’s not easy. She’s got a new doctor and she’s met a nice guy named Jake, so things are looking up. And Jake’s having a hard time, too. Together, Sarah and Jake are trying to find their way to each other — and maybe, just maybe, to some of that happiness we’ve heard so much about. A mysterious love story about the threads that tie us together, i is a gentle and unsettling new play set a couple days after tomorrow.”
The play, which has a boy-meets-girl quality at its center, began in an unexpected way, Talbott told me: “I had read an article a while ago about a scientific experiment being done on mice that intrigued me, in terms of its implications for treating humans, but didn’t know how it applied to a dramatic story, so I filed it away. Then one day, when cleaning my computer, I found the article, and started to write the first scene in the play, which is a scene between a doctor and a woman. The play grew from there in some pretty unexpected ways.”
Why is the play billed as set “a couple of days after tomorrow”?
“Part of the mystery of the play is what happened with the doctor at the beginning of the play — and since the launching pad for the whole play was a kind of medical technology that doesn’t exist yet, it was fun to imagine a world just slightly ahead of where we are now,” Talbott said. “A world where everything is basically the same, but with cleaner lines. The trick was making sure the world I was discovering always fed back into Sarah and Jake’s halting journey towards each other. The love story is the road; everything else is just the scenery.”
(Talbott answered a couple more questions about the new play. Check out my Q & A below.)
It’s a busy winter 2017 for Talbott. His play The Gravedigger’s Lullaby is getting its world premiere Off-Broadway Feb. 28-April 1 in a staging directed by Jenn Thompson for TACT/The Actors Company Theatre at Theatre Row in New York City.
His play Three Rules for the Dragon was heard in a March 6. 2017, Manhattan reading presented by Colt Coeuer and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre (Adrienne Campbell-Holt directed Marin Ireland, Zachary Quinto, Madeleine Rogers and Babak Tafti). The play was a finalist for the 2016 O’Neill Conference and received a workshop in June 2016 at Premiere Stages at Kean University in New Jersey. He is working on a commission for a new play to be produced by Montclair State University in 2018. Wes Grantom will direct.
Talbott is no stranger to Pioneer’s Play-by-Play series, having enjoyed previous development on his play A Public Education, which was finalist for the 2015 O’Neill Playwrights Conference in 2014 and was later seen in a reading by TACT. As an actor, he appeared in PTC productions of Doubt, The Odd Couple and …Spelling Bee.
His play The Submission (published by Samuel French) was the inaugural recipient of the Laurents/Hatcher Award in 2011 and was produced Off-Broadway by MCC Theater; it went on to receive the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for New American Play in 2012. It was also a semi-finalist for the 2010 O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Since that time, it continues to be produced by theatres around the country.
His other plays include How to Build a City (workshops at TACT and Route 66), Elliot (readings – Crowded Outlet, MCC Theater) and All the Stars in the Midnight Sky (workshops/readings – MCC, TACT).
Talbott writes musicals with composer Will Van Dyke. Their musical Imagine Harry was presented in the 2015 NAMT Festival of New Musicals, and is a finalist for the 2017 O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference and was a finalist for the 2014 Rheinbeck Writers Retreat. In September 2015, they released an EP of their work called “A View of the River” (available on iTunes or wherever digital music is sold). They were part of Goodspeed Musicals’ 2016 Johnny Mercer Writers Colony finishing a draft of their latest musical, Wintersong. Talbott graduated with honors from the Yale School of Drama, and as an actor has been seen in theatres all over the country and in film and TV. Visit www.jefftalbott.com.
My chat with Jeff Talbott about his new play i:
When writing about the relationship unfolding in this play, did you have a specific roadmap of events in the relationship, or on some level did you allow Sarah and Jake to take you along and surprise you?
Jeff Talbott: Sarah and Jake’s romance is the core of the play — in almost every way, it’s the entire play. I knew how it started and I knew how it needed to end. But everything in the middle was a surprise to me; and then once those surprises kept revealing themselves, I had to face the beginning (and particularly the ending) in some very different ways than I had anticipated.
Can you share who the other characters are in the play, beyond Sarah and Jake?
Jeff Talbott: I actually can’t. They meet other people on their journey (well, mostly Sarah meets them), but the audience meets them just as Sarah does — with very little information.
Can you share anything about the title of the play?
Jeff Talbott: Naming plays is a tricky business — hopefully the title of any play intrigues people to see it. It also sends a message that there are unknown things here, and that’s definitely by design. This play was always called this, in every iteration, for reasons that become clear pretty strongly by the time the play is over.
What are your goals in the PTC Play-by-Play week?
Jeff Talbott: To work with smart people for a week and make it better — it’s honestly the best thing in the world. It’s a pretty compact piece of writing; I’m willing to bet it’ll be more compact by the time we share it with people at the end of the week. I’m excited for other people to get to know Sarah and Jake and find out if everything I think/hope is actually there. I can’t wait.
The 2018 production of i will be the second play to move from PTC’s Play-by-Play reading series to Pioneer’s 900-seat mainstage. In 2014, the inaugural Play-by-Play featured my play Alabama Story, later fully produced by PTC in 2015. By 2018, it will have been seen in at least 10 productions around the country.