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On Aug. 23-27, Lynden Harris’ Count Will Depict a Day in the Life of Six Men on Death Row

The cast of <em>Count</em> by Lynden Harris includes (from left) Chris Berry as Kansas City, Richard McDonald as Whitehouse, Gil Faison as Brownsville, and Brian D. Coats as Long Beach (photo by HuthPhoto)

The cast of Count by Lynden Harris includes (from left) Chris Berry as Kansas City, Richard McDonald as Whitehouse, Gil Faison as Brownsville, and Brian D. Coats as Long Beach (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will kick off its 2017-18 season on Aug. 23-27 with a world-premiere PRC2 second-stage production of Count: Stories from America’s Death Rows, written by Hidden Voices founder Lynden Harris, directed by PlayMakers Rep veteran Kathryn Hunter-Williams, and co-produced with Hidden Voices, which describes itself on its website as “a radically inclusive, participatory, and co-creative [North Carolina] collective committed to creating just, compassionate, and sustainable relationships,” connecting with local communities, and creating pathways to bring about global change. There will be an audience talkback, with the cast and creative team and selected subject-matter experts, after each performance of this docudrama in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.

On March 3 and 4, 2017 in Studio 6 in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill, The Process Series: New Works in Development workshopped an earlier version of Count. “Over the course of a single day on death row,” wrote The Process Series, “six men divulge their personal inheritances of violence, racism, mental illness, poverty — and sometimes surprising love. Based on writings and years of conversations with prisoners throughout the U.S., Count invites us into a stark, fluorescent otherworld where the condemned struggle in the face of scheduled death to re-envision what it means to live fully.”

Edward O'Blenis (right) stars as Richmond in <em>Count</em> (photo by HuthPhoto)

Edward O’Blenis (right) stars as Richmond in Count (photo by HuthPhoto)

According to the PlayMakers Rep news release on this show, Count marks the PRC directorial debut of Kathryn Hunter-Williams, who is not only a prominent member of the acting company of UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence, but is also an associate professor of Literature in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art.

PlayMakers Rep added:

“Based on years of conversations between Hidden Voices and men on death row from throughout the country, Count asks us to experience a day-in-the-life of six men as they reflect upon the life paths that led them to this moment and place. Their lively, difficult, and ultimately affirming search for what ancient philosophers called ‘the good life’ challenges and transforms us, with the recognition that we are all struggling for the same things.”

PlayMakers Rep mainstay Jeffrey Blair Cornell (left) stars as Maine in <em>Count</em> (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Rep mainstay Jeffrey Blair Cornell (left) stars as Maine in Count (photo by HuthPhoto)

Director Kathryn Hunter-Williams said, “Count is a theatrical distillation of work that Lynden Harris, Hidden Voices, and I have done for more than four years. In interviewing incarcerated men here in North Carolina, and throughout the United States, we tapped into issues of poverty, mental illness, race, and familial incarceration as recurring themes in the maps of their lives. We also tapped into things we didn’t expect — hope and love. My hope is that this production helps audiences see that these men aren’t so much ‘other’ than us, and, using theater as an agent, for the next generation we might change the factors that pushed these men along a certain path, and help redraw some real-life stories.”

PlayMakers producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch added, “I am incredibly excited to open our new season with a searing, provocative, heart-forward work of theater that continues PlayMakers‘ commitment to opening dialogue about relevant and important issues of our time. Incarceration, social justice, crime, and punishment are complex, huge-scale issues; but in this work we see them through a personal, human-scale lens that makes them that much more relatable. What makes Count so compelling is that Lynden [Harris] and Kathy [Hunter-Williams] have brought us a work that is both compassionate and unflinching, and in the intimate setting of our PRC2 second stage, audiences are literally and emotionally front row to this thought-provoking, transformative journey.”

<em>Count</em> stars Jeffrey Blair Cornell (left) as Maine and Gil Faison as Brownsville (photo by HuthPhoto)

Count stars Jeffrey Blair Cornell (left) as Maine and Gil Faison as Brownsville (photo by HuthPhoto)

The cast of Count includes, in alphabetical order: Chris Berry as Kansas City, Brian D. Coats as Long Beach, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Maine Gil Faison as Brownsville, Richard McDonald as Whitehouse, and Edward O’Blenis as Richmond.

In addition to dramatist Lynden Harris, director Kathryn Hunter-Williams, and PRC producing artistic director Vivienne Benesch, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Count includes scenic designer McKay Coble, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, costume designer Jennifer Guadagno, sound designer Adam Bintz, associate dramaturg Gregory Kable, stage manager Charles K. Bayang, and assistant stage manager Liz Ray.

The cast members of <em>Count</em> play a variety of death-row inmates (photo by HuthPhoto)

The cast members of Count play a variety of death-row inmates (photo by HuthPhoto)

SECOND OPINION: Aug. 23rd Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/incarcerated-voices-speak-through-two-current-theater-productions-count-and-conversations-with-hitler/Content?oid=7553554; and Aug. 10th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with playwright Lynden Harris, director Kathryn Hunter-Williams, and actors Brian D. Coats and Chris Berry, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/men-death-row-write-their-truths-count#stream/0.

PlayMakers Repertory Company and Hidden Voices present COUNT: STORIES FROM AMERICA’S DEATH ROWS, a world premiere written by Lynden Harris and directed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23-26 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 27 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$48 ($10 UNC students with valid photo ID).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://tickets.playmakersrep.org/single/PSDetail.aspx?psn=10912.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), prcboxoffice@unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.

SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/show/count/, http://hiddenvoices.org/pod/event/premier-of-count-at-prc, and https://www.facebook.com/events/113581789277928/.

PRESENTERS:

PlayMakers Repertory Company: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

Hidden Voices: http://hiddenvoices.org/, https://www.facebook.com/HiddenVoices/, and https://twitter.com/HiddenVoicesUS.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/kenan.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: After each performance, there will be an audience talkback with the cast and creative team and selected subject-matter experts. Please click here and scroll down to view the theme of each talkback and the names of the talkback panelists for that talkback.

OTHER LINKS:

Lynden Harris (playwright and founder of Hidden Voices): https://www.facebook.com/lynden.harris (Facebook page) and http://www.themonti.org/storytellers/lynden-harris (The Monti bio).

Kathryn Hunter-Williams (director, associate director for Hidden Voices, and associate professor of Literature in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art): https://playmakersrep.org/artists/kathryn-hunter-williams/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://drama.unc.edu/faculty-member/kathryn-hunter-williams/ (UNC bio), and https://www.facebook.com/kathryn.hunterwilliams (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature