Horizon Theatre Blog
Horizon Theater stages story of ‘Roe’ as decision faces reversal
By Bo Emerson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 9, 2022
The uncanny timing at the Horizon Theatre, which will give the abortion rights drama “Roe” its Atlanta premiere beginning Wednesday, May 11, isn’t completely uncanny.
The Little Five Points ensemble planned to mount the production in 2020 but COVID-19 intervened.
In the fall of 2020, as the theater looked ahead toward eventually re-opening, co-founder and co-artistic director Lisa Adler had second thoughts about programming “Roe,” which was guaranteed to spark heated debate.
Then, a week before election day 2020, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed, solidifying a conservative majority on the court.
Constitutional law expert Eric Segall, who has conducted “community conversations” after shows at the theater, and whose wife Lynne is a member of the Horizon’s board, told Adler that Roe v. Wade would probably come under the gun. “He told us this decision is likely to come in May or June (2022),” said Adler.ADVERTISING
“I said, ‘that’s it. We’re doing this.’”
As a result, Atlanta audiences will have a chance to see the genesis of Roe v. Wade, and the story of the unlikely pair of women who made it happen, within a week of the revelation that the Supreme Court is likely to overturn the landmark ruling.
At the center of the drama is Sarah Weddington, one of only five women in her University of Texas Law School class of 1964. She was 26 years old when she first appeared in front of the Supreme Court, and she had never tried a case before.
Sharing that spotlight is Norma McCorvey, listed in the lawsuit as “Jane Roe” to protect her privacy, who was pregnant for the third time at age 21 when she became the plaintiff in the famous case. After she published her autobiography in 1994, “I Am Roe,” she met activist and evangelist Flip Benham, converted to Christianity and joined the anti-abortion movement.
Credit: Horizon Theatre
Many of the details in the story of Roe v. Wade are not familiar to the general public, said Adler. “I am a heavy feminist, and I knew almost nothing of what was in the play,” she added. “And if I don’t know the story, there’s a ton of other people that don’t know the story.”
Adler, who is directing the production, said that playwright Lisa Loomer “did a ton of research. The play is both a great story and an incredible history lesson.”
Adler said Loomer clearly has a point of view in the play, which is a call for reproductive freedom. “It comes down to who gets to choose: The individual or the state? That is the crux of the conversation.” But Loomer imbues the characters on both sides of the issue with deep humanity. “She lets you see the honest passions behind the people that believe in pro-choice and the people that believe in pro-life.”
At 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, after the 3 p.m. show, Eric Segall, professor of law at Georgia State University, and Staci Fox, former CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, will hold a “community conversation” at the theater, discussing the issues brought up in the drama, and the possible repercussions if Roe is overturned.
Current events have made the play a vital course of study, but have also made it somewhat traumatic for the cast members. “Everybody is really upset,” said Adler. “They’re on an emotional journey. It’s horrifying, it’s disturbing.”
Performances glow in Horizon’s topical ‘Light’
By Bert Osborne, For the AJC • April 1, 2022
Just how extraordinary are the performances of Cynthia D. Barker and Enoch King in Horizon Theatre’s topical two-character love story “The Light”? By now, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to avid theatergoers already familiar with their acting work over the years that there’s very little that either of them can’t capture and portray with absolute conviction, precision and authenticity.
In Loy A. Webb’s invigorating 75-minute play, which is by turns blithely romantic and boldly relevant, they’re a Chicago couple celebrating their second anniversary. She’s Genesis, a school principal, and he’s Rashad, a firefighter with a young daughter from a previous relationship. From their opening interactions, the co-stars create and maintain a breezy comedic rapport and chemistry that’s utterly tangible. And when circumstances eventually take a dramatic turn during the last half of the production, no two scene partners have ever seemed quite so evenly balanced or equally matched.
In the many impassioned exchanges that transpire between the characters, Barker and King are each capable of transfixing the audience’s attention with a consummate aplomb. It’s not easy to look away from whomever is holding court at any given moment, but I gradually made a point of also keeping an eye on the one who was silently listening at the same time. Their articulate speeches are skillfully handled, and their nuanced and non-verbal reactions to what they’re hearing are every bit as rewarding to watch. That’s how extraordinary these performances are.
It’s as though Genesis and Rashad can talk about anything with one another. At first, that manifests in a lot of delightfully crackling banter, with both of them trading good-natured, knowing jabs at the expense of the other. But it means confessing or expressing some of their most private thoughts and concerns, as well.
The play takes place in 2018. At work, dealing with the “dangerous alternative views” of one of her teachers about the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, amid the controversial sexual assault allegations leveled against him, Genesis is torn between her own “complicated” personal opinions on the issue and her professional obligations to uphold school policy.ADVERTISING
Rashad, meanwhile, no matter his accomplishments as a devoted father and heroic firefighter, sometimes still grapples with feeling “disgraced” about his failed former football career. Struggling with it became a matter of “feeding my body and neglecting my soul,” he confesses — until, that is, he met and fell in love with Genesis.
For tonight’s anniversary (all of the action unfolds in real time, on yet another fabulous set designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay), each of them bears two gifts for the other. He plans to make it official by presenting her with an engagement ring, and he has another surprise in the form of concert tickets to see the pop singer they saw on their first date together. She has season tickets for him to his favorite football team, in addition to some important good news to share with him, too.
A rather abrupt plot revelation at the midway mark won’t be spoiled here, but the consequently uncomfortable shift in tone darkens the overall mood of “The Light” — threatening, in the process, to upset that formidable balance the show goes to such great lengths to establish, whereupon one of the characters suddenly starts doing a lot more of the talking, and the other a lot more listening. (It’s no coincidence, however, that playwright Webb, and both of the show’s certifiably qualified co-directors, Horizon associate artistic producer Marguerite Hannah and Lydia Fort, are all women.)
In its ensuing hot-button debates about “Black male privilege,” female empowerment, “teachable moments” and practicing what one preaches, the play finally ends up taking a side, after all, somewhat skewing the narrative and tipping the scales accordingly, and then essentially daring the audience not to comply.
Through April 17. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. $27-$35. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. NE (in Little Five Points), Atlanta. 404-584-7450, www.horizontheatre.com.
Bottom line: Acting tours de force illuminate a topical comedy-drama.
Review: Political, personal differences come into view in Horizon’s “The Light”
BENJAMIN CARR·MARCH 30, 2022
The Light, the challenging new play onstage at Horizon Theatre through April 17, shines most brightly because of its two actors, who share a spectacular chemistry as we follow their characters from the highest joy to darker places.
These are two of the year’s best performances.
Cynthia D. Barker and Enoch King play Genesis and Rashad, a Black couple in Chicago celebrating their two-year anniversary in her Oak Park, Illinois, condo. She is a magnet school principal. He is a single-dad firefighter who met her while taking his daughter to school. Written by Loy A. Webb and originally intended for an Horizon staging in March 2020, the play opens with Rashad alone, preparing a celebration, hiding an engagement ring in Genesis’ kitchen cabinet. She arrives home, talking about how a work-based political discussion between other teachers has gone wrong.
The play is set in 2018 during the time of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and the couple discusses the sexual assault allegations brought against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford abstractly. They’re both against Kavanaugh, but their objections to his nomination are shaded with nuance. Rashad opposes President Trump’s agenda at all costs. Genesis more directly stands with Ford because of what it means for a sexual assault victim to come forward.
This moment early in their exchanges is key to understanding where this surprising play, which begins with a very lived-in and extremely romantic vibe, intends to take the audience by its end. The play is structured like an onion, where we regard it at first in our hand for what it seems to be before we delve into its many, many layers.
The moments leading up to the heart of the play include a discussion of the characters’ individual and shared pasts, much teasing and flirting and an incredible, very moving marriage proposal. When Rashad surprises Genesis with concert tickets to see their favorite singer, who is on the bill with a controversial headliner she finds problematic, the romantic evening becomes contentious as it devolves into an argument about sexual misconduct allegations and misogyny from the concert headliner.
The joy soon fades for the characters, leading to deep, necessary discussions of the Black experience, gender politics and trauma.
All through this discussion, King and Barker are genius sparring partners, grounding their characters with an intimacy and abiding affection. King’s character can be jovial and goofy, even when he is alone in the scene scrambling to grab things off shelves. Every gesture carries meaning, infused with insecurity and emotion that he doesn’t dare show his girlfriend. Rashad’s deeper hurts and pains, as they emerge in the discussion, always feel authentic.
Barker is a marvel here, and the powerhouse second half of the narrative — where things turn intense and personal — pretty much belongs to her. After one costume-change moment driven by the plot, you won’t be able to take your eyes off her. There are monologues she gets, where King’s character listens and reacts while stricken and heartbroken, that are incredibly well done. Genesis is the one who mentions “the light” of the title, and she does so at two very different points. In one, she’s talking about a moment of intimacy. In another, she speaks with desperation about lost hope.
The organized structure of Webb’s script itself leans into the issues surrounding the sexual trauma conversation between the two, which doesn’t necessarily flow as realistically as it would in actual life. People who had been dating for two years would, hopefully, have discussed these points throughout their relationship. But the direction from Marguerite Hannah and Lydia Fort turns the conversation into a pressure cooker here, building up steam for 75 minutes with no breaks or intermission.
There is a reason for this structure. Webb’s script moves in layers, from talking about gender politics and sexual trauma at a distance to up close, giving the debate a chance to flow like a tennis match between men and women. It gives the audience a chance to change their minds about how they view a situation. The show’s revelations and twists make the conversation very provocative.
Questions raised by The Light go from being hypothetical to in-your-face. Both characters raise very solid points about privilege, race and sexism.
Loy has said that the play is based upon the real-life sexual assault allegations against actor-director Nate Parker that resurfaced in the press during the release of his 2016 film The Birth of a Nation. Parker had been accused of assault while in college by a woman who later committed suicide.
But the play itself could also be a discussion of Kavanaugh, R. Kelly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby or any other accused figure from the #MeToo movement. It’s a fascinating script.
Horizon Theatre Company’s technical production elements are stunning. The set design by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay is just gorgeous. The Curley-Clays have created a space you want to live in, decorated with touches from prop designers Nick Battaglia and Ashley Bingham that show these two characters have very specific tastes. The way the actors move through the space suggests a familiarity and ease they have in the environment and with one another.
The costumes from Dr. L. Nyrobi Moss also are a highlight, for these characters dress up and dress down to reflect their changing moods.
The Light is a triggering play full of deep feeling. Its joy is so palpable that, when it is lost, the audience mourns for it. The pain of the show and the questions it raises linger, thanks to two incredible performances.
Benjamin Carr, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is an arts journalist and critic who has contributed to ArtsATL since 2019. His plays have been produced at The Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan, as part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival, and the Center for Puppetry Arts. His book Impacted was published by The Story Plant in 2021 and is a Georgia Author of the Year Award nominee in the first novel category.
“A deeply intimate play…I watched tears flow, Kleenexes emerge from pockets, couples move closer together and further apart.” –Chicago Tribune
ATLANTA (MARCH 2022) – Recipient of the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play, Loy Webb’s debut work, The Light, hits the Horizon stage from March 19th-April 17th (Press Opening March 25th). Horizon’s regional premiere of The Light is an intimate, funny, and powerful look at love today in all its complexity, featuring two of Atlanta’s most dynamic actors, Enoch King and Cynthia D. Barker.
A surprise marriage proposal takes an unexpected turn that upends the world of Genesis and Rashad, forcing them to confront secrets from the past. The Light is a roller coaster journey of laughter, romance and reckoning that unfolds in real time, peeling away layers of truth, doubt, pain and ultimately, the power of love.
Horizon Theatre Company’s performances start March 19, 2022 (Press Opening March 25, 2022) and run until April 17, 2022, at Horizon in Little Five Points/Inman Park (1083 Austin Avenue N.E., Atlanta, GA 30307, at the corner of Euclid and Austin Avenues). Performances are Wed through Fri at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm, Sundays at 5 pm. Tickets and information are available at www.horizontheatre.com or 404-584-7450.
“The Light is a present-day love story complicated by the many things that go unsaid,” explains co-director Marguerite Hannah, Horizon’s Associate Artistic Producer. “The characters explore many questions about love universally and the Black community in specific. They unearth the questions we have been taught not to ask: Is surviving our past enough? Is a Black woman’s accomplishments and personal strengths a strong enough salve for emotional wounds? Is gender bias a tangible issue for a community historically defined by racial discrimination?”
“Genesis and Rashad are each doing their best in a relationship based on love and mutual respect, but together they will find that actively making an effort to love and understand each other, including their pasts, with the cultural spotlight of the “Me Too” Movement will lead to a deeper level of honesty and commitment that will change them both forever.”
In addition to her sixteen-year tenure on Horizon’s staff, Ms. Hannah is producer/director of Horizon’s groundbreaking play development project: New Georgia Woman Project: Black Women Speak, and a veteran actor with credits nationwide. At Horizon, audiences have seen her in Night Blooms, Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery (Suzi Award for Outstanding Production of a Play), The Waffle Palace, and Freed Spirits. Marguerite is sharing directing duties for The Light with co-director Lydia Fort, currently an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Emory University. Fort holds an MFA in directing from the University of Washington and has directed professionally at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Gable Stage (FL), Actor’s Express (GA), Perseverance Theatre (AK), Urban Stages (NY), Classical Theatre of Harlem and more.
Inspired by the sexual assault allegations surrounding Nate Parker during “Birth of a Nation,” The Light sparks a necessary conversation not only between the couple in the play but among its audience members about sexual violence and the treatment of women in male-dominated spaces. It is a play about the intricacies of truth, and how to take a leap of faith when you don’t know who or what to believe. When asked about her writing, Loy Webb responded, “I write to point toward hope. I want my work to be a neon sign in the darkness: This way out. This way to hope.”
Loy Webb is a Chicago-born playwright, attorney, and theatre journalist, now also working as a television writer on the series NOS4A2 (2020) and The Ms. Pat Show (2021). The Light premiered in 2018 at the New Colony in Chicago and had its Off-Broadway Premiere in January 2019 at MCC Theater in NYC. It was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and received a Chicago Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play.
Horizon and Atlanta favorites Enoch King and Cynthia D. Barker star as loving partners Rashad, a firefighter and single dad, and Genesis, an elementary school principal. Suzi Bass award nominee Cynthia D. Barker has been seen at Horizon in Citizens Market, How to Use A Knife, Uprising, Elemeno Pea, Third Country, and Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery. Other recent regional credits include Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous (Alliance Theatre and Hartford Stage-CT), Paradise Blue (True Colors Theatre), The Royale (Theatrical Outfit), A Christmas Carol (Alliance Theatre), and The Mountaintop (Aurora Theatre). Atlanta native and film star Enoch King has been part of Horizon for nearly two decades, with credits including Sweet Water Taste, Constellations, The Waffle Palace, and many years of The Santaland Diaries. He has also been seen recently in Toni Stone (Alliance Theatre), The Bluest Eye (Synchronicity Theatre), Skeleton Crew (True Colors Theatre, American Stage-FL), The Christians (Actor’s Express), The Canterbury Tales (Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse) and on screen in Drumline, House of Payne, and BET’s Let’s Stay Together.
The Light’s design team includes Horizon resident set and lighting designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay and Mary Parker. The Curley-Clay sisters have won multiple Suzi Awards for their work and have designed all of Horizon’s productions for the past 10+ years. Mary Parker is also a Suzi Award winner for Avenue Q at Horizon and was recently recognized for excellence for her lighting work in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Once at Horizon. They are joined by sound designer Chris Lane (Horizon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Once) and costume designer L. Nyrobi Moss (Sweet Water Taste, Blackberry Daze, and many more at Horizon).
THE LIGHT will run at Horizon Theatre Company March 19 through April 17, 2022 (Press Opening: March 25, 2022). Performances are Wednesday through Sunday (Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m). Our intimate theatre is in the heart of Inman Park and Little Five Points at the corner of Euclid and Austin Avenues (1083 Austin Avenue N.E., Atlanta, GA 30307), and includes FREE parking.
Tickets start at $30 for weekdays and $35 for weekends. ($20 for full-time students under 25 with a valid student ID and $3 off full-price tickets for Seniors). Prices are subject to change and will rise as performances fill up. Patrons are encouraged to purchase tickets early for the best prices. There is a reserved seating section for subscribers and major donors, general admission for others.Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more.
Horizon is committed to being COVID safe. The theatre will follow its COVID policy and procedures, which currently include proof of vaccination or a negative COVID Test within 48 hours for all audience members, artists, and staff. Masks are required for all patrons and staff. Enhanced cleaning and sanitation throughout the theatre will be conducted after each performance. Horizon’s full COVID policy and procedures are here: https://www.horizontheatre.com/covid-19-policies-procedures/
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com or call 404.584.7450.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Loy A. Webb (Writer) is a Chicago born playwright, screenwriter attorney, and theatre journalist. Her plays include The Light (MCC Theater 2018/2019, Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play; The New Colony, 2017/2018, Joseph Jefferson Award), and His Shadow (16th Street Theater 2019/2020). She was an inaugural Tutterow Fellow at Chicago Dramatists. Her work has been featured at Black Ensemble Theatre as a part of their Black Playwrights Initiative Program, American Theater Company (Big Shoulders Festival 2014), 20 Percent Theatre Company Chicago (Snapshots Festival 2014 and 2015), University of North Dakota, GI60 International One Minute Play Festival (2015), Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company New York and the Black Lives, Black Words International Project. Her short play, I AM a Woman is featured in the hip-hop anthology Wish to Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy Reader.
She is a member of the Association of Women of Journalist-Chicago and a contributing theater critic for Newcity. Loy holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a J.D. from The John Marshall Law School. She is a writer for television, most recently the AMC television series NOS4A2 and The Ms. Pat Show.
CAST AND DIRECTOR
Cynthia D. Barker (Genesis) has been seen at Horizon Theatre in Citizens Market, How to Use A Knife, Uprising, Elemeno Pea, Third Country, and Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery. Sheis a five-time Suzi Bass award nominee including Best Leading Actress and Best Ensemble in a Play. She has collaborated with some of Atlanta’s most distinguished theatrical institutions including Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company, Horizon Theatre Company, Theatrical Outfit and the Tony Award winning Alliance Theatre. Her recent regional credits include Angry, Raucous & Shamelessly Gorgeous (Alliance Theatre, Hartford Stage in Connecticut), Citizens Market and How to Use A Knife (Horizon), Paradise Blue (True Colors Theatre), The Royale (Theatrical Outfit), A Christmas Carol (Alliance Theatre), and The Mountaintop (Aurora Theatre). She holds an MFA in Acting from Wayne State University and is Adjunct Theatre Faculty in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Clayton State University.
Enoch King (Rashad) has been part of Horizon for nearly two decades, with credits including Sweet Water Taste, Constellations, Uprising, The Waffle Palace, and many years of The Santaland Diaries. He is a Georgia native and began his career path at Tri-Cities High School Visual and Performing Arts and the critically acclaimed Freddie Hendricks Youth Ensemble of Atlanta. Enoch has been blessed with the opportunity to work with Horizon Theatre, Georgia Shakespeare Festival, Aurora Theatre, Theatrical Outfit, True Colors Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Jewish Theater of the South, and Dad’s Garage. He has been seen recently in Toni Stone (Alliance Theatre/Milwaukee Rep), The Bluest Eye (Synchronicity Theatre), Skeleton Crew (True Colors Theatre, American Stage-FL), The Christians (Actor’s Express), The Canterbury Tales (Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse) and on screen in Drumline, House of Payne, and BET’s Let’s Stay Together.
Marguerite Hannah (Co-Director) started her theatre and arts adventures 30+ years ago as an actor, now also a producer and director. As an actor, Marguerite walked the boards of regional theatre across the country. In 2006, Marguerite joined Horizon Theatre’s administrative staff as Business Manager. Prior to this position, she worked on the production team of the National Black Arts Festival and Art Station Multi-Discipline Art Center. The opportunity to become Horizon’s Apprentice Company Artistic Director came in 2012, and she remained in that position for the next eight years. Marguerite is a multi-hyphenate arts professional, evidenced in her continued growth in producing and administrative responsibilities at Horizon. Currently Marguerite is producing a new initiative for Horizon Theatre she created, The New Georgia Woman Project: Black Women Speak. Black Women Speak combines an essential community engagement component utilizing an ongoing series of informal “Coffee Chats” with Black women in the Atlanta greater metro area and an artist cohort of nine Black female playwrights with a strong connection to the south. The Playwrights are commissioned to write stories centering on Black women and the spirit of the women participating in the BWS Community Coffee Chats who will follow the full development process from chats to readings to production as their stories are told. A proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, Marguerite is secretary of the board of the National New Play Network where she is co-chair of the Membership Committee and board member and Festival Committee Co-chair of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. She is also a proud alumnus of Howard University.
Lydia Fort (Co-Director) has directed at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Gable Stage, Bay Street Theater, Actor’s Express, Cygnet Theatre, Diversionary Theatre, Perseverance Theatre, Women’s Project Theatre, Women Center Stage, Urban Stages, McCarter Theatre YouthInk! Festival, New Federal Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theater, Classical Theatre of Harlem, freeFall Theatre, Hangar Theatre, Planet Connections Festivity (where she was honored with the 2103 Best Director and Greener Planet Awards) as well as other festivals including the New Black Fest, 48 Hours in Harlem, Fire This Time Festival, and SheWrites. She was a Time Warner Foundation Fellow of the 2012-2014 Lab at Women’s Project Theater, a TCG New Generations Future Leaders Grantee, New York Theatre Workshop Directing Fellow, and Drama League Directing Fellow. Lydia received a BA from New York University and an MFA in Directing from the University of Washington. She is an Assistant Professor at Emory University where she teaches directing, acting, African American theatre, and eco-theatre.
JIM FARMER • FEBRUARY 10, 2022
Humor against the backdrop of depression may sound like an uneasy pairing, but the play Every Brilliant Thing walks that fine line quite ably. Running through Feb. 27 at Horizon Theatre, it’s a production with a surprising amount of ambition and warmth.
It’s also the 38th season opener for the Little Five Points playhouse, which has not staged a full show since early 2020.
Even before the curtain speech, O’Neil Delapenha, who serves as the Narrator of Every Brilliant Thing, mixes and mingles with the crowd and hands almost everyone inside at least one numbered slip of paper with text that he explains will be used throughout the evening. Then we quickly learn his story. At the young age of 7, his father takes him to a hospital where he learns that his mother has made a suicide attempt. This is new territory for the boy — his only brush with death/near death has been when a beloved family dog had to be put to sleep.
Soon after, as a coping mechanism, he begins writing a list of everything that makes life worth living — beginning with ice cream, water fights, and staying up past bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. From time to time, he’ll call out a number on his list, and an audience member will respond with what that number represents. Patrons also perform as secondary characters such as Dad, Vet and a Lecturer.
As he grows older and becomes a young adult, eventually going to college and later marrying, he continues the list while holding in his anger and trying to understand his mother and her unhappiness. Throughout his life, he has to deal with his highs and lows of her bouts of depression.
Directed by Jeff Adler, Horizon Theatre’s co-artistic director, Every Brilliant Thing covers heavy material, yet — over the course of its 80-minute show run, sans an intermission — manages to be unexpectedly funny.
Because of Covid-19, Adler has three performers lined up for the lead role. Shelby Hofer and Megan Hayes are alternating performances with Delapenha, and it would be interesting to see how differently each approach the material. The playwrights have encouraged the role to be played by anyone — any sex, race or age.
Having seen Delapenha, however, it would be hard to imagine how anyone else can top his performance. A frequent actor and director at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and the founder of Black Theatre Artists of Atlanta, he’s affable, relaxed and quick-witted, with several moments of improvisation. It’s a very physical role, too — the actor is almost constantly in motion, interacting with the patrons, singing more than a few times and at one point high fiving/fisting everyone in the audience.
Yet the actor isn’t afraid to reveal his vulnerable side as he is making sense of his mother’s sadness and trying to forge ahead with his own life. Mental illness is a central theme here, and the central character’s battles with his mother take a toll, even when he keeps a game face.
What began as a short story by English playwright Duncan Macmillan became, with the help of Irish comedian Jonny Donahoe, a one-person show that debuted in 2013 at the Ludlow Fringe Festival. After an off-Broadway bow the next year, it began playing around the world and was also adapted by HBO. It’s easy to see how the production has caught on with audiences and theater companies.
Every Brilliant Thing is a spare production with an intentionally threadbare set. Scenic and property designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay hang items from the ceiling (picture frames, lamps, some albums), sprinkle books and various props throughout the audience and make the Narrator’s distributed numbers look authentic, like they could actually have been written by a child, often in crayon and on various forms of paper.
Truth be told, as enjoyable as the production is, Every Brilliant Thing starts to run out of steam a bit near the end, feeling a little repetitive and drawn out. Yet it never wears out its welcome. While part of the play is indeed quite sad, Macmillan and Donahoe manage to keep it engaging and hopeful. Under Adler’s direction, actor Delapenha finds just the right tone in his performance.
As I was inside the theater before the show began, I realized I had not seen a production at Horizon since Once in early 2020. Further reality set in as I realized that no one had seen a production at Horizon since then. Covid has wreaked havoc on theater companies, some of whom have resorted to streaming shows while others have held off until they felt comfortable enough again mounting live work. Horizon has been busy with some Zoom projects the last few years but has not staged any productions.
During Omicron, when some theater companies aren’t even requiring vaccinations, Horizon deserves much credit for presenting a scaled-down, socially distant production. My audience numbered about 50 people, distanced and masked, with vaccinations checked at the door, and everyone seemed to feel relaxed and secure.
Horizon’s new play may not be brilliant as its title suggests, but it’s certainly crowd-pleasing and thought-provoking. It seems — in many ways — a perfect show to stage at this time.
Horizon Theatre requires masks and proof of vaccination or negative PCR test within 48 hours.
Lois Reitzes and City Lights: Horizon’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ explores a child’s growing list of what makes life worth living
Adron McCann | WABE
February 2nd, 2022
Ice cream, water fights, staying up past your bedtime, and being allowed to watch TV – these maybe just be a few of life’s beautiful treasures when you’re a kid. Horizon Theatre’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing” explores a child’s growing list of what makes life worth living when their mother suddenly goes to the hospital for depression. Director Jeff Adler and actors O’Neil Delapenha and Megan Hayes joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the play’s unique way of sharing both joy and sadness with an interactive audience. The show opens Horizon’s 38th season and runs through Feb. 27.
“Every Brilliant Thing,” written by Duncan MacMillan and Johnny Donahoe, is a one-person performance but invites plenty of participation from its all-ages audiences, as well as flexibility in its singular stage role. “The playwright has suggested that the person who is telling the story could, and should, be of any gender, age, ethnicity, and so we have cast three actors to play the role and trade-in performance of the role,” said Adler. “So we have a variety of actors that tell the story on different nights.”
Delapenha, one of the three actors taking on the storyteller role, emphasized the range of emotions captured in the play’s narrative. “It’s very true-to-life in that sense of, one minute, you can be feeling on top of the world because you’ve just met someone new and everything feels different and fuzzy and tingling inside, but at the same time, you can be thinking about how the same feelings came up in a different scenario and how it went down a different road, and make you feel sad or question the validity of the joy you’re feeling now,” Delapenha said. “I think the playwright does a wonderful job of going in and out of highs and lows just as we do in everyday life.”
The actors regaled their interviewer in performing an excerpt from the play, a scene from when the play’s storyteller falls in love. The two actors each took on the role of storyteller, contributing their own “brilliant things” to the list of life’s little joys, like “friendly cats,” “watching someone watching your favorite film,” and “falling asleep as soon as you get on the plane, waking up when you land and feeling like a time traveler.” In the actual theater, Delapenha would, at this point, undertake the project of fist-bumping every member of the audience.
“You notice, on the list, every item of brilliant thing has its own number,” said Adler. “During the show, I hope I’m not giving too much away to say that audience participants are given some of the numbers with the thing to read out. So at times, the teller does not call out; someone in the audience calls out, ‘roller coasters,’ or whatever is the next thing on that list with the number that they have.”
Hayes shared her appreciation for the kind of compassionate conversation the play invites about issues like depression, as she comes from a family familiar with these struggles. “There’s not a lot of forums, safe forums to talk about these things,” she said. “We bottle things up and don’t speak of them, and what I love about this play so much is that it’s talked about in a very disarming and funny, at times, way, that really I’m hoping will resonate and connect me as a storyteller with the audience.”
Horizon Theatre’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing” takes place from Jan. 28 – Feb. 27, every day of the week, with multiple performances on weekend days. More information and tickets are available at http://horizontheatre.com/plays/every-brilliant-thing/.
ARTSATL STAFF·JANUARY 14, 2022
Having not staged a full-scale production in nearly two years due to Covid-19, Horizon Theatre has announced that it will launch its 38th season later this month with Every Brilliant Thing, a play about depression and resilience told in collaboration with the audience. It will be presented with a reduced-capacity, in-the-round seating configuration at the Little Five Points theater with previews beginning January 28. The run is through February 27.
Resilience is also a capacity that Horizon is exhibiting by returning to present live theater even as some companies are postponing openings due to the virus surge caused by the Omicron variant.
In September, when most other Atlanta troupes were scrambling to launch their fall seasons, Horizon co-artistic director Lisa Adler told ArtsATL, “We debated starting in the fall, but ultimately over the summer, we decided, let’s use this time to get organized so that we can come out of the pandemic in a better place than we left.” .
The pandemic is still very much with us, but, with multiple safety precautions in place, Adler says she’s comfortable with the decision to return now.
“We planned for a small show in this timeframe to open the season to make sure we could be as safe as possible as we re-open — for actors, staff and audience,” she says.
Horizon has cast three actors to alternate in Every Brilliant Thing’s single role (and serve as backups for each other) — O’Neil Delapenha, Megan Hayes and Shelby Hofer. Two stage managers (both of whom already have had Covid) also will rotate in that job. Masks will be required in the theater (except for the one performer), and audience members must provide proof of vaccination. All actors and staff are boosted, Adler says, and testing is frequent. In addition to reducing capacity, Horizon will assign seating to allow for greater distancing
“Theater is a live experience, and we are excited to be back for audiences who are longing to reconnect with live theater, especially with this funny and touching play that is all about connection, hope and resilience in the face of dark times,” Adler said. “I think we all can relate to that right now.”
Every Brilliant Thing indeed promises to be a spirit-lifter. In Duncan Macmillan’s script, a seven-year-old boy responds to his mother’s attempted suicide by starting a list of things to live for: No. 1 being ice cream; No. 2, water fights; and No. 3, staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. The list grows over the decades in the play, expanding to a million entries, and will grow even more with feedback from the Horizon audience, elicited by the three actors.
“This is not like any show I have ever seen before,” director Jeff Adler, Horizon’s co-artistic director has said. “It’s intimate and personal with the actor interacting directly with the audience before and during the play. Every night will be a different experience, with each actor and audience bringing their own stamp to the play.”
Following Every Brilliant Thing on Horizon’s schedule will be The Light, March 18-April 17; Roe, May 6-June 12; Square Blues, July 8-August 14; and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, September 30-November 6.
A Timely and Life-Affirming Story of Life’s Miracles and Finding Hope
Horizon Theatre Company will return to live performance and open its 38th season with the critically acclaimed Every Brilliant Thing, a unique, interactive show about how a child’s list of all the wonderful things in the world transforms a family’s life as the list grows over decades. This refreshing play, told in collaboration with the audience in an intimate in-the-round setting, has touched audiences around the world. Horizon’s production of this solo tour de force will feature three actors who will rotate in the role at different performances, telling the story of the list and its impact as it expands to a million items.
Horizon Theatre Company’s performances start January 28, 2022 (Press Opening February 4, 2022) and run until February 27, 2022 at Horizon in Little Five Points/Inman Park (1083 Austin Avenue N.E., Atlanta, GA 30307, at the corner of Euclid and Austin Avenues). Performances are Mon through Fri at 8pm, Thursdays at 11am, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 1 and 5pm. Tickets and information are available at www.horizontheatre.com or 404-584-7450.
1)Ice cream. 2) Water fights. 3) Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV. One fall day, a child begins a list of everything that makes life worth living when his/her mother is in the hospital recovering from “being sad”. As time passes, the list grows and becomes an epic chronicle of life’s small joys that impacts the storyteller in unexpected ways, offering light and hope in the dark corners. This funny and emotional journey charts the lengths we will go for those we love–and draws on the audience’s help to tell the story.
The story-teller will be played by three separate actors, performing on different nights of the Horizon run. Horizon favorite Megan Hayes is an actor of stage and screen (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) who is currently the co-host of Horizon’s Southbound: True Life Tales from the ATL and has been seen at Horizon in Waffle Palace Christmas, Sex with Strangers, Tree and The Santaland Diaries. O’Neil Delapenha has been working virtually with Horizon for the past year, including the The Ghosts of Little Five Points and his own spoken word and story-telling. He is a regular performer and director at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company and founder of Black Theatre Artists of Atlanta. Shelby Hofer has been onstage at Horizon frequently in earlier years, including the hilarious solo show, Bad Dates. She is very familiar with solo performance as she has recently developed and performed her own one-woman show, High Risk, Baby! about her wild and epic journey into motherhood. She is co-Founder of PushPush Arts which now manages an arts incubator facility for local artists in College Park dedicated to fostering innovation in all artistic disciplines.
“This is not like any show I have ever seen before,” says director Jeff Adler, Horizon’s Co-Artistic Director. “It’s intimate and personal with the actor interacting directly with the audience before and during the play. Every night will be a different experience with each actor and audience bringing their own stamp to the play. We have reduced the seating capacity of the theatre and included playing spaces throughout the audience to increase the intimacy while keeping COVID safe. The show is filled with humor, joy, and hope, even though it tackles the very serious topic of mental health and its legacy in a family. Audiences will leave feeling uplifted, more connected to their loved ones, and hopefully appreciative of all the small miracles that make life worth living every day.”
Every Brilliant Thing began as an adaptation of a short story by Duncan MacMillan, performed by him and others, and he worked on it for over a decade and several incarnations before it became the full-length play it is today. Actor and stand-up comedian Jonny Donahue eventually took on the role, and it was first produced in this version by Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company in June 2013 at Ludlow Fringe Festival in Great Britain. It premiered off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre in December 2014. Jonny Donahoe received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance, and both he and writer Duncan Macmillan received Lucille Lortel Award nominations. The show was so well received that it led to a television adaptation for HBO. The current script was published after two years of devising and performing around the UK and NYC for hundreds of audiences, and the play has now been produced by theatresall over the country and the world.
The design team includes Horizon resident set designers and multiple Suzi Award-winners Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, along with Horizon resident lighting designer Mary Parker. The Curley-Clay sisters have designed all of Horizon’s productions for the past 10+ years, and Mary has also lit most of those productions.
Every Brilliant Thing performances are Mondays through Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 1pm and 5pm, and Thursday matinees at 11am. Seating capacity is reduced for this production to increase intimacy and to allow for more space between audiences.
Tickets start at $30 for weekdays and $35 for weekends. ($20 anytime full-time students under 25 with a valid student ID and $3 off full price tickets for seniors). Prices are subject to change and will rise as performances fill up. Patrons are encouraged to purchase tickets early for best prices. Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more. Tickets can be purchased here: https://tickets.horizontheatre.com/events
Although aspects of mental health are approached from a positive perspective and the play is about resilience and hope, Every Brilliant Thing does address the topics of depression and suicide.
For this and all performances, Horizon is committed to being COVID safe. The theatre will follow its COVID policy and procedures, including proof of vaccines or a negative PCR COVID Test within 48 hours for all audience members, artists, and staff. In addition, the actors will be tested before every performance. Masks are required for all patrons and staff. Enhanced cleaning and sanitation throughout the theatre will be conducted after each performance. For this show, our seating capacity is reduced to allow some distancing. Seating will be assigned, and seating assignments given on arrival to the theatre. Horizon’s full COVID policy and procedures can be found at: https://www.horizontheatre.com/covid-19-policies-procedures/
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com or call the Box Office at 404.584.7450.
ACTOR AND CREATIVE TEAM BIOS:
MEGAN HAYES is thrilled to return to Horizon Theatre for Every Brilliant Thing. Hayes is an award-winning writer, storyteller, and actor. She has appeared at the Horizon in Waffle Palace Christmas, Sex with Strangers, Tree and Santaland Diaries to name a few. Her film and Television credits include The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Emmy nominated Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones, Eastbound & Down. She currently Co-Hosts Horizon’s Southbound: True Life Tales from the ATL and Beyond with Brittani Minnieweather. Megan dedicates her performance to the memory of her mom, Sarah.
O’NEIL DELAPENHA is an actor, director, and all around storyteller currently based in Atlanta. He’s originally from South Florida and received his BFA degree in acting from New World School of the Arts. Previous acting credits include : James T in Barbecue at Portland Playhouse, Candy Corn and other characters in The Ghosts of Little Five Points at Horizon Theatre Company, and Parolles in “All’s Well That Ends Well” at The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse. O’Neil believes that the best stories are the ones that shift and mold around the very people bearing witness to them. That shared experience is what truly bridges the gap between audience and performer. Which is why, after reading the script once, he knew he wanted to be a part of this show—to help create and share in those experiences/ You may also catch O’Neil onstage at The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, performing as Lord Capulet in Romeo & Juliet select night’s throughout the month of February. Follow him on Instagram at oneild14
SHELBY HOFER is an actor, writer, and Co-director at PushPush Arts, where she develops distinctive opportunities for artists to explore new ideas and collaborate across the globe. She has appeared on many stages over the last two decades locally, nationally, and internationally. In Atlanta, her stage performances include multiple productions at Horizon, including The Good Times Are Killing Me, Escape from Happiness, Almost Maine, and Bad Dates. Her performances of 101 Humiliating Stories (Lisa Kron) at PushPush garnered numerous awards including one of the Top 50 Shows of the Decade and a Best Actress award from Creative Loafing. Prior to the pandemic, she performed standup for three years while she was creating her most recent project, High Risk, Baby!, an autobiofictional comedy about a woman’s inner child clashing with her grown-up self, as she tempts fate with a journey to an in-vitro clinic in Ukraine. This show marks her 8th at Horizon, and she is thrilled to be back.
JEFF ADLER (Director) is co-founder and co-artistic/technical director of Horizon Theatre Company. He has directed more than 30 plays for Horizon including critically acclaimed and popular productions of Sex with Strangers by Laura Eason, The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarias, Superior Donuts by Tracey Letts, The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, Madame Melville by Richard Nelson, The Lonesome West by Martin McDonough, and All in the Timing and Mere Mortals by David Ives. From 1995-2010, he led the Horizon Theatre Senior Ensemble, an outreach program that trained seniors in acting and playwriting and toured plays by and about seniors. He is in this seventh year serving as the drama teacher for The New School through Horizon’s partnership with this innovative intown high school. He also directs Horizon Theatre’s technical and production staff and manages the facility. He studied at the Goodman School of Drama and holds a BA in Theatre from Roosevelt University.
ISABEL CURLEY-CLAY and MORIAH CURLEY CLAY (Resident Scenic Designers) are award-winning scenic designers whose work can be seen around Atlanta and on regional stages across the U.S. As Horizon’s resident scenic designers, they have designed all of Horizon’s productions for the past ten years.) Some favorite Horizon credits include scenic design for The Cake, Citizens Market (Suzi Award, 2018), How to Use A Knife, Avenue Q (Suzi Award 2011), Time Stands Still (Suzi Award 2013). Other select credits include The Magic Negro (Alliance Theatre); Dot (True Colors/Billie Holliday Theatre NYC); Slow Food (Theatrical Outfit); A Doll’s House Part 2 (Actor’s Express); Paradise Blue (Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre); Bright Star (Florida Studio Theatre), Two Trains Running (Triad Stage). Isabel and Moriah are the recipients of multiple Suzi Bass Awards for both scenic and costume design. They were featured in American Theatre Magazine’s “Inaugural Roll Call, 7 Theatrical People To Watch.” They are Artistic Associates at Theatrical Outfit, teach Scenography at Spelman College and are members of IATSE, United Scenic Artists 829.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes: Horizon Theatre tries to become more inclusive onstage and off
It is often true that if you don’t set an intention for something you want to happen, it won’t.
It’s also true that if you don’t put dedicated action behind the intention, it certainly won’t come to pass.
Take, for instance, Horizon Theatre Company’s desire to expand its Black audience as well as produce more plays by Black playwrights. For nearly 20 years, the theater has tried to build both constituencies, first by showcasing one play each summer designed to appeal to Black audiences, particularly Black women. In a city such as Atlanta, with a significant and engaged Black cultural class, the move made sense even if it did give the appearance of earmarking one show a season as The Black Show. While Black people attended other productions throughout a season, and non-Black audiences attended the summer show, the Black audience was underserved. Then, three or four years ago, the theater decided to add another play to its annual season schedules, again, aimed at Black or non-white audiences.
Despite the number of Black playwrights out there working, the Horizon found it often got out-bid by other local theaters for the rights to produce popular plays by Black artists. It also didn’t have as many relationships as it wanted to with young, up-and-coming playwrights of color who would trust the theater with their work as they were trying to establish themselves as writers to watch.
“We are struggling every year to find things that we want to produce, that the audience wants to see,” said Lisa Adler, co-founder and co-artistic producing director of the Horizon. “So we said, let’s see if we can put a pipeline in place to make that happen.”
The result is a new initiative called the “New Georgia Woman Project: Black Women Speak.” Organized and led by Marguerite Hannah, Horizon’s Associate Artistic producer, the project is designed to be an incubator for both established and newer playwrights. In an effort to make sure the resulting work resonates with its target audience, this summer the theater invited 170 Black women from across metro Atlanta — some Horizon patrons, some not — to participate in virtual “coffee chats.”
In 21 chats held since July, the topics have ranged from parenting to traveling to health and religion, all through the experience of going through this life as a Black woman. The program’s inaugural nine playwrights joined the chats, mostly to listen. It’s from these candid conversations that the Horizon is hopeful their company will become more diverse, and writers of color will get a better shot at having their work produced.
“We’re not a monolith and we’re tired of the larger population thinking of us as a monolith,” said Hannah.
“It’s all valid”
Hannah said the theater did a national search for the playwrights but required them to either have a strong connection to the South or live in the South.
There are four established playwrights: CandriceJones, AriDy Knox, A’ndrea J. Wilson, and Shay Youngblood. The emerging playwrights are: Tramaine Brathwaite, Amina McIntyre, Chiwuzo Ife Okwumabua, Kelundra Smith and Dana L. Stringer.
That the program is launching now is significant. Adler said the Horizon, along with other theaters across the country, have faced an onslaught of criticism since the killing of George Floyd by police forced a racial reckoning in many corners of American life. After the scathing manifesto, “We See You White American Theatre,” was conceived and released by some of theater’s most celebrated artists, directors and producers of color (and a few white allies) last summer, theaters around the country have been grappling with its mandate: do better with inclusion and diversity both onstage and off.
“We know that in the theater world, it is top of mind of every single conversation that I have,” Adler said. “There is no conversation in which that is not at least part of the subject matter of whatever meeting I’m in, and we’ve been in a lot of meetings nationally and locally.”
The national conversations struck a nerve: At least seven new plays opening on Broadway this fall are by Black writers. According to a New York Times report, in the three years prior to the pandemic, there had only been three, total.
Adler said her theater — as well as others locally — has had its share of criticism as well.
“We have not been immune,” Adler said. “It’s all valid and we try to do better.”
“Hear these stories”
The Horizon produced writer Shay Youngblood’s early work in the late 1980s, in what was the start of the artist’s long, prolific career. Youngblood has sat in on several of the coffee chats. So far about 70 of the invited women have joined at least one gathering. Youngblood said that while the conversations have been valuable to her as a Black woman, as a playwright she often works in isolation creating trajectories for imaginary Black lives that she’s hopeful resonate with real women. The chats have created a community of other playwrights like her, she said, but they’ve also given her the chance to hear the unvarnished thoughts of Black women struggling with life but also rejoicing in it.
“What has grown out of the coffee chats has been unbelievable,” Hannah said. “It has become like bridge clubs used to be in my mother’s generation. At the end of it you hear women say, ‘Wow. This was so good I don’t need to go to therapy this week. We have common bonds. We’re affirming each other, but honoring our diversity.”
In a recent conversation about travel, there were stories of trips to far flung places pre-pandemic, but one woman confessed that travel wasn’t a priority for her because of her family’s finances. But the woman has come up with an alternative.
“She and some other friends get together and go out and just for a night they’re not mommies,” Youngblood said. “It gives them a chance to be themselves.”
Another upcoming chat will be about the men in their lives. But even with such unfettered access to private thoughts, Youngblood said neither she nor any of the other writers are scripting plays directly based on what they hear or on any one person. Instead, the conversations are serving as catalysts for larger stories.
“I’m writing to and for Black women, but I’m not writing only for Black women,” Youngblood said. “I want other people to come to the theater and hear these stories and perhaps be educated.”
The established writers turn early drafts of their work in to Hannah in November and by late January or early February there will be public readings of some of the plays. The emerging writers will turn in drafts in spring. Then, some time in 2023 or perhaps even late 2022, some of those works will make it to the Horizon stage.