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Company One Presents the Boston Premiere of ‘The Overwhelming’


Company One presents the Boston premiere of The Overwhelming, an exotic thriller from award-winning playwright J.T. Rogers (Madagascar, White People). Seizing the opportunity to do research for his new book, Jack Exley uproots his family and moves to Rwanda in early 1994. As Jack, his wife and his teenage son encounter foreign culture and eye opening politics, they each find their own brand of trouble. Realizing that in this place no one is exactly what they seem, his family begins to unearth unexpected truths about this tiny, troubled nation… and about themselves. The Overwhelming begins October 30 and runs through November 21.

Company One is set to produce The Overwhelming as the first show of it’s eleventh season. The show, written by playwright J.T. Rogers (Madagascar, White People) is set in Rwanda in 1994. Against this backdrop, Rogers engages the audience in an unpredictable and foreign world; one where passing moral judgment on characters – who’s right and who’s wrong – is all but impossible.

Unlike other popular depictions of bloody African regimes – Hotel Rwanda or The Last King of Scotland, for example – The Overwhelming is more of a mysterious thriller than it is an expose or documentary; the terror in the play is almost all psychological rather than physical. “This play is really a mystery,” says Shawn LaCount, Company One Artistic Director and director of The Overwhelming. “It’s a stranger-in-a-strange-land scenario where the audience is drawn in – along with the main characters – and then has to make sense of it all.”

The Overwhelming’s story is of an American professor who has ventured abroad in search of his Rwandan correspondent. The professor’s family accompanies him on this journey and they end up uncovering truths, some of which would be best left untold. The plot twists and turns, with the main characters getting a crash course in Rwanda’s political complexity and their own moral certitude. Alliances are formed, secrets are kept, and life-or-death decisions are made in the play, sometimes with results that are completely unforeseen.

The idea for The Overwhelming came to J.T. Rogers as he tried to reconcile the various perspectives of people in Rwanda at that time in history. “I kept asking myself the following,” Rogers says in the play’s postscript: “If you were there, right now, what would you do to stay alive? What kind of person would you prove to be?”

These are the questions that Company One is seeks to highlight with its production. “The show examines the rules that many Americans try to apply to any situation, anywhere in the world. Truth, power, cultural ideals and responsibility – I think this play shows how the meaning of these ideas is not always so easy to pin down,” LaCount explains.

The Overwhelming premiered in New York, played in London and, most recently, Chicago, each production receiving top reviews and sell-out crowds. Company One’s production is the premiere in Boston, where stagings of Rogers’ work are relatively rare. The show provides a fitting kick-off for the company’s 11th season, which looks at traditional stories and history from new angles. “We’re really proud to bring this show to Boston,” LaCount declares. “I think our audience will really eat it up.” Company One’s 11th season looks at traditional stories and histories from new angles. The season also features the Boston premiere of The Good Negro by Tracey Scott Wilson and world premieres of The Emancipation of Mandy and Miz Ellie by Lois Roach and Grimm by various playwrights including Lydia R. Diamond, Melinda Lopez, and Ronan Noone.

The Overwhelming is a relatively rare Boston staging for the playwright, whose work has won numerous accolades and been produced in major venues worldwide, including the Williamstown Theater Festival, New Actors Union Theatre (Moscow); Road Theatre (Los Angeles); and often at the Salt Lake Acting Company, where he is a founding member. In September 2004, he was artist-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill Center and was selected as one of ten playwrights in the United States to receive a NEA/TCG Theatre Residency. His play Madagascar received the American Theatre Critics Association’s 2004 M. Elizabeth Osborne Award and the 2005 Pinter Review Prize for Drama. It was also a finalist for the ATCA’s Steinberg New Play Award. In 2004, Rogers was awarded a playwriting fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His play White People received the L.A. Drama Critics Circle and John Barrymore Award nominations for “Best Play of the Year,” and Seeing the Elephant was nominated for the Kesserlring Prize for “Best New American Play.”

The only notable Boston showing of Rogers’ work before now was New Repertory Theatre’s 2007 production of White People in their Downstage @ New Rep season. “Rogers is clearly one of the most thoughtful, provoking, and accomplished young playwrights working today,” says LaCount. “His voice belongs here in Boston and Company One is proud to be the company that makes it heard.”

Compiled from the press release courtesy of Company One (website | profile | tag archive).

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