New Lauren Gunderson Play, The Heath, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

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Miranda Barnett. COURTESY PHOTO

Miranda Barnett. COURTESY PHOTO

A Play with Original Songs by the Author of Silent Sky, I and You,

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) will present the world premiere of The Heath by Lauren Gunderson, one of the most produced playwrights in America (Silent Sky, I and You, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley) from Feb. 13 to March 10 at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre at Liberty Hall, according to Artistic Director Sean Daniels and Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas.

 A new play with music about the playwright’s relationship with her grandfather, The Heath is directed by Artistic Director Sean Daniels(The Lion, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Little Orphan Danny). The play includes banjo, four original songs, and several traditional tunes.

In The Heath, Gunderson turns her prodigious storytelling skills on herself as she wrestles with how you make peace with a beloved relative who seems unlike you in every way. This beautiful, funny meditation on her grandfather’s life draws on everything from Shakespeare to Bluegrass in a soul-stirring story of redemption, love, madness, and the science of memory.

For the fourth year in a row, Gunderson made American Theatre Magazine’s Top 10 list of the most produced playwrights in America. For the 2017-18 season, she was in the number one spot. Her other plays include The Revolutionists, The Taming, Natural Shocks, Ada and the Memory Engine, and EMILIE: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight. The MRT production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley in December became the bestselling show in the theatre’s 40-year history.

Of The Heath, Gunderson said, “I started the script before my PawPaw died as it occurred to me that the only reference I had for his condition was the literary figure of King Lear. It’s a love letter to him, an apology, and a reckoning, as well as a chance to discover a man I thought I knew so well.

I was inspired to add banjo to the play when I remembered how much PawPaw loved Flatt and Scruggs bluegrass music. It felt like a crazy challenge to myself. The songs are simple but full of emotion and heart. The big ending song, Storm Still, was the most cathartic to write. It really allows me to say, ‘I love you, I miss you, I’m proud of you,’ to my grandfather,” she said.

The cast features Miranda Barnett as Lauren and George Judy as KD, her grandfather, and King Lear.

 A classically trained musician-turned-actor, Barnett has been studying the banjo for the past three months in anticipation of the show. A native and resident of South Carolina, her credits include The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike; Sweeney Todd;and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

George Judy is the Gresdna A. Doty Professor of Theatre at Louisiana State University, as well as the former head of the MFA Acting Program there and former Artistic Director of Swine Palace, LSU’s Equity theatre-in-residence. He has appeared in numerous Shakespeare productions, including King Lear, The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Royal National Theatre in London, and the Utah, Texas, and Kentucky Shakespeare festivals, among many other venues. [George Judy was Sean Daniels’ acting coach in college.]

 In addition to Daniels, the creative team includes Tanya Orellana, Scenic Designer (Angels in America in Mexico City, Bayou Blues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival);  Miranda Kau Giurleo, Costume Designer (The Royale and Native Gardens at MRT;  Maria Cristina Fusté,Lighting Designer (Abigail/1702 at MRT, The Conduct of Life at Boundless Theatre, NYC); and Danny Erdberg, Sound Designer (Little Orphan Danny, My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend at MRT, Significant Other Off-Broadway); and Seaghan McKay, Projection Designer (Little Orphan Danny at MRT, Sondheim on Sondheim (IRNE Award – Best Projection Design) at Lyric Stage Boston. Maegan Conroy serves as Production Stage Manager.

Circle Health serves as the 2018/19 Season Sponsor with the University of Massachusetts Lowell as Production Sponsor.

 BOX OFFICE

For tickets to The Heath by Lauren Gunderson, February 13-March 10, 2019, or subscriptions, visit mrt.org or contact the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678. Tickets start at $24 for all performances. Subscriptions for the three remaining shows – The Heath, Jack Kerouac’s The Haunted Life, and Cry It Out – start at only $73 (Previews, Zone C seating).

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