Anyone who cares about seeing the city's theater scene grow should read Martin Brady's Scene cover story this week on Tennessee Rep's production of The Columnist, starring David Alford, Jenny Littleton and a top-line cast of Nashville thesps. Why does it matter? Brady asks and answers the question:
On April 3 last year, The Manhattan Theatre Club presented the world premiere of The Columnist — the latest work by acclaimed playwright David Auburn, whose Proof won the 2001 Tony Award for best play — at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway. A dramatized biography of Joseph Alsop, the late journalist, influential conservative pundit and closeted homosexual known for his unflinching support for the Vietnam War, the play ran for three months, with John Lithgow earning rave reviews in the lead role.
You're probably asking, why is the premiere of a play about a Washington journalist, written by a New Yorker, starring a Los Angeles-based actor and presented on the Great White Way a red-letter day for Nashville's arts community?
The Columnist's path to Broadway really began in Nashville a couple of years earlier, when Auburn participated in the Tennessee Repertory Theatre's Ingram New Works Project, funded by Rep co-founder and philanthropist Martha Ingram to help playwrights develop new works. What began in 2007 as a simple artist-in-residence grant has evolved into a vibrant theatrical incubator that since 2009 has enabled 19 playwrights-in-residence to conceive, field-test and hone their scripts under the tutelage of the program's fellows — nationally known writers like Auburn, Oscar winner John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck), Steven Dietz (Becky's New Car, Yankee Tavern) and this year's fellow, Theresa Rebeck, a gifted playwright best known for her television work, as the creator of Smash and a writer and producer on Law & Order and NYPD Blue.
It's worth reading Brady's story to see how this unusual program is making Nashville an incubator for new plays and building important relationships with noted playwrights. It's also worth seeing The Columnist, which runs through next weekend at TPAC's Johnson Theater. Brady has a full review here. Tickets run $42.50-$55; for availability and show times, visit the TPAC site.