“the strangers” – From the Director

The production of the strangers that you are about to see is a World Premiere. It is the second play commissioned by the Clarence Brown Theatre for students in the Department of Theatre MFA programs. The first was Robert Caisley’s The Open Hand produced in the Lab Theatre
in 2016.

As with the previous commission, the strangers was developed over a two-year period in collaboration with the playwright, Christopher Oscar Peña, UT graduate actors, designers, staff and guest artists.

In his first meeting with the actors in 2016, Peña put forth the idea that Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town might serve as a model, as an inspiration for the new work he would fashion. And, indeed, that came to be. As he says in his introductory notes to the strangers, “…. this play can be called many things: a response to, an appropriation of, a remix, an adaptation, a counterpoint, an updating….” of Our Town.

Wilder’s Our Town offers a view of American life in a small town in New Hampshire in 1901, while Peña’s the strangers depicts life in an anywhere-everywhere-small-town in America in 2018. Although they differ in significant ways, both plays share an interest in the stories of the common man and woman, their families, their homes and their struggles in relationship.

the strangers is populated with characters, mostly young, who struggle to find their way in relationship and in a society in which they often feel unwelcome. They express diverse opinions and speak with a contemporary voice, sometimes raw and provocative, and sometimes touching and lyrical. Some of the characters are widely recognizable, others not so, but all are part of the multicultural fabric of today’s America.   

It is rare in the theatre to work on a new play; even rarer to work on a play written for us. I can confidently speak for the entire creative team when I say that we are immensely grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Chris Peña on his new play the strangers.

John Sipes