PANGAEA (2016) / Abingdon Theatre Company / by Erik Champney

I met Stephen Collins by chance during the winter of 2014. He was in New York from London, I was in New York from Louisiana (my move to the city would at last come a year and a half later). A lawyer by trade and a burgeoning theatre critic on the side, Stephen’s love affair with the stage is a bottomless inferno of rapture and diagnosis.

It didn’t take long for Stephen to ask for one of my plays. I chose Dead Brains to break him in. Truly the most relentless, shameless, and diabolical piece in my collection, and I’m not sure why I gave it to him. The odd thing is he loved it. His assessment was full of intellectual explosions, entangled with the deciphering of allegories and admissions of formidable emotions provoked by my characters’ actions. He made the damn thing sound like a masterpiece! So I gave him another play.

Stephen would develop great affection for Pangaea, the most intimate play I’ve written so far. He decided he should claim responsibility for my work in the UK and started keeping an eye out for directors he thought would be a good match. Eventually, he narrowed it down to rising star Jake Daniel Smith, who was then a Resident Director at the Almeida Theatre.

A couple years had passed since Stephen began his hunt. I had been in New York more than a year when I was told Stephen and Jake were coming to town for a week, and Jake’s primary purpose was to oversee a reading of Pangaea. So, now I’m blushing because that made me feel really pretty.

The true excitement was from the opportunity to revisit the play. I didn’t know what would come of the reading, but at least the words would be active again for a couple hours. It also gave me the chance to start building a legacy. Pangaea received a beautiful Premiere Production at Centenary College of Louisiana in 2010 but had remained dormant since. This reading was a new beginning.

Jake and I emailed and Skyped in the days leading up to his visit, which came in November of 2016. For our cast, I assembled Marrick Smith, Elizabeth Inghram, Misha Osherovich, and Max Meyers. Jake brought in Connie Wookey. I’d been dying to put Marrick into one of my plays since I first saw him at the York some months before. He was part of the staged reading for Erik Ransom’s More Than All the World. He simply shined on that stage, including the moments when he was only observing the other actors. There were galaxies swimming behind his eyes. He was perfect for the lead in Pangaea, I couldn’t stand it.

Marrick’s involvement was the icing on the cake of a cast that was special across the board. We were fortunate they all said yes and, in communicating with them, it was clear this wasn’t going to be just another reading. The actors seemed to catch a piece of themselves within the play and were holding on tight. They wanted into that world.

My producer for Sparkler, Jim Kierstead, is on the board of the Abingdon Theatre in Midtown and was wonderful enough to volunteer one of their stages to us. I loved that. A reading on a stage. Not in some nameless rehearsal room, but in the theatre itself. The energy in that changes things. Makes them more vital. Immediate. The event of the stage.

One cold November morning, Jim welcomed all of us as we gathered at the Abingdon. The actors instantly connected on sight and fell into sharp focus when Jake took control of the room. His approach was gentle but so definite. The actors were mesmerized by him. They were putty in his hands. He talked them through some preparatory exercises, leading them with delicate certainty to the door of the play. And he pushed them through.

It was one of those readings that happen only once in a while. Everyone was in sync. Everyone understood what they were saying. Everyone listened. They made theatre at that table and it sizzled. Pangaea was at the start of a long road to resurrection, and I knew Jake had to direct it.

But the play would need more time and work before it would be ready for a new life. Developing a new play is maddening, but it would be worth the wait.

More on that later.

Director Jake Daniel Smith (L) with Misha Osherovich, Erik Champney, and Marrick Smith, following a stirring reading of  Pangaea  at Abingdon Theatre Company, New York, NY. This act of preservation was thought of last minute, after some cast members had left, which explains the text overlaying the image.

Director Jake Daniel Smith (L) with Misha Osherovich, Erik Champney, and Marrick Smith, following a stirring reading of Pangaea at Abingdon Theatre Company, New York, NY. This act of preservation was thought of last minute, after some cast members had left, which explains the text overlaying the image.