Henley Street Theatre brings Omnium Gatherum to Gottwald Playhouse Thursday
It goes without saying that the affects of the September 11 attacks continue to haunt the United States thirteen years later. Subjects that were once commonplace beforehand have now become taboo. Getting through the airport requires people to arrive hours in advance, lest they should miss their flight. The world is a different place than it used to be. But is it possible to move ahead, to address the issues we face in the twenty-first century amidst constant pop culture and political paranoia without fear of hope?
Omnium Gatherum, a production opening this Thursday, September 11 at The Gottwald Playhouse, attempts to wrestle with post-9/11 society while providing its audience with a heavy dose of absurdity and humor.
The play is being put on by the Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare. Shirley Kagan, the director of Omnium Gatherum, said the production is four months in the making.
“It got started back in May,” Kagan said. “When our artistic director, Jan Powell, first came up with the idea of the Historical Reading Series.”
Omnium Gatherum is the first play in conjunction with the Historical Reading Series, which will feature plays based on Lincoln’s assasination to the theatre fire in Richmond. The production takes place at a dinner party in Manhatten shortly after 9/11. The hostess of said party invites oven seven people she finds intriguing, and these seven individuals showcase a wide variety on personailities and interests. Although the interests and topics vary from Star Trek to Eastern Medition, Kagan said that the characters themselves help keep everything grounded without losing their audience.
“They range from a Middle East Scholar to a Tom Clancy type to other notables and luminaries,” said Kagan.
While Omnium Gatherum has its boughts with conflict and misunderstanding, the play is generally a humorous and smart one.
“It’s hard for us to keep a straight face,” Kagan said in reference to rehersals. “The characters are so intelligent and firing 120 percent of their brain power.”
There are still those, however, who might have trouble mixing humor with something as dark and tragic as 9/11. But Kagan said that some of the strongest humor comes from the darkest times.
“It’s true that one of the ways people deal with really terrifying and terrible situations is through laughter,” Kagan said. “You have a lot of battles between [the characters], but they’re all done with incredible wit and charm.”
Omnium Gatherum, written by Theresa Rebbeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilarios, made its off-Broadway debut in 2003 and was a finalist for the Pultizer Prize in 2004. Given the eleven year gap, Kagan had her doubts in terms of its relevancy.
“I thought, ‘Well, the show will be dated by now,” Kagan said. “’I'm not sure I want to get into it.’”
But it only took a read-through by Powell to to convince her to go through with the production. “I was floored by how relevant it still is,” Kagan said. “Here we are still having debates about the fate of the Middle East and conflict within our civilization, what globalization actually looks like.”
Following each performance, there will be a talk-back discussion. The panelist will feature Kagan, Monica Siebert, who is a professor of English at the University of Richmond, and Amenga Marie. Marie is a sixteen year-old Muslim American, and while she may not remember 9/11, Kagans believes her experience in living in the aftermath of September 11 is an essential part of the discussion.
“A lot of the play deals with Islam and mainstream America post 9/11,” Kagan said. “So I think she’ll bring an interesting perspective. We wanted to include her to see how the generations that came up post 9/11 are dealing with this event.”
While the play is part of the Historical Reading Series, Kagan said that it is by no means meant to be an evening full of analysis or study of context.
“It’s going to be an incredibly entertaining evening,” said Kagan. “ One of the things we’re trying to do is entertain as well as provocative.”
Omnium Gatherum opens at The Gottwald Playhouse this Thursday September 11 at 7pm. This is one-night only performance. Tickets are fifteen dollars each. You may purchase tickets here.
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