NEW LONDON — A phone call to a young woman from her father, absent for 18 years, starts off a series of events, including a murder, in the overlapping lives of characters who call a 10-block area of East St. Louis home.
“‘Solace’ is a play that is about what we think we need and how we evolve in order to understand better what it is we actually need in the world,” explained playwright and New London resident Michael Bradford, whose Emergent Theatre Project will premiere the play at Hygienic Art Park from Aug. 31 through Sept. 4.
“People that live inside of an isolated place or the 10 square blocks of East St. Louis can start to feel as if that is the totality of their world. It almost feels like it’s the edge of the world — if you step outside of those 10 square blocks, you step off the planet and fall into the abyss. But, the only way to know life is to experience it and so it’s a play about what takes us outside of our 10 square blocks,” he said.
Solace’s father promises to take her to the Pacific Ocean — a promise that becomes impossible for him to fulfill — and tells her the ocean is not blue.
‘You think about the ocean and you think blue, but then you get there and you realize nothing about it is blue. It’s not what the imagination or what other people have told you, it’s what you experience it to be, and another person can’t even experience it the way you can,” Bradford said. “You can’t own it until you’ve actually stepped out to do it and each character in this play is finding their way to that knowledge.”
Bradford said the play had a round table reading at the Lark and he was invited back for a week-long residency and two nights of a staged reading — all before the pandemic.
“We were just starting to get it out to the theaters and then boom, the pandemic, and so I really wanted to go to the next step and I wanted to do something in New London,” he said. “I live in New London and my work is always elsewhere. I just wanted to make work where I live and to do it with the people that I love, whose work I love and respect a great deal.”
Bradford said he and Nathan Caron, who is directing “Solace,” formed the Emergent Theater Project, which is producing the play.
“If we can knock out one production a year, I would be happy as a lark,” Bradford said.
Bradford holds a Masters of Fine Arts from Brooklyn College CUNY and is professor of dramatic arts at the University of Connecticut. Among his plays are “Fathers and Sons” and “Willy’s Cut and Shine.” His work has been produced off-Broadway at the American Place Theatre, as well the Lark and the Ensemble Studio Theatre.
“Solace” performance times vary: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31; 7 p.m. Sept. 1; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2; and 8 p.m. Sept. 3 and 4.
Tickets are $12 for seniors and students and $15 for general admission, click here to purchase, or call 860-443-8001.