“Triangle” — Hopeful New Musical Inspired By Tragedy

Have you ever been in a very old building and had a feeling that you could somehow sense the stories that happened in those rooms years ago? Theatre director Meredith McDonough has that feeling often — particularly in old, historic theatres like the Lucie Stern in Palo Alto, California.trianglehomecallout

I wonder if some of the students who today work and study in the labs at NYU’s Brown Building on Washington Square in New York, the building where the  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred, sometimes sense the spirits of those tragic workers or the horrific events of March 25, 1911. That musing is one of the kernels of the idea behind the new musical Triangle, about to have its world premiere run at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre under the gifted direction of Meredith McDonough.  (Music by Curtis Moore, lyrics by Thomas Mizer, book by Thomas Mizer, Curtis Moore & Joshua Scher.)

The first scene of the musical takes place on March 25, 2011, the 100th Anniversary commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history. It killed 146 people, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women locked in their workroom on the 9th floor, who died by fire or by jumping to their deaths to avoid the flames. Although the show is not about the fire itself, that infamous event is its reference point and the musical takes place largely in that building on Washington Square. Without saying too much — because it’s best to see it yourself and let the stories unfold in front of you — the musical superimposes two love stories from two different eras and intertwines an intriguing mystery and some fascinating history. The two love stories “begin to weave together across the century as long buried secrets are uncovered and ghosts of the past begin to influence the future.”

 

The building in 1911 and 2011; USA Today.

The building in 1911 and 2011; USA Today.

 

Just this week, one of the writers of the show, Tom Mizer, received an email from a great-granddaughter of one of the originally unidentified victims of the fire.  After a delightful phone conversation with her myself, and with both letter writers’ permission, I am quoting parts of this fascinating correspondence:

Dear Mr. Mizer:
My name is Mary Ann L. Hacker.  I am the Great Granddaughter of Maria Giuseppa Tortorelli Lauletta (and her sister Isabella Tortorelli) who died in the Triangle Factory Fire 104 years ago.  . . .  I would love to see your musical about the fire.  I myself have been costuming theaters for 10 years, have temporarily retired for now from our own local Fountain Hills Community Theater. My daughter was a theater major in college and has a BFA. We would really like to see your show, especially since I have heard from some naysayers at the Triangle Fire Association.  They are not sure how you can make a tragedy into a musical.  I’ve told them that there are many possibilities and they should be open minded. . . .
Here is part of Tom’s response:

Dear Mary Ann,

What an honor and a privilege to hear from you. In fact, one of the characters in our show is a great-grandchild of someone who was at the Triangle.I’m sitting here as I type on a rehearsal break and, as I watch our talented cast bring the script to life, I can tell you that our intention is to honor and respect the victims of the fire… and the way we all must face the chaos of the unknown, those tragedies that sweep into all our lives and force us to see what matters most. Our show tells a fictional story (and actually takes place in both 1911 and 2011) but is rooted in research. Hopefully, people will not only be moved by the stories of love and hope we are presenting but will also reflect that any list of names in a history book doesn’t do justice to the lives lost.  …

Needless to say, Tom has arranged for tickets for Ms. Hacker and her family and she will be coming from Arizona to see the show.

Brian (Ross Lekites) catches a glimpse of the past as Chaya (Sharon Rietkerk) and Sarah (Megan McGinnis) work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory pre-production photo by Kevin Berne

Brian (Ross Lekites) catches a glimpse of the past as Chaya (Sharon Rietkerk) and Sarah (Megan McGinnis) work in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
pre-production photo by Kevin Berne

In addition to the wonderfully layered stories, one of the strengths of this show is the hauntingly beautiful music.  I recently had the immense pleasure of watching  a run-through rehearsal of this world premiere production of Triangle.   Several times during the rehearsal the offstage actors would peer around flats or look up from studying their scripts to watch intently one or another member of the cast sing one of the simply gorgeous solos that are part of this work.

I’ve only seen a small scale model of the TheatreWorks’ set, but the scenic design by Daniel Zimmerman is ambitious and brilliantly conceived and should work to add a ghostlike feel to the scenes set a century ago. Add other production values, the power of thoughtful costumes by Cathleen Edwards (including some quick changes I can’t imagine how they will manage) and there will be magic on Opening Night. In fact, it was pretty close to audience ready ten days before opening if you ask me.

As usual, a fully produced new work premiere opens TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s annual subscription season and ushers in the time of its nationally-recognized New Works Festival.  This year’s 8-play season starts with Triangle and is one of my all time favorite seasons (see the 2015/16 season here).  The new works lined up for the August New Works Festival are an exciting, eclectic mix of plays and musicals, with a wide scope in both the diversity of subject matter, and the maturity and experience of the theatre artists. It will be a wonderful Festival!  Check out the NWF details here.

The world premiere of Triangle at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley runs July 8 – August 2.  Click here for tickets and full schedule.

 

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