Returning to professional theater after a 30-years hiatus, Merle Good’s latest play – on the interactions between a female psychiatrist, two male pastors, and an estranged daughter – will be produced, directed and staged by veteran artists in the New York City theater scene.
She was pivotal in the production of Smoke on the Mountain, a musical centering on a rural Baptist Church in North Carolina in the WWII era (performed more than 500 times in New York in the 1990s). She was also producer of Freud’s Last Session, a drama about an imagined meeting between Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis, which had a two-year run off-Broadway into 2012; it then moved to venues in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Sydney, Australia. Copeland and her employees have racked up countless other successful theater productions over the last 30 years.
“I love working on new plays,” Copeland told the Eastern Mennonite University news service. “I don’t want to do revivals – they don’t interest me. I want to see fresh creations, like The Preacher and the Shrink, be brought to their full potential.”
Upon Copeland’s recommendation, the director will be long-time theater artist Steven Yuhasz, with whom she collaborated on the comedy Flamingo Court, which ran for two summer seasons off Broadway. Yuhasz, who brings directing, producing and acting experience (plus an MFA in directing, set and costume design), will be adding this directing stint to his regular workload as executive director of the non-profit Shakespeare on the Sound in Norwalk, Conn.
The Goods, Copeland, Yuhasz, and a handful of other creative collaborators heard Merle’s script performed by talented professional actors in a “table reading” in April in NYC, which stoked everyone’s sense of enthusiasm for the play’s potential, said Yuhasz.
Post-reading, Good felt inspired to re-draft parts of his play, on which he had been working intermittently since 2006. Among other revisions, he cut about 12 pages from it to yield a faster-paced production.
“The play has a great story to tell,” said Yuhasz. “There are universal themes in it. It’s a story about relationships and how people evolve into a new place with them. I believe everyone [in the audience] will walk away with something different from it.”
Yuhasz said a director has to “get into the head of the playwright,” which he feels he is able to do with Good. In his playwriting, “Merle has a way of bringing out people’s hearts and souls, and the real world that they live in,” said Yuhasz.
On Good’s part, he is looking forward to watching Yuhasz do the casting in September. “He’ll assemble a superb, highly professional cast,” Good said.
Good stresses that The Preacher and the Shrink is not a “Mennonite play” or a “church play” or a “Christian play,” as they are often defined. “It is a play written for the general theater-going public,” he said. “It is not an allegory or a parable. It is first and foremost a straightforward story, with all of its complexities. It looks at the estrangement between a father, who happens to be a mainline Protestant pastor, and his daughter.”
When Good was living in NYC in the early 1970s, pursuing an MDiv at Union Theological Seminary, he began to ponder the way psychiatrists were taking the place of pastoral religious leaders as “listeners” for people feeling troubled. This insight is explored in his new play, he noted.
After three years of graduate study in New York, Good (a ’69 grad of EMU) and his wife Phyllis (class of ’70) returned to their home turf in Lancaster, Pa., where they ran a summer theater for a decade, among other business pursuits. Good, who was the lead in the first official play produced at EMU, Murder in the Cathedral, oversaw 400 productions of 10 plays he wrote during this period, always on themes pertaining the Mennonites and Amish.
He also assisted in writing the script for Hazel’s People, a feature-length film about modern-living Mennonites made in the 1970s. It was based on his only published novel Happy as the Grass Was Green (1971).
In subsequent decades Good immersed himself in succeeding at the business of book publishing. This he has accomplished, in partnership with Phyllis. The flagship of their cluster of family businesses, Good Books, has about 200 books on the market currently. In recent years daughter Kate Good ’99 came aboard as assistant publisher. She’s an English major (like both parents) who earned an MFA in creative writing at George Mason University.
The Preacher and the Shrink will be performed Nov. 2 through Jan. 4 in an intimately warm venue chosen by Copeland. It’s The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, a complex of five small off-Broadway theaters at 410 West 42nd Street near Times Square in Manhattan.
Good said members of his church, East Chestnut Street Mennonite in Lancaster, have already chartered a 56-seat bus to take hometown folks to see the play, and the bus seats are almost all taken.
“I wanted to give persons and groups in Phyllis’s and my circle of acquaintances first chance at tickets,” said Good. “So I’m trying to get the word out in August before the play is marketed to the wider public, beginning Sept. 1.”
Those who are hoping to bring a group may want to plan early and reserve early. “There will be only ten Saturday matinee dates during the run,” said Copeland. “So if you have a specific weekend in mind to bring your group, it’s best to reserve early. The Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year seasons will most likely sell out first.”
The seven weekly performances of The Preacher and the Shrink will be Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are available through Telecharge.com, 800-447-7400 (for group sales, call 800-432-7780). Groups also can be booked through Your Broadway Genius Groups at 877-943-2929.