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October 7, 2002

Kopit's Discovery first full production of new Theater Emory season

By Deb Hammacher

The first full production of Theater Emory’s (TE) 20th season is, appropriately, Discovery of America, a work-in-progress by Tony Award-nominee Arthur Kopit that runs Oct. 9–26 in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater.

The play looks at the earliest exploration of the Americas, encouraging audiences to see what the Europeans found and how they reshaped it.

Discovery is a fitting selection for a company focused on developing new work, challenging existing models and posing questions—working in the context and best tradition of a research university. The play is directed by Vincent Murphy, TE artistic producing director, who has been integrally involved in the work’s development for more than a year.

The work was commissioned by the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Arts Festival and the Pioneer Theatre Company. Murphy directed the first reading in February 2001 at the Pioneer and most recently worked with Kopit on the play at the Ojai (Calif.) Playwrights Festival this summer.

is inspired by the experiences of Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, who traveled through the Americas from 1528–36. As the first European to cross nearly 6,000 miles of the North American continent, de Vaca was transformed by the journey he chronicled in La Relación, a written report to the king of Spain first published in 1542.

“The great thing for me about Discovery, is that it’s very rare for American writers to take on their own history, especially in an epic, big-canvas way,” Murphy said. “Here you have Arthur Kopit taking what many scholars call the first great American narrative and trying to see what we can discover about America.

“That is what’s made the play so daunting and absolutely engaging.”

Murphy is quick to credit colleague Tim McDonough, associate professor of theater studies and a principal TE member, for his part in the play’s development.

“Tim has been a crucial player,” Murphy said. “Arthur is largely writing the role of Cabeza
de Vaca for Tim’s voice; they have become interchangeable. There have been other great actors in the workshops and readings, but Arthur hears Tim’s voice.”

Some of the region’s most acclaimed actors comprise the cast of Discovery, including McDonough as de Vaca, Carolyn Cook as his Native American wife, John Ammerman as his shipmate Dorantes and Chris Kayser as Cortes. Gene Ruyle, Harold Leaver, Lawrence Salberg, Dianne Cusak-Butler and Emory students complete the cast.
The set designer is Wm. Moore, the costume designer is Marianne Martin and the lighting designer is Bart McGeehon. The music is composed and performed by Klimchak.

Kopit came to prominence in the 1960s with his play Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mother’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad, which won the Vernon Rice Award and the Outer Circle Award. He was a Tony Award nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist for his plays Indians and Wings, and wrote the book for Nine, the 1982 Tony Award-winner for best musical that is scheduled for a revival on Broadway this season with Antonio Banderas and Chita Rivera.

Theater Emory’s is the first full production of Discovery as Kopit continues to fine-tune it, and the play is being presented as part of the citywide First Glance Atlanta Festival, a collaboration of more than 30 arts organizations (

Tickets are $15 general admission; $6 for students; $12 for Emory faculty and staff. For tickets or more information, call 404-727-5050.