At the Royal Ginkgo Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, college student Alice Holmes waits to be reunited with her mysterious birth mother. Alice never told her adoptive mother in New Hampshire, Madeleine, that she was leaving her summer internship for this life-changing journey. Madeleine, of course, arrives determined to bring her baby home (a second time). The hotel is also the venue for an international botany conference on invasive species—which is being protested by the eco-radical group Pangaea Liberation Front. Botanist organizer Edgar Nunby is trying desperately to salvage the event from political disaster. Soon Alice is suspected by the hotel’s security chief of being a mole, the Pakistani-British concierge is making money on the side dealing pot, and the whole situation threatens to spiral into chaos. Otherland is a serious farce about roots, adoption, and how we must create our belonging. The play was commissioned and developed by Gingold Theatrical Group.
Fear of Art (2016)
These are six one-act plays and monologues that I began separately before realizing they were related in theme, if not in character or plot. As I put them in logical order and started editing (or in some cases, finishing) them, I found deeper connections among the various worlds. I started getting excited by the scope: whipping from Ancient Greece to the dystopian future; slapstick comedy giving way to hints of existential terror; totalitarian regimes leading to PC college anarchy; and a long arc from Aristotle getting kicked in the nuts to America’s first female president embroiled in a sex scandal. In iambic pentameter.
American Atheist (work-in-progress)
This collaboration with composer Stefan Weisman, soprano Lauren Flanigan and director Kevin Newbury is being developed by American Opera Projects. This chamber opera for three singers and string quintet recounts the life and death of Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919–1995), at one time the world’s most famous atheist. O’Hair won a Supreme Court case against prayer in schools, then went on to found the advocacy group American Atheists. Twenty-two years later, she, her son, and adopted granddaughter were abducted from their home in Austin. They were murdered and dismembered, their remains buried outside of San Antonio. The opera uses elements from a Requiem Mass to illuminate major events in O’Hair’s life. It is an irreverent yet ecstatic exploration of faith and freedom in modern America.
Blind Injustice (World Premiere 2019, Cincinnati Opera)
This opera/music-theater piece is based on Mark Godsey’s book Blind Injustice, as well as casework by the Ohio Innocence Project. Every year, people are freed from prison when new DNA evidence or testimony exonerates them. Some spent decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit. How can this happen? How does the spirit survive? And how can a system that is meant to protect us and punish the guilty allow such nightmarish miscarriages to happen? Based on four actual cases, this hard-hitting and fast-moving performance piece mixes documentary and fiction to illustrate the ways in which human error can lead to heartbreaking tragedy. With dramaturgy and stage direction by Robin Guarino.
Three Way (2017)
Sex and the City meets Black Mirror: This trio of one-act operas with music by Robert Paterson imagines the present and future of sex and love. Three Way unfolds in three playful one-acts, with average heroes exploring the worlds of android lovers, BDSM and multiple partners in their search for the ever-elusive emotional connections in today’s romantic world. The Nashville and NYC premieres were directed by Nashville Opera’s John Hoomes, with music direction by Dean Williamson. The three acts are: The Companion, Safe Word and Masquerade. The opera's world premiere was co-produced by American Opera Projects and Nashville Opera.
The Scarlet Ibis (2015)
Music by Stefan Weisman. Based on the 1960 story by James Hurst, The Scarlet Ibis is an opera in thirteen scenes about brotherhood, empathy and the wonder and mystery of nature. It’s set in rural North Carolina, a century ago. When he was born, Doodle wasn’t expected to live. But he does. The family looks after Doodle as best they can. Doodle may not be able to walk, but he loves to read and is very chatty. Brother lugs him around in a red wagon that Father builds. One summer, when Doodle is five and Brother eleven, Brother decides that enough is enough: He will teach Doodle how to walk. After much painful struggle, Doodle finds that he can stand and walk. One summer day, a red tropical bird—a scarlet ibis—appears in the “bleeding tree” by the house, and nothing is the same. World premiere at HERE in the PROTOTYPE festival.
An opera in one act with music by Stefan Weisman. A wealthy middle-aged couple arrives in the living room of their summer country house, located in a secluded spot in the mountains. It is their first day there and the sun is setting over a lake. There’s a Housekeeper there, with whom the husband flirts as he drains drink after drink. The wife complains about the wastefulness of the mansion. The husband complains about the poor cell phone reception. Suddenly, there is a blackout. The only light is the faint final glimmer on the horizon. Will the power come back? Fade was commissioned by the U.K.’s Second Movement and had its world premiere at Hoxton Hall, London.
SONG CYCLES & LYRICS
In Real Life (2016)
Forty million Americans have joined dating site hoping to find true love in digital space. In Real Life is a song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble that explores the humor and heartbreak of this modern ritual. Five women fill out their dating-site profiles, opening a window into their worlds. The first song is “A Regular Woman,” in which a lady outlines the exact sort of man she’s looking for with comical specificity, perfect for today’s on-demand culture. “Late Bloomer” is a sweet and wistful portrait of a woman who learns in her 40s that her romantic tastes have changed radically. Next, in “Anastasia,” we hear from a Russian looking for a husband—with all the broken English that entails. With “Collateral,” the mood turns dark, as a war widow contemplates returning to the dating pool. Finally, “Rewind” is a nostalgic anthem by a 35-year-old whose divorce has made her feel like an awkward teen again. Can she learn something from her younger self?
Invitation to a Die-In (2017)
Sung story for baritone and orchestra, music by Nkeiru Okoye and text by David Cote. It was written in direct musical response to recent murders of unarmed Black men at the hands of police officers or vigilantes. It is part work for baritone and orchestra, that is simultaneously both monodrama and performance art. An African-American baritone tells the story from the perspective of the deceased, their families, police officers, and citizens on all sides of the issue. Musically, it is a dramatic, stark portrait of African-American men being hunted and haunted by the past. The work was commissioned by Ng Tian Hui and the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra In memory of Trayvon Martin.
Did You Hear? and Snow Day (2015)
I wrote the text for these two choral pieces commissioned for youth groups and composed by Robert Paterson. Did You Hear? is about how gossip spreads through the student body. Snow Day is a week in the collective unconscious of schoolkids longing for a day off from the academic grind. Both pieces were performed by Musica Sacra, conducted by Kent Tritle and released on Eternal Reflections (American Modern Recordings).
Violence, communion, destruction, sleep, rebirth. Is it about the Chicxulub impactor which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, or a love affair gone horribly wrong? Composer Joshua Schmidt (Adding Machine) sets my spare, poetic text for soprano and orchestra.