Dorset Theatre Festival is bringing out the stars to open its 40th season with yet another Thresa Rebeck premiere — though the play itself is an intimate family thriller. The Broadway and Dorset playwright wrote “Downstairs” for brother and sister Tim (“Madam Secretary,” “Wings”) and Tyne Daly (“Cagney & Lacey,” Tony Award for “Gypsy”), who star in the production June 22-July 8, along with John Procaccino (“Little Men,” “Assassins”). Dorset veteran Adrienne Campbell-Holt directs.
“She wrote the play with Tim and Tyne in mind, not that their personal stories are similar to this,” explained Dina Janis, Dorset’s artistic director. “With them in mind, she knew she could delve into creating very deep, rich and complex characters.”
And that star power is already paying off.
“On the first day of single ticket sales there were floods and floods of people,” Janis said. “We’ve sold out our whole first week. That’s never happened before.”
The Dalys play brother and sister in this intriguing and unexpected family drama. Irene’s brother Teddy has moved back home and is living in her basement. Her husband Gerry is less than thrilled.
Teddy is more than a little off his game. As brother and sister struggle to understand their present and past, questions of betrayal, disappointment, and madness rise and fall. Who is saving whom — and from what? “It’s a very unique voice for Theresa,” Janis said. And Janis has read everything Rebeck as well as producing several of her works at Dorset.
“I found this play just striking in the way in which it looks at familial bonds, the family connection,” Janis said. “It’s a very human story that looks at mental illness in a family, and the way it impacts behavior.”
At first, these relationships seem perplexing.
“I also feel like it has an almost Pinter-esque style. It has a different feel,” Janis said. “There’s stuff in it about the meanness in the world and its impact on individuals.
“It could be looked at in a more universal way — in terms of the times we’re in and what’s acceptable behavior,” she said. “What is meanness, and what is mean spiritedness? And what is a pure soul who’s trying not to be sucked into that — or battered down by that? So I feel like it has a universality.”
The Dalys have been involved in the creation of the play since nearly the beginning, including early readings with Rebeck in New York.
“We spent a week in the city doing just table work with the director around the script,” Janis said. “Then Theresa did some major rewrites getting the script ready for the rehearsal process here. So there was a period of dramaturgical work done with them all in the room.”
Since coming to Vermont, the cast, director and playwright have come together on the “same page.”
“They are having the time of their lives,” Janis said. “They are finding it intriguing and fascinating and engaging on an immediate level, but as they go deeper and deeper, it’s just gotten richer and richer. The three of them are really connected.”
DORSET THEATRE FESTIVAL
Dorset Theatre Festival presents the world premiere of “Downstairs,” a drama by Theresa Rebeck, June 22-July 8 at the Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road in Dorset. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays. Tickets are 39-$52, with discounts for students; call 802-867-2223 ext. 2, or go online to http:// dorsettheatrefestival.org.