By SHARON EBERSON
It’s the merry month of May on your calendar but it’s March Madness onstage at City Theatre. In his new play American Fast, Kareem Fahmy puts the NCAA Basketball Championships on collision course with Ramadan and star athlete Khady, who is faced with a tough choice amid the harsh glare of the media spotlight.
Khady’s choices regarding faith, family and a win-at-all-costs frenzy are played out in her relationships with her boyfriend, her coach and her mother – as well as on the court and in the court of public opinion.
Tara Touzie has a lot on her mind as star hooper Khady in American Fast
at City Theatre. (Images: Kristi Jan Hoover)
American Fast is at City Theatre through May 21 as the second production in a National New Play Network rolling world premiere. First came a production at Artists Repertory Theatre (Portland, Ore.) and, after Pittsburgh, it will be produced in Philadelphia by InterAct Theatre.
The three separate productions afford playwright Fahmy and each company the perspective of distinct interpretations and audience reactions as the play continues its development journey.
For City, it’s apropos that a new play, set amid the NCAA Finals, coincides with its own Mainstage finale and the annual Momentum Festival of new works in various stages of development.
It also marks the end of the first full season with the co-artistic director trio of Marc Masterson, Monteze Freeland and Clare Drobot working as a team.
“The theme of collaboration is something City Theatre will continue to build upon next season,” said Drobot, whose former title was director of new play development.
By “collaboration,” she was talking about what audiences will see, but it also fits what’s happening behind the scenes. This season, part of her role shifted to certain administrative duties that will alternate among the artistic directors from year to year.
“I was the lead person to liaise with the board this time, and Monteze is next,” Drobot said, adding that what ends up onstage “is a collaborative process – the three of us pick the plays together. It was the consensus of how we would do this.”
Drobot continues as a dramaturg in residence, “but not always,” she said. “We are always looking for the most wonderful, right dramaturg for every show.”
Other noteworthy collaborations are City’s partnerships from outside the doors of the South Side campus, including local theater companies (with Pittsburgh CLO, for example, the musicals An Untitled New Play by Justin TImerlake and the upcoming Somewhere Over The Border), national organizations and within the community.
“From producing relationships like this NNPN rolling world premiere to community partners we’ve worked with, such as the ACLU and Literacy Pittsburgh, to the organization’s work as part of the Pittsburgh HR/Equity Arts Cohort, our 2023-2024 season will include multiple partnerships. I truly believe that resource pooling and joint endeavors are a vital part of the future of producing theater.”
Drobot is a board member and firm believer in the National New Play Network, founded in 1998 “on the belief that the next generation of new play development should be decentralized, dynamic and collaborative in scope and practice, and that there should be a pipeline for sharing new work between regional theaters.”
City is one of more than 30 member companies in the NNPN, which boasts the “Rolling World Premiere” as the group’s flagship program.
in a program Q&A for City, Fahmy noted that the play has already seen many iterations, but he continues to make discoveries about the story he had created, with the purpose of showing Muslim characters in situations that could be anyone of faith in a close-knit family.
“The biggest surprise I encountered as I was writing was, that the story was a deeply personal one,” he said. “While I was never a competitive college athlete (let alone a female one), the more I dug into Khady, the more I realized she was going through things I did as I came to terms with the fact that I would never exactly live the life my parents wanted me to. So many first-generation immigrant children face that challenge of wanting to find their own path, and Khady’s journey too find her own personalized expression of her faith and identity is very similar to my own.”
The current production of American Fast is an example of how the organization fits in with City’s mission of developing and showcasing contemporary new plays.
“Often after a first production, the play is done. It only gets that one production,” she said. “Having three separate productions and three separate theaters empowers further discussion, and the NNPN funding support allows us to share some resources.”
In its Portland debut at Artists Repertory Theatre, American Fast was seen in a basement studio while the company’s own space was being renovated. The audience was seated in an alley configuration, with banks of seats facing each other across “the court,” or stage, in this case.
City Theatre has its own design team at work on how basketball and the glare of the media spotlight will be presented. The company has played games onstage before, simulating tennis in Anne Ziegler’s “The Last Match.”
Without giving too much away, Drobot said to expect some razzle dazzle.
“The look of the entire show, the tech team, it’s just phenomenal,” she raved. “We have a fantastic design team, with Britton Mauk, and [projection designers] Jason Thompson and Caitlyn Pietras figuring out how all that works under the direction of Jennifer Chang.”
For SoCal-based Chang, directing the offbeat and unusual is her wheelhouse, a knack that fed into writing her play The Devil Is a Lie, which last month had its world premiere via Quantum Theatre.
Chang and Fahmy knew each other previously; likewise, Chang’s friendship with Pittsburgh-based director Kyle Haden brought her to Quantum.
With the whirlwind of a new production and the Momentum Festival about to begin, and the season’s end in sight, Drobot also is looking forward to a time of reflection … after the final buzzer, of course.
We are constantly learning and accessing,” Drobot said. “I am so incredibly proud of everyone on staff and the artists at City. We talk a lot about ceiebrating victories and successes while we continue evaluating, production to production and within the broader learning process of an institution: How are we working together? How are we making art? … And then there will come the time to take a deep breath, to have a bit of a pause, and then see how we can continue to grow beyond what we learned from this season.”
’“American Fast” is at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side, through May 21. Tickets and details: https://citytheatrecompany.org/play/american-fast/ or cal 412-431-2489.
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