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kitchen brawlerThe cast of 'Brawler': Marc Pierre, Anthony Goes, Greg Maraio, and Gigi Watson. Photo by Julia Pacheco-Cole

Kitchen Theatre Company continues its 2017-2018 Season with the world premiere of Brawler by Walt McGough, a play about pro sports and what it means to be a hero, produced in collaboration with Boston Playwrights' Theatre. Performances of Brawler begin at the Kitchen Theatre Company in The Percy Browning Performance Space on April 8 and run through April 22.

Brawler centers on Adam, once the scariest man in the NHL. Now he's down in the minors and high on pills, and he just trashed the Dunkin' Donuts Center locker room. His friends need to talk him down before he gets into trouble, but he's got his own agenda and is spoiling for one last fight. Brawler is a modern-day riff on Sophocles' Ajax, seen through the lens of the last true gladiator sport.

Brawler playwright Walt McGough's love of hockey has been life-long. "I grew up a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, watching them win back-to-back Stanley Cups (the first time), and there's a constant tension between loving the sports, and the men that play them, and needing to recognize the toll that their abilities take on their bodies," says McGough.

"Sophocles and other Grecian playwrights were also generals, writing for audiences made up largely of military veterans," adds McGough. "Viewed through that lens, Ajax is very clearly not just some distant, mythical story, but actually a very real and painful discussion around post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of abandonment in soldiers after the fighting is done. At the same time, I was reading coverage around Derek Boogaard, a star Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers enforcer who died of an overdose after a very fast and public decline. The two stories meshed together for me: both Boogaard and Ajax were men at the peak of their field, sacrificing their bodies for people and causes that ultimately abandoned them when the damage was done. . .The more I thought about it, the more I couldn't shake Ajax as a frame for that discussion, and my hopes are that this play will reflect the very real paradox of loving sports in today's world."

Brawler has been developed using a novel approach to new play development. Kitchen Theatre Company Artistic Director M. Bevin O'Gara, who is directing the play, created a partnership with Boston Playwrights' Theatre that allowed the playwright to develop the play with the support of both theaters, with built-in time to revise the play after getting the response of an audience, and all with one cast and design team. The play had a rehearsal period and three-week run in Boston in March, 2018. McGough was included in the rehearsal process and made numerous revisions to the script as the cast and director worked on the play. After the Boston Playwrights' Theatre production closed, the entire creative team came to Ithaca for another rehearsal period. McGough refined the play again in response to discoveries made during the rehearsals and performances in Boston.

"This has been a dynamic, exciting process," says O'Gara, "and I am thrilled to be working on Walt's extremely timely play. Examining the inextricable link between the heroic and the brutal, and what they each cost us, feels so necessary give current headlines. We are raising questions about culpability and how we, both as individuals and as a society, enable our heroes. We are investigating the brutality of turning a blind eye."

Adam is played by Greg Maraio, Odie is played by Anthony Goes, Jerry is played by Marc Pierre, and Trisha is played by Gigi Watson, all making their Kitchen Theatre Company debuts. Scenic design is by CristinaTodesco, lighting design is by Evey Connerty-Marin, sound design is by Andrew Will, and costume design is by Penney Pinette, all Boston-based designers. The production stage manager is Jennifer Schilansky, and Brendan Komala is providing technical direction.

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