CHATHAM - “Grant and Twain,” a new play by Elizabeth Diggs, will open PS21’s fall season in the new black box theater Sept.27-30. The play chronicles the remarkable friendship between two powerful historical figures at a time when both were in extreme conflict. Directed by Regge Life and starring Michael Sean McGuinness as Ulysses S. Grant and Todd Gearhart as Mark Twain, the show will be held at PS21’s new state-of-the-art black box theater, located at 2980 Route 66, Chatham.
At age 62, Ulysses Grant is bankrupted in a Wall Street swindle. His only hope to restore his honor and save his family is an offer to write his memoirs of the war. News of Grant’s calamity brings his friend Mark Twain to his side. Twain makes an audacious proposal: he himself will publish Grant’s book and make it the biggest bestseller in American history. When Grant finally agrees, he is faced with a double enemy — he is diagnosed with terminal cancer and writes in a race with death, and he discovers an enemy close to home.
Diggs was inspired to write the play after reading “Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant.” She was fascinated by the friendship of the two most famous men in the country who were utterly different in temperament. Twain loved the limelight; Grant was a man of action with little interest in his own fame. Both were American originals. “The language is vigorous and unadorned, completely different from the style of the times,” Diggs said.
Diggs was also fascinated by the rise and fall of Grant’s reputation. At the time of his death, he was revered, linked to Lincoln and Washington as America’s three greatest leaders. Grant’s funeral was ten times the size of Lincoln’s. But his reputation went steadily down hill for the next century, as a result of a backlash from the Klan and other white supremacist groups against Grant’s vigorous commitment to reconstruction and civil rights for the four million freed slaves.
In addition to McGuiness and Gearhart, the “Grant and Twain” cast features Carole Monferdini (Julia Dent Grant), Kevin Craig West (Harrison Terrell), Gregory Boover (William Perkins Ingersoll), and Nicholas Haylett (Adam Badeau).
A resident of Austerlitz, Diggs is a recipient of the Los Angeles Drama-Logue Award, the CBS/FDG Prize, and grants from Guggenheim, NEA, and Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays. A runner-up and a finalist twice for the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, she wrote for the groundbreaking TV drama “St. Elsewhere.” Diggs is currently Associate Professor of Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 and Sept. 28; 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 29; and 2 p.m. Sept. 30. General admission, $35; PS21 members, $30; and students, $10. Tickets can be purchased at www.ps21chatham.org, by calling 1-800-838-3006 or at the door until the show sells out. For more information about this event or any other, visit ps21chatham.org or call 518-392-6121.