December 26, 2018

“The Niceties” Comes to McCarter Theatre

CLASHING ON RACE: Jordan Boatman and Lisa Banes star in “The Niceties,” at McCarter Theatre January 11-February 10. For tickets, visit (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

After sparking countless conversations about race, history, and power in Boston and New York, the world-premiere production of Eleanor Burgess’ The Niceties will run at McCarter Theatre Center from January 11 through February 10.

Directed by Kimberly Senior (Disgraced on Broadway), The Niceties features Lisa Banes and Jordan Boatman as a white professor and a black student involved in a polite clash of perspectives which quickly explodes into an urgent and dangerous debate threatening to ruin both their lives.

After a workshop at the Contemporary American Theater Festival and a developmental production at Portland Stage in 2017 and early 2018 respectively, Eleanor Burgess’ play began to exhibit a cross-cultural impact with the playwright fielding calls and emails from congresspersons, religions leaders, educators, and nonprofit organizations across the country. Now, McCarter audiences can join in the conversation.

McCarter Artistic Director Emily Mann said of the production, “I am thrilled to bring Eleanor’s rigorous, thought-provoking play to McCarter. There are no easy answers to the questions the play raises: What is the full history of America? Who gets to tell that story? In her writing, Eleanor takes great care to complicate ideas and assumptions while giving real weight to both sides of a thorny — and extraordinarily relevant — argument.”

The Yale-educated Burgess used a 2015 incident at her alma mater as inspiration for the play. That fall, a campus email cautioning students against insensitive Halloween costumes generated a response from a professor who defended the holiday as a time of transgression. The debate sparked weeks of protests and months of scorching discussion. Burgess, who had graduated several years before, says the wildfire of on-campus and online uproar about the incident, and the inability of people on both sides to talk rationally about it, left her to contemplate why things got so out-of-hand.

“I was obsessed with why interactions were going so badly between smart and well-intentioned people,” she said. “It made me evaluate, as an undergraduate history major and former high school history teacher, what I was taught, what I believed, and what I taught to others.”

Eleanor Burgess’s work has been produced at Manhattan Theatre Club,
McCarter Theatre Club,
McCarter Theatre Center, Huntington Theatre Company, the Alliance Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, the Contemporary American Theatre Festival, Portland Stage Company, and Centenary Stage, and developed with The New Group, New York Theatre Workshop, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Salt Lake Acting Company, the Lark Play Development Center, and the Kennedy Center/NNPN MFA Playwrights Workshop.

Special events being held in conjunction with the play include a Dialogue on Drama, Sunday, January 20, which is a post-show interview with Director Kimberly Senior and Playwright Eleanor Burgess; and post-show discussions Wednesday, January 23 and Sunday, January 27.

For further information, visit