Press Releases

13.14 The Convert

September, 2013
Contact: Johnny Van Heest, Public Relations Manager
215.893.9456 ext. 102 |

The Wilma Theater opens its 2013/2014 Season with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of Danai Gurira’s The Convert
October 9 – November 10, 2013

PHILADELPHIA – The Wilma Theater is pleased to open its 2013/2014 Season with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of The Convert, written by the star of AMC’s hit television series The Walking Dead and Obie Award winning playwright Danai Gurira, directed by Michael John Garcès. The Convert examines complex cultural and religious collisions that shaped the post-colonial world, the reverberations of which are still felt throughout the world today. This production is part of an ongoing nation-wide effort instituted by The Wilma Theater to collaborate with regional theater companies to share productions and deepen relationships among theater companies across the US. The Convert begins previews on Wednesday, October 9, 2013; opens on Wednesday, October 16, 2013; and closes on Sunday, November 10, 2013.

Critics and members of the press are invited to attend Press Night on Wednesday, October 16 at 7:30pm. For ticket arrangements, contact Johnny Van Heest at or 215.893.9456 x102.

From Obie Award-winning playwright Danai Gurira (Eclipsed, In the Continuum) comes a rich, unflinching, yet compassionate story. Set in 1895 amid the colonial scramble for Southern Africa, the play follows Jekesai, a young girl who escapes a forced marriage arrangement and discovers Christianity under the guidance of an African teacher. However, as anti-colonial sentiments rise to a boiling point, Jekesai must choose between her new God and the spirits of her ancestors.

About the production, director Michael John Garcès states, “What fascinates me about The Convert is the extraordinary manner in which it turns western narratives about colonialism and exploitation inside-out – and how it turns traditional drawing room comedy inside-out at the same time!   In this play the ‘natives’ are at the center, and the drums in the night emanating from the heart of savage, destructive and ignorant darkness are European.  I also very much admire that Danai has written a play that is nuanced, critical and yet at its center deeply concerned with religious faith – Christian faith – from a perspective that is serious, passionate, and, yes, devout.”

This production is part of the continuing initiative by the Wilma to bring exemplary productions by nationally renowned regional theatre companies to Philadelphia. For the 2012/2013 Season, the Wilma presented a limited run of Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Satchmo at the Waldorf starring John Douglas Thompson, which received critical and audience acclaim. In December 2012, Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka established the first summit of artistic and managing directors from six regional theater companies to discuss national collaborative efforts by sharing productions or creating co-productions.

About Woolly Mammoth’s production at the Wilma, Woolly Mammoth Theater Company Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz remarks, “It’s a great honor to have the chance to re-unite the core elements of Woolly’s production of The Convert for The Wilma Theater. Our theaters have felt a close kinship for three decades, and I believe that Blanka’s artistic vision and integrity stand at the very top of the field. This production showcases the work of three of Woolly’s outstanding company members – Michael Garcès (Director), Misha Kachman (Set Designer), and Colin Bills (Lighting Designer) – and builds on our long relationship with playwright Danai Gurira that began with In the Continuum (2006) and Eclipsed (2009). Like many of the plays at both Woolly and the Wilma, The Convert challenges audiences with urgent moral and political questions, and asks us to expand our consciousness in relation to people across our global village.” 

Production History
The Convert received its world premiere at McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, New Jersey in 2012. Through a multi-theater collaboration, the production continued to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and Center Theatre Group, where it was originally commissioned, at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. presented The Convert in 2013 and the production will continue in Philadelphia, here at The Wilma Theater.

The Wilma’s presentation of The Convert will preserve many of the aesthetic elements of Woolly Mammoth’s production, with only slight modifications to the set to accommodate the Wilma’s stage. Actors Starla Bedford, Nancy Moricette, and Irungu Mutu, who starred in Woolly Mammoth’s production, will join cast members Zainab Jah (McCarter’s production of The Convert), Joshua Nelson, Lance Coadie Williams (most recently in the Wilma’s 2012/2013 Season production of Bootycandy), and Steven Wright for the Wilma’s production. The Wilma’s production is under the direction of Michael John Garcès, who directed the play at Woolly Mammoth.

About the Playwright
DANAI GURIRA (Playwright) was born in the US to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe. Currently, Danai can be seen as Michonne in the award-winning AMC series The Walking Dead. Prior to joining “The Walking Dead,” Gurira finished production on the independent drama “Mother of George,” the story of an African woman’s struggle after arriving in the U.S. to honor her heritage while attempting to define her new marriage in modern terms. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Oscilloscope Laboratories. “Mother of George” will premiere in New York on September 13, 2013. Danai’s full bio can be found HERE.   

About the Director
 (Director) is the Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, where he most recently directed Plumas Negras by Juliette Carrillo and Café Vida by Lisa Loomer.  Other recent credits include The Convert at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (where he is a company member) and Steven Adly Guirgis’ The Motherfucker with the Hat at South Coast Repertory Theatre.  His production of red, black and GREEN: a blues by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, which premiered at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, was recently presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and was seen in Philadelphia last year at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Special Events

A number of special, behind-the-scenes Onstage Conversations will accompany the production and provide audiences with the opportunity to engage with the artistic staff at the Wilma.

Onstage Conversation
Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stay after the performance to discuss the play with a member of the Wilma’s artistic staff.

Onstage Conversation
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stay after the performance to discuss the play with the cast.

Panel Discussion
Monday, October 28, 2013

Join us at 7pm for a riveting Panel Discussion in partnership with 900AM WURD Radio, discussing the play’s themes on religion and post-colonialism in Africa. This is a free event, and seating is limited. For tickets, call 215-546-7824 or email

Young Friends Evening
Friday, October 25, 2013

Join us for a complimentary pre-show reception for audience members age 35 and under.

Onstage Conversation
Wednesday, November 6, 2013, immediately following the matinee

Stay after the matinee performance to discuss the play with a member of the Wilma’s artistic staff in the lobby with complimentary coffee.

Tria Pre-Show Wine Tasting
Friday, November 8, 2013

Join us for a complimentary, pre-show wine tasting in our lobby from 7-8pm, sponsored by Tria.


Tickets range from $35 - $66, and are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by calling 215.546.7824, visiting, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia.  Discounted ticket options are available for students, seniors, groups, rush, or anyone in their 20s.  Information on discounts is available at

The Doubletree Hotel and The Sporting Club at The Bellevue are the Season Sponsors for The Wilma Theater’s 2013/2014 Season. 900 AM WURD is the Media Sponsor.

About the Founding Artistic Director

Blanka Zizka has been Founding Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. In the fall of 2011, Blanka received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer transforming the regional arts landscape. Blanka has directed over 60 plays and musicals at the Wilma, and she is currently working with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel and a full company of actors, theater artists, and local veterans of the war in Iraq to develop Don Juan Comes Back from Iraq (working title), which will have its World Premiere on the Wilma’s stage in spring 2014. 


The Wilma Theater creates living, adventurous art. We engage artists and audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life. We present bold, original, well-crafted productions that represent a range of voices, viewpoints, and styles.