Press Releases

17.18 Passage

March 2018

The Wilma Theater continues its 2017/18 Season with the World Premiere of Christopher Chen’s Passage

Directed by Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and developed with the Wilma HotHouse Company of actors.

PHILADELPHIA – Obie Award-winning playwright Christopher Chen brings the World Premiere of Passage to The Wilma Theater in collaboration with Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and the Wilma HotHouse Company of actors. Praised by The New Yorker for his ability to find “ingenious ways to pull the rug out from under the audience’s feet,” Chen’s new play uses the theater’s primal evocative powers to examine the most essential questions of our time. Passage begins on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018, and opens on Wednesday, April 25th, 2018. A fact sheet about the production’s cast, production team, and performance dates is included at the end of this release. For critics and members of the press interested in attending Press Night on Wednesday, April 25th at 7:30pm, contact Alison Ehrenreich at or 215.893.9456 x102.
Passage is described as a fantasia inspired by E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, a 1924 novel set during the British crown rule in India which addresses racial tensions and resentment between Indians and the British who ruled them. Forster’s characters attempt and fail to form friendships despite the inherent inequality between the colonizer and colonized. Chen’s play explores the same topics in an abstracted environment, setting the play in the imaginary and nonspecific Country X, which is ruled by Country Y. The characters are named for letters of the alphabet (B, D, G, etc.). The play encourages diverse casting of up to twelve actors, and is written so that any role can be played by any actor.

When HotHouse Company member Justin Jain (who starred in Chen’s world premiere of Caught in 2014 at InterAct Theatre Company) brought the script to director Blanka Zizka, it was obvious this play was a perfect fit for the Wilma. “Christopher’s experimental approach – to strip the story of history, nationality, and identity – displaces the discussion of power and race from the customary and engages with these issues in a new way,” describes Zizka. “Christopher encourages multi-racial casting but leaves the decisions about the race and gender of characters open. I find that thrilling. In forming the HotHouse, it was important to me that the composition of the company reflected the multicultural makeup of Philadelphia. But we were having trouble finding new plays written for such a diverse assortment of actors. Passage feels as if it were specifically written for the HotHouse Company.”

Prior to rehearsals, Chen and Zizka worked with the HotHouse Company on Passage in November of 2017 to further develop the script in a weeklong workshop. “Their process is deliberate, rigorous, and astonishing,” says Chen on his experience in the workshop. “The experience was so inspiring I felt my entire perspective on theater changing, and I began to reassess what kind of an artist I wanted to be.”

The Company members of Passage include Krista Apple (Adapt!, The Hard Problem), Ross Beschler (Blood Wedding, Adapt!), Taysha Marie Canales (Passing Strange, Blood Wedding), Keith Conallen (Adapt!, When the Rain Stops Falling), Sarah Gliko (Blood Wedding, Adapt!), Justin Jain (Blood Wedding, An Octoroon), Jaylene Clark Owens (Blood Wedding, An Octoroon), and Lindsay Smiling (Passing Strange, Blood Wedding).

The Honorary Producers for Passage are Dr. Peter H. Arger, in honor of Donald Stanley Wilf and Mari and Peter Shaw. Support for Passage is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Playwright
Christopher Chen’s plays examine the hidden patterns beneath complex systems: socio-political systems, psychological systems, systems of power. He combines naturalism with the absurd within maximalist kaleidoscopic structures. Selected plays include Caught, The Hundred Flowers Project, Into The Numbers, The Late Wedding, You Mean To Do Me Harm and Passage. A Bay Area native, Chris is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from S.F. State.
Chen is an Obie award-winning playwright whose full-length works have been produced and developed across the United States and abroad, at companies such as the American Conservatory Theater, Arcola Theatre (London), Asian American Theater Company, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Beijing Fringe, Berkeley Rep/Ground Floor, Central Works, Crowded Fire, Cutting Ball Theater, Edinburgh Fringe, Fluid Motion, hotINK Festival, Impact Theatre, InterAct Theatre, Just Theatre, Lark Play Development Center, Magic Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, San Francisco Playhouse, Silk Road Rising, Sundance Theatre Lab, Theatre Mu, U.C. Berkeley/Zellerbach Playhouse and The Vineyard.

Honors include: the 2017 Obie Award for Playwriting; the 2017 Lanford Wilson Award; the 2015-2016 Sundance Institute/Time Warner Foundation Fellowship for theater; the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, through which he was the 2013-2014 playwright-in-residence at The Vineyard Theatre in New York; the Barrymore Award; PHINDIE Critics Award; the Glickman Award; the Rella Lossy Playwriting Award; shortlist for the James Tait Black Award; nomination for the Steinberg Award; 2nd Place in the Belarus Free Theater International Competition of Modern Dramaturgy; a MAP Fund Grant; a Ford Foundation Emerging Writer of Color Grant; finalist for the PONY and Jerome Fellowships. Current commissions include American Conservatory Theater, Aurora Theatre, LCT3, Manhattan Theatre Club, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Playwrights Horizons. Publications include American Theatre Magazine, Dramatists Play Service, Theatre Bay Area and Theater Magazine (Yale).

About the Director
Blanka Zizka has been Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. In 2011, Blanka refocused the Wilma’s energy on developing practices and programs for local theater artists to create working conditions that support creativity through continuity and experimentation and two seasons ago she founded the Wilma HotHouse Company. At the Wilma, she has directed over 70 plays and musicals. Most recently, Blanka directed her play Adapt!, Andrew Bovell’s When The Rain Stops Falling, Tom Stoppard’s U.S. premiere of The Hard Problem, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Hamlet, Paula Vogel’s world premiere Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq, Richard Bean’s Under the Whaleback, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Our Class, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room…, and Macbeth, which included an original score by Czech composer and percussionist Pavel Fajt. Her other favorite productions are Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love and Rock ’n’ Roll, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (which featured an original score by composer Toby Twining, now available from Cantaloupe Records), Brecht’s The Life of Galileo, Athol Fugard’s Coming Home and My Children! My Africa!, and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9. She collaborated closely with Dael Orlandersmith on her plays Raw Boys and Yellowman, the latter of which was co-produced by McCarter Theatre and the Wilma and performed at ACT, Long Wharf, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Blanka was honored to be selected into the 2017 Class of the Innovators Walk of Fame by the University Science Center, which spotlights local innovators. She is a recipient of the 2016 Vilcek Prize, which is awarded annually to immigrants who have made lasting contributions to American society through their extraordinary achievements in biomedical research and the arts and humanities. She received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation in 2011, which recognizes individuals who are transforming the national arts landscape with their unique and creative work in the American regional theatre; and she was a Fellow at the 2015 Sundance Institute/LUMA Foundation Theatre Directors Retreat.

Design Team:
The artistic team includes Set Designer Matt Saunders (Adapt!, Constellations), Lighting Designer Maria Shaplin, Costume Designer Vasilija Zivanic (Passing Strange, When the Rain Stops Falling), Sound Designer Christopher Colucci (When the Rain Stops Falling), and Dramaturg Walter Bilderback. The production’s resident stage manager is Patreshettarlini Adams, and its production manager is Clayton Tejada.

Wilma at Aurora and Special Events:
Extending beyond our stage, our new lobby café, renamed Wilma at Aurora, is a space for patrons to explore our productions and engage with the Philadelphia theater community. Run by Good Karma Cafe, this café is open to community and audience members alike throughout the week. The Wilma’s goal is to create an intimate and casual setting for our patrons to gather for a quick bite or drink and conversation.

Cafe Chats
Wednesday, April 18 - May 13, Post-Show
After every performance, join us for an informal discussion about the production with Wilma artists and staff. Discuss the show with a drink from Good Karma Cafe.

Beer Night
Friday, April 20, 7:00pm
Grab a FREE beer before the show with our pre-show beer tasting. Featuring local craft breweries, Beer Nights are a part of the first Friday performance of every production.

Directors Gathering Dialogue
Tuesday, April 24, Post-Show
In this audience-led post-show discussion, a member of the Directors Gathering sits down with the director of the Wilma’s current production to explore the artistic process. Directors Gathering Dialogues are a part of the first Tuesday performance of every production.

Post-Show Artistic Chats
Thursday, April 26 and May 3, Post-Show
Go behind-the-scenes of the production with the Wilma’s artistic team. The discussions include dramaturgical information about the production and special guests.

Young Friends Night
Friday, May 4, 7:00pm
Join our Young Friends Committee before and after the performance as they serve up the best of Philly bites and drinks. Learn more about The Wilma Theater Young Friends on Facebook @WilmaYF.

Open Captioned Performance
Saturday, May 12, 2:00pm

Tickets: Three years ago, the Wilma launched WynTix, a new ticket initiative designed to remove the barrier of cost through the generous support of the Wyncote Foundation. For Passage, the first week of performances is $25 for general admission, and $10 for students and theater industry members with valid ID. For the subsequent three weeks, general admission tickets are $30 and student/industry tickets are $10. Tickets are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by visiting, calling 215.546.7824, or by coming to the theater.

Mission: 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.