Audible Inc. will produce a return engagement of The Public Theater’s “Coal Country,” a drama based on a real-life West Virginia mining tragedy that was forced to close its original run early due to the pandemic.
The acclaimed production was written by Drama Desk winners Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen with original music written and performed by three-time Grammy Award winner Steve Earle. The show originally opened in spring of 2020, but it was forced to close as COVID upended the live event space. In September 2021, Audible recorded and released the play, with the majority of the original cast, as an Audible Original. But the revival will enable theater lovers to see the drama in the flesh.
“Coal Country” will return to the stage at the Cherry Lane Theatre, beginning previews on March 4 and opening on March 10. Opening night will mark two years to the day that the original production shut down. Audible Theater also continues to operate its home at the Minetta Lane Theatre, where Robert O’Hara’s reimagined production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is currently in previews.
Directed by Jessica Blank, “Coal Country” earned rave reviews when it premiered, with The New York Times calling it “devastating and heart-wrenching” and Time Out hailing it as “deeply affecting.”
“Coal Country” will feature Mary Bacon, Amelia Campbell, Ezra Knight, Thomas Kopache, Michael Laurence and Deirdre Madigan. Earle returns to perform his original score, with select performances by Joe Jung. The show deals with the consequences of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
“We are thrilled to be able to give ‘Coal Country’ another run and for audiences to get to see this incredible play,” said Kate Navin, artistic producer of Audible Theater. “It was heartbreaking to see this show close at the start of the pandemic. To then to have been able to share it with audiences through the audio release was incredible and to now be bringing it back to the stage, just feels right.”
“There are stories that have work to do in the world; work that’s bigger than any individual writer, director or performer. Our job as theatre makers is to hold space for that work to happen, even under the most challenging of circumstances” said creators Blank and Jensen. “’Coal Country’ is the story of 29 lives needlessly lost and those that they left behind. It’s about the power of our common humanity in the face of unimaginable grief and injustice; and, we hope, it’s about bridging seemingly insurmountable differences to help forge a more just nation.”
The show’s backers said the production should resonate at a time of great political polarization.
“We’re proud to join forces with The Public Theater to bring this vital story and stellar cast back to live audiences,” said Audible founder and executive chairman Don Katz. “Oskar Eustis was a founding member of Audible’s theater advisory board five years ago, and Audible’s deepening alliance with The Public will allow us to draw the best art from society’s most creative people and project it beyond the stage to millions of listeners around the globe.”
“This production of ‘Coal Country’ has never been more important than it is now. A country so deeply divided needs to have stories that can bond all working people, North and South, Black and white, urban and rural, together in their shared humanity,” said Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater.
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