War, a new play directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz ’06 and written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06, premiered May 21 in New York at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater. It’s a story about family battles: Siblings Tate (Chris Myers) and Joanne’s (Rachel Nicks) relationship turns combative when their mother (Charlayne Woodard) has a stroke, and an inheritance is in limbo.
As director and playwright, Blain-Cruz and Jacobs-Jenkins are creative siblings, so to speak: They have supported one another for nearly a decade.
“Branden and I met as classmates,” says Blain-Cruz, a Yale M.F.A. grad who directed War’s world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theater last year. “We’ve each seen almost everything the other has done. And this play — a huge play about family and history — felt like the right piece for us to work on together.”
At Princeton, Blain-Cruz earned an A.B. in English with certificates in theater and Spanish. She remembers meeting Jacobs-Jenkins in a class on African American theater taught by Professor Daphne Brooks. “She was a big inspiration to both of us,” Blain-Cruz says, recalling Brooks’ lessons on the themes of identity and language. “War operates on those levels, too — with an African American family at the center,” she says.
Blain-Cruz took her first acting course with Professor Davis McCallum ’97, and her senior thesis adviser was Professor Robert N. Sandberg.
“He was a big influence on me. He introduced me to writers like Suzan-Lori Parks and Ntozake Shange,” she says.
Blain-Cruz directed a senior thesis production of Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is not enuf. “It was one of the defining experiences that led me to choose a path in directing,” she says.
This year, Blain-Cruz directed Red Speedo at the New York Theatre Workshop. She says she was drawn to Lucas Hnath’s script because it explored “an American obsession with winning.” She also directed Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. at the Soho Rep. Birch’s play, says Blain-Cruz, is important because it opens up “a dialogue with feminism in an aesthetically complicated space.”
“Theater is powerful,” she says. “It's a group of people in a room — together — having, ideally, a really visceral experience.”
Blain-Cruz is currently a 2050 Fellow at the New York Theatre Workshop. In September, she will direct Salome on Governor’s Island. In October, she will direct The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World at the Signature Theatre. She is also developing a project (a “devised theatrical experiment”) at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California.
It’s “tentatively titled Intimacy,” she says. “It’s the seed of an idea. It’s around the theme of how people talk to each other — and creating experiments that require people to engage in conversation with strangers.”
For more information about War at Lincoln Center, visit lct.org.
Read more about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06 in a feature story from our Dec. 3, 2014, issue.