ALBANY, N.Y. — An automobile accident upsets the delicate balance in a marriage in playwright Jenny Stafford’s “Secret Hour.” The three-character play, which won theREP’s 2021 Next Act! New Play Summit, is having its world premiere at theREP’s Capital Repertory Theatre Jan. 27 through Feb. 19. Opening night is Jan. 31.
Kate Gordon is a workaholic university ethics professor. Ben, her husband of eight years, is an unemployed programmer. Their relationship is buoyed in large measure by a kind of game they’ve devised — secret hour — during which the two share the truth and only the truth. But the dynamics of their marriage are thrown severely out of whack when an automobile accident exposes a dark secret Kate has been holding deep within.
While the play is not autobiographical, “Secret Hour” is drawn from elements of Stafford’s life experiences; her reflections as a woman juggling career, family, relationships. Among other issues, the play is about “how you change as you grow,” Stafford said in a telephone interview; “what it means to be one’s authentic self.”
Kate’s journey is a journey toward authenticity, Stafford said in a subsequent email.
“I think we see her go on this journey both in her relationships in the play, but also in her work as an ethics professor, which forces her to grapple personally with the larger ideas she’s teaching,” Stafford wrote. “I’ve certainly had that experience in my own life as a professor, and it was fun to write ... similar discoveries for Kate.
All of the play’s characters are on that road, Stafford said in her email.
“ … they start off feeling like they have to hide who they are and what they want in order to maintain peace, or be loved. But they discover that it’s ok to change and become who you are – even if that is not the easiest path.”
“You can make certain decisions in life and feel that’s the way things are going to go,” Margaret E. Hall, the play’s director and theREP’s associate artistic director, said in the joint phone interview with Stafford. “But people change, evolve and those changes can lead to big discussions – do you move on together or separate?”
Stafford is a playwright, lyricist and musical book writer whose work has been seen and heard in New York and a variety of regional theaters across the country as well as in Broadway composer William Finn’s Ridiculously Talented series. She’s been an artist in residence at, among other places, the Rhinebeck (N.Y.) Writers Retreat, the Johnny Mercer Writers Grove at Goodspeed in Connecticut, and the Berkshire Playwrights Lab. She has taught at the Metropolitan Opera Guild and been a guest lecturer/artist at New York University, Baruch College, Indiana University, Santa Clara University, SUNY New Paltz and Fordham University. She also spent two summers teaching theater and songwriting at Shanti Bhavan in Bangalore, India, with Artists Striving to End Poverty.
Stafford has been working on “Secret Hour” since 2019. The play came to theREP “really solidly formed,” Hall said. Changes in the script have been fewer and “smaller than changes we’ve had to make in past New Act! Winners. It’s really one of the tightest scripts we’ve gotten through Next Act!”
Stafford has been on hand, in the room, through rehearsals. “I love working with her,” Hall said.
Hall sees her role essentially as a collaborator working with Stafford to bring her play to life. She will ask Stafford questions; offer suggestions worth pondering.
“I try not to put any overarching ‘concepts’ onto a brand-new piece,” Hall said in a subsequent email. “I want to help her make her play as strong as possible so that it is successful on theREP’s stage – and other stages moving forward!”
Several Next Act!-winning plays have gone on to productions at other regional theaters. Hall said during the interview that theREP has reached out to other theaters. “We’re hoping Jenny will get calls from them down the line.”
Meanwhile, Stafford, Hall and the cast — Marina Shay as Kate; Joshua David Robinson as her husband, Ben; and Whit K. Lee as the couple’s handyman, Leaf — are anticipating audience reaction here.
“Jenny has a wonderful sense of humor,” Hall said. “The play is serious but not heavy. I think people will have a good time and leave (the theater) thinking.”What: “Secret Hour” by Jenny Stafford. Directed by Margaret Hall
Where: Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y.
When: Jan 27-Feb. 19 (official opening: Jan. 31)
Performances: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, and Wednesday, Feb. 8
Reservations and information: 518-346-6204; capitalrep.org
Box office hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays
COVID-19 protocol: Masks are optional. Some artists may request that patrons wear masks and show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to attend their event. In these circumstances, ticket buyers will be notified on the show’s web page and sent a reminder.