THE TANK and YELLOW BICYCLE COLLECTIVE are pleased to announce the world premiere production of Joshua Crone’s THE JOURNEY in a limited engagement at The Tank (312 W 36th St, New York, NY 10018).
The story sounds familiar: boy wants to marry girl and needs father’s blessing. But in this case, the blessing requires joining the Lieberman family on a journey-the kind you take without leaving the living room. The only problem is the boy has never done drugs before-or “medicine,” according to Shanti, the family’s therapist and shaman. She and her partner head to the family’s Malibu home one Friday to serve ayahuasca in heart-shaped chocolates. Little do they know, the girl’s orthodox grandparents are about to arrive unannounced for Shabbat. And that’s the least of their problems. Generations clash and worldviews collide as an unlikely cast of characters ring in the Sabbath under the influence of a mind-bending psychedelic. There’s a pet psychologist, an up-and-coming pop singer, a rookie cop with a blushing problem, a retired Elvis impersonator and mafia money runner, and a dog named Tom Petty who’s possessed by the ghost of Tom Petty. What else could go wrong?
According to Crone, “The intimate thrust stage and interactive story combine to create an immersive experience that makes the audience feel they are part of an ayahuasca journey. They’re invited, for example, to receive the ‘medicine’ along with the characters. This is an ensemble piece in the truest sense, in that each of the 14 characters goes on a personal journey. It boasts a gifted cast spanning three generations with a wide range of cultural and artistic backgrounds, including two actors with supporting roles in recent Hollywood blockbusters The Irishman and Dark Waters. Best of all, fans of Tom Petty get to watch him be impersonated by a guy in a dog suit.”
The production stars Desirée Baxter* (opera singer and director) as Gloria Stern, Annabelle Fox* (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) as Zuzu, Marco Greco* (Law & Order, Hannibal, The Irishman) as Frankie Camanni, Jeffrey Grover* (I Feel Pretty, Dark Waters) as Saul Lieberman, Katie Housley (four-time Tony Award winner Spring Sirkin‘s Encore!) as Parker Lieberman, Ben Jaeger-Thomas (My Salvation) Burt Becker, Tim Palmer (The Listening Room, Washed in the Blood) as Officer Anderson, Sami Petrucci (VR Food) as Madison Lieberman, , Leif Riddell (Oz, Blue Bloods, All My Children) as Brad Marsh, Stephanie Roseman (4 A.M. (Open All Night), Twelve Angry Women, The “M” Word) as Judy Lieberman, Kelsey Susino (Yes, La-Di-Da) as Luna Lieberman, Jordan Theodore (TV: FBI) as Nick Landers, Jessica Van Niel (Binge, Fairytales for the Fatherless) as Shanti Marsh, and Thoeger Hansen (The Haunting Of, S#IT: An Unauthorized Musical Parody of Stephen King‘s IT) as Tom Petty. *Performing courtesy of Actors’ Equity. AEA approved showcase
The production is assistant directed by Tim Palmer, features costume consulting by Alaine Hutton, and sound design by Bryan James Hamilton. For more information and tickets visit Tickets are $20 and available at thejourneyplay.com.
Joshua Crone was interviewed by Hollywood Soapbox. Here is that interview. Joshua tales of his own journey in creating and producing this play.
What inspired you to create The Journey?
Before moving to New York in 2018 I spent four years in Southern California. Psychedelics are very much a part of life there, both as recreational drugs and therapeutic medicine. I tried a few substances in both settings, but found the therapeutic scene much more interesting. These underground communities at the intersection of psychotherapy, pharmacology and shamanism are full of colorful characters rife with contradictions, but united by openness, love and a fervent belief in the power of “medicine” to change lives for the better. Are they right? Or are they just the latest iteration of a subculture that, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit”?
It’s a tricky question, especially now that the price of a hit has risen to around three hundred. I decided the best way to ask it was to write an ensemble piece centered on a single ayahuasca ceremony performed for a single family. And because ayahuasca “journeys” blur the line between therapy and religious ritual, I decided to introduce orthodox Jewish grandparents to draw out the latent conflict. But even this decision had a personal side. At the time of writing I was attending an orthodox synagogue in Astoria, partly to explore my Jewish roots, and partly to give form to the flood of “religious” feeling the psychedelics had unleashed.
Would you call this a comedy? A family drama? A farce?
The Journey explores a lot of heavy issues, but in a lighthearted way. At bottom it’s about a family getting high together. And whatever your belief system, that’s still pretty funny. It does get dark in parts, but never becomes a cautionary tale in the sense of, say, The Anniversary Party. It leaves the audience to decide for themselves whether the family is better or worse off as a result of The Journey. I call it a psychedelic comedy, though it has elements of family drama and farce—most notably a very tall guy in a dog suit.
Was it always your intention to direct the world premiere as well?
Yes. The play recreates a non-traditional ayahuasca ceremony, and that requires firsthand knowledge. I imagine plenty of New York directors have tried ayahuasca, but the milieu and ceremony I’m writing about is fairly unique. Beyond that, there’s the larger question of whether a playwright should direct their own work. The accepted wisdom these days is they shouldn’t. That has always mystified me. When I write a play, it’s because I have a play idea, not a script idea, and I want to see it through to opening night. And besides, the history of theater is full of playwright/directors, from Brecht to Shakespeare to Sophocles—writers who honed their craft by bringing their words to life onstage.
What do you think the play says about drugs and drug culture in the United States?
This isn’t a message play, so it doesn’t really say anything about drugs or drug culture. The characters have a lot to say about both, but they seldom agree. For example, some of them object to the very use of the word “drug.” My hope is that playgoers on both sides of the drug vs. medicine debate see the other side more clearly for having participated in The Journey. Personally I think psychedelics can be very helpful when used properly, and I hope the play encourages more conservative audience members to research the benefits. Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind is a great place to start. I also hope it curbs the enthusiasm of certain members of the ayahuasca scene who are far too reckless in their devotion to “the Mother.” They run the risk of inadvertently sabotaging their own community the way Timothy Leary did LSD subculture. And that would be a shame at a time when clinical trials for psychedelics are finally getting the green light again.
How difficult is to get original work produced in New York City?
It’s as hard as renting a theater for a one-week run, rehearsing in your apartment, and losing some money. I did my first two New York productions that way at the John DeSotelle Studio, and I highly recommend John’s theater as an affordable foothold in the New York scene. Once you have a few productions and reviews under your belt, The Tank is a great next step, because they offer a split and free rehearsal space to the shows they present. Theater for the New City does this sometimes as well. Case in point, they’re presenting the world premiere of my Hiroshima play Ashes/Ashes August 6-23 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the bombing. Idealistic organizations like these are a big part of the reason why off-off-Broadway is still alive and well in New York City. Now if you’re asking how difficult it is to get someone to pull your script out of the slush pile, read it like Miss Shields in A Christmas Story, and invite you to opening night eight weeks later, I honestly can’t say. I haven’t tried that in decades. But I imagine it’s pretty difficult. If you want to go that route, try Playwrights Horizons. Judging by the quality of the work they produce, the bar is very high. But they do promise to get back to you in around six months. My advice would be to spend that time producing the play yourself and writing another one to submit when the rejection letter arrives.
When did you first fall in love with theater?
I’ve told too many interviewers the story about reading the part of Willy Loman in high school English, so here’s an alternate answer: Around the same time I also played a Roman soldier in an Easter pageant. My first love played Mary Magdalene. I had one line: “Surely this man was the son of God.” And “Mary” complimented me on my delivery. Maybe that did it.