The City of Conversation

by Anthony Giardina
directed by Doug Hughes
originally produced at Lincoln Center Theater, New York, NY.
April 10, 2014 through June 22, 2014

About the Premiere Production:

(Photo of playwright Anthony Giardina.)

Opening in 1979 and spanning three decades, The City of Conversation by Anthony Giardina is set in our nation’s capital at the Georgetown home of politically connected hostess Hester Ferris. A staunch Democrat and éminence grise, Hester finds that her passionate beliefs in American and liberal ideals are tested when the country’s political mood shifts to the right and the election of Ronald Reagan ushers in a resurgent Republican era. Giardina has taken his play’s title from Henry James, who wrote: “Washington talks about herself, and about nothing else … it is about herself as the City of Conversation precisely that she incessantly converses.” A century later, James’ observation remains timely as Giardina exposes the human cost of single-minded focus on political values and policies further intensified by partisanship.

Artistic Statement

The City of Conversation marks a return to playwriting for Anthony Giardina who had a promising career in the theater in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He stopped writing plays and became a well-regarded novelist whose books have been regularly published over the years. Giardina typically sets his stories within working-class New England milieus but when he decided to write about a Georgetown hostess and the political issues that shape her life over a 30-year period, he felt that he wanted to create his work for the stage. His central character is a devoted Democrat who must decide which is more important: campaigning for and promoting her liberal ideals or maintaining her relationships with her son and grandson.
The play sheds light on an important segment of Washington society, people who do not hold office but nonetheless wield power by influencing congressional votes and decisions. Hester Ferris invites elected officials and policymakers to her dinner parties—soirées where the art of conversation and persuasion are prized above all else—trying to affect change by championing liberal causes. In the tradition of American playwriting that juxtaposes the social with the personal, The City of Conversation traces Hester’s actions that ultimately force her to choose between her ideals and her family.
-Producing Artistic Director, André Bishop

Grant Statement

We originally budgeted for a four-week rehearsal period. A grant from the Edgerton Foundation is allowing us to schedule an additional week that will entail the participation of all key artistic collaborators.
-Producing Artistic Director, André Bishop
Additional Funders:
In addition to the Edgerton Foundation, funding committed to date for The City of Conversation has been provided by portions of multi-year grants from three sources: The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Director: Doug Hughes
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber

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