‘Common Ground’ Illuminated Boston. Now It’s Coming to the Stage.

‘Common Ground’ Illuminated Boston. Now It’s Coming to the Stage.


“Common Ground,” J. Anthony Lukas’s Pulitzer-winning masterpiece about Boston’s turbulent attempt to desegregate its schools via court-ordered busing, is inspiring a stage play.

The Huntington Theater Company in Boston plans to present the drama, called “Common Ground Revisited,” next winter, with performances starting in January. The adaptation is by Kirsten Greenidge and directed by Melia Bensussen; the two artists began collaborating on the project in 2011, when they jointly taught a class exploring the subject at Emerson College.

“It’s become a delightful beast of a project — it’s huge, and it’s taken many years to figure out how to get it right, but I love the enormity of it,” Greenidge said. “It’s also highly charged, and we want to make sure that people feel seen and heard.”

The journalistic book, published in 1985 with the full title of “Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families,” was a sensation, particularly in Boston, as it offered new insight into the controversy over school integration that had torn the city apart. The book, as its full title suggests, follows three families as their lives are affected by the city’s turmoil in the 1960s and 1970s.

The book was previously adapted for television in 1990.

Greenidge noted that audiences who see the play — primarily set in the mid-1970s, with a cast of 12 playing multiple roles — are likely to have a wide variety of relationships to the history being depicted. “We will have audience members who come and say, ‘I went to Charlestown High in ’76,’ or ‘I was bused to Southie,’ and we’ll have people who are transplants and do not know this history at all, as well as people who say, ‘I know Boston has a reputation for having deep-seated problems with race, but that’s all I know.’” Part of our task is to figure out how much an audience needs to be able to track the story and connect with what we’re doing.”

The play, originally commissioned by ArtsEmerson, is scheduled to begin performances Jan. 8 and run through Feb. 7 as part of the Huntington’s next season, which also includes Calista Flockhart starring in a revival of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” as well as productions of “What the Constitution Means to Me,” by Heidi Schreck; “Witch,” by Jen Silverman; “Teenage Dick,” by Mike Lew; “Songbird,” a musical by Michael Kimmel and Lauren Pritchard; and “Hurricane Diane,” by Madeleine George.

The Huntington is only the latest regional theater to cultivate a new work of theater about its home city. Last year, Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, R.I., had a substantial hit with “The Prince of Providence,” a new play by George Brant about that city’s onetime mayor, Vincent A. Cianci Jr., widely known as Buddy. Trinity Rep has already announced plans to revive that play next year.



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