Produced by Perisphere in March 2024, The Niceties, by Eleanor Burgess, concerns Zoe, a Black student at an elite liberal arts college, and Janine, her renowned history professor, who is White. The two meet in Janine’s office to discuss Zoe’s paper about slavery’s effect on the American Revolution. What begins as a polite clash in perspectives explodes into an urgent debate about race, history, and power.

The play was originally developed at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in 2017. Peter Marks of the Washington Post called it “one of the best plays I’ve seen about who gets to tell the story of America, and how.” When The Niceties had its world premiere at Huntington Theatre Company, the Boston Globe wrote “Burgess generates a verbal whirlwind with a words-per-minute velocity that rivals Aaron Sorkin.”

Playwright Eleanor Burgess

In addition to The Niceties, Eleanor Burgess’s plays include Wife of a Salesman,  Start Down,  Chill,  Sparks Fly Upward, and  Galilee, 34.  Her work has been produced at theaters across the United States, including Manhattan Theatre Club, South Coast Rep, Geffen Playhouse, McCarter Theatre Center, Huntington Theatre Company, Writers Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Merrimack Rep, the Alliance Theatre and the Contemporary American Theatre Festival. Eleanor has been a member of the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group at Primary Stages, Page 73’s writers’ group Interstate 73, The Civilians’ R&D Group, and New York Theatre Workshop’s 2050 Fellowship. She has also written for film and television, including work on Perry Mason for HBO,  WeCrashed for Apple TV+, and Interview With The Vampire for AMC, and screenplays for Bad Robot, Amblin, and Anonymous Content. Originally from Massachusetts, she studied history at Yale College and Dramatic Writing at NYU/Tisch.

Perisphere’s production of The Niceties was directed by its artistic and executive director, Kevin O’Connell. Kevin took the helm at Perisphere in 2019 and has produced its last four plays. He was the founding artistic director of Barabbas Theatre Company, which produced highly acclaimed plays in the Capital Fringe Festival. These included H5x7, O’Connell’s faithful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V; the world premiere of Alexandra Petri’s Never Never; and the D.C. area premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s, Exit, Pursued by a Bear. He holds a M.A. in dramaturgy from the Catholic University of America and an M.A. in history from the State University of New York at Albany. The Niceties was O’Connell’s final production as the head of Perisphere Theater.

Hannah Taylor

Sue Struve

The role of Zoe was played by Hannah Taylor. Hannah is a Washington DC-based actress, and The Niceties was her professional stage debut! She previously portrayed Gretchen in Freaky Friday The Musical (The Little Theater of Alexandria), Hildegard von Bingen in Rejoicing in Broken Pieces (Catholic University of America), and Juror 8 in 12 Angry Jurors, (CUA). 

Sue Struve playedJanine. Sue had previously appeared as Margrethe Bohr in Perisphere’s production of Copenhagen. Previous roles include multiple characters in Hard Times (Washington Stage Guild); Ruth Steiner in Collected Stories (Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions), Mother in The Wedding Dress (Spooky Action Theater), Queen Margaret in Richard III, Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Mrs. Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (Annapolis Shakespeare Company); and multiple roles in Enron (4615 Theatre). Sue understudied the role of Ginnie in Admissions at Studio Theatre and played 17 characters in Eleanor Roosevelt: Her Secret Journey at Compass Rose Theater.

The Niceties played March 8 – 23 at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre

The Niceties was presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.