Lauren Yee’s new play, “The Song of Summer,” is a story of found family, romance and music copyright law sprinkled with bright pop music — and it’s coming to Minneapolis, a place she considers one of her artistic homes.
The play, a nod to the perennial catchy earworm of sunny months, will be the playwright’s first production at Mixed Blood Theatre. To the theater’s artistic director, Jack Reuler, it’s a big deal.
“She’s got a wicked sense of humor, she’s completely sarcastic, her plays are beautifully crafted. They tell compelling stories about interesting things, and a cultural collision of people, which is what Mixed Blood is all about,” Reuler said.
Yee, born and raised in San Francisco, is well-recognized in the theater world. She is one of this year’s Doris Duke artists, an award that grants recipients up to $275,000. The magazine American Theatre listed her as the second-most produced playwright of the season.
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“I loved the idea of being able to get right in fiction what I couldn’t get right in real life,” Yee said.
Today, she lives in New York, but is no stranger to the Twin Cities arts scene. Yee’s professional career as a playwright began in Minneapolis, and over about a year-and-a-half stretch, four of her plays will have been staged for Twin Cities theaters.
“One thing I love about making theater in communities like Minneapolis is that there’s a deep conversation about what kind of stories we like to tell and who we want to see onstage,” Yee said.
The play’s director, Addie Gorlin, calls Yee’s writing “bombastic” and “larger than life,” so she’s encouraged actors to turn up the energy onstage to match that style.
“Landing the tone of this play is definitely something that we wanted to keep our eye on,” Gorlin said.
Gorlin said the play is about success: what it is, who has access to it, and what it means to be successful.
The story follows Robbie, played by Dustin Bronson, a pop star sensation who releases the hit song of the summer. However, the lyrics ends up causing Robbie some trouble, and he flees back to his hometown of Potsville, Pa., to escape the backlash.
There, he reconnects with faces from his past. He also rekindles an unrequited romance with his childhood best friend, played by Elyse Ahmad.
Yee said she was originally inspired by the controversy over copyright law violations in the realm of pop music. But the themes of the story eventually broadened.
Previous plays written by Yee have focused on biological families, but “The Song of Summer” also features chosen family members.
“This is a play that … really grapples with who do you choose to be your family, who’s your biological, but also logical, family members?” Yee said.
“The Song of Summer” opens Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre.