The Globe and the Cosmos series is going out with a slam dunk.

Triad Stage presents “Common Enemy” June 7-28. Preston Lane, artistic director at Triad Stage and a head of the directors’ program at UNCG Theatre, has taken an Ibsen classic and created very modern tale set squarely in North Carolina.

Basketball on tobacco road. Whistle-blowing both on the court and off. Multi-media. Scandal. Reputations in the balance. Core university values in the balance, as well.

It’s looking to be the most innovative, timely and provocative production the theater has staged.

“First of all I want to go on the record that I love both college basketball and free speech,” Lane says. As for what spurred the play, which he wrote and is directing, he says that Triad Stage Board Chair Alan Tutterow said he wished he’d update Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” to present-day Greensboro. And other things spurred him. “It might have started when Peter Alexander, dean of the (UNCG) School of Music, Theatre and Dance, and I talked about producing Bertolt Brecht’sA Life of Galileo” as part of UNCG’s “Globe and Cosmos” year-long conversation about Shakespeare and Galileo. Or perhaps it started when current Board Chair Kathy Manning asked why there are so few plays set in the contemporary South.”

This one is as contemporary and as political as it gets. “My ideal political theater doesn’t tell us what to think; it asks us to examine why we think what we think we think.”

The Triad Stage summer production is a collaboration with UNCG Theatre. Of the 15 actors in the cast, eight are UNCG MFA candidates in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s. Two others are UNCG alumni. Many behind the scenes are UNCG professors or alumni.

Michael Tourek, who portrays Star Robbins, is entering his second year in the UNCG Theatre MFA program.

“The first Triad Stage show I ever saw was “Brother Wolf.” As it ended, he turned to his wife, Sara Geffert, and said, “I will work at this theatre.” His first show was another Preston Lane / Laurelyn Dossett collaboration, “Beautiful Star.” The cast included former UNCG Music master’s student Rhiannon Giddens. People still stop him on the sidewalk and say, “You were that guy in Beautiful Star!”

His wife completed the UNCG Dance master’s program – which had drawn them to Greensboro. He continued his relationship with Triad Stage and got his bachelor’s at UNCG. He’d already been acting for 20 years. Inspired by the many theatre professionals involved in Triad Stage and other companies and also at UNCG Theatre – such as Denise Gabriel, Jim Wren, Christine Morris – he entered the UNCG MFA in Acting program. “They’ve pushed me even further – to own by craft.” As a result, he’s never felt so confident as an actor, he explains.

He and his family have put down roots in Greensboro – that is, when he’s not flying out to do TV or film.

His role on the ABC series “Resurrection” expanded over the last two years. His acting credits – and his Equity card – are proof of his professional chops.

Ben Baker, another Equity actor who’s a UNCG MFA student, plays a professor who has tough decisions to make and advice to give.

“Everyone’s a hypocrite. Everyone lives in ambiguity – whether they know if or not,” Baker says in explaining the “thought-provoking” play. The creative process for the actors has been very open, he says.

He earned his Equity card 16 years ago in a Sir Peter Hall Shakespeare repertory at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre. He’d gotten his Acting BFA at New York City, but wanted a “full, broad theater education.” He saw that with specialists like John Gully, Jim Wren, Chris Morris, Jim Fisher and Denise Gabriel on the faculty at UNCG Theatre, the university was the right place at the right time in his career. He heads into his final year at UNCG, and he plans to be an actor in a large city after that.

He lauds the collaboration between Triad Stage and the UNCG Theatre. It’s rare for a theater and a university to have such strong relationship, he explains. It’s remarkable that all of his classmates are in the same production, alongside professionals from New York City and beyond. “All eight of us – it’s a tremendous thing.”

Tourek also praises the collaboration with UNCG and the opportunity the professional productions give to all of the students. “You’re expected to be a professional.” Some of them already are, with Equity cards in hand. The rest are on their way.

To see more information and to purchase tickets, visit triadstage.org/series/168/common-enemy.

By Mike Harris, UNCG
Photography by Martin Kane, UNCG