Playwright-director Richard Maxwell has long tested the limits of language and empathy, and probed the role of new digital technologies in shaping our everyday lives. Sometimes — most aptly — Maxwell takes his audiences to literal frontiers, weaving stories of cowboys, beasts, and vast, unfamiliar landscapes in his characteristically spare, poetic language. Such is the case with Samara (April 4–May 7, 502 West 53rd Street, sohorep.org), Maxwell’s upcoming world premiere, commissioned by Soho Rep and running this season at A.R.T./New York’s shiny new Hell’s Kitchen theater. Set at a remote wilderness outpost, the play depicts a messenger desperate to collect on a debt from a man he doesn’t even know; as with many of Maxwell’s works, it’s existentially serious and wryly funny.
With Samara, though, Maxwell’s collaborators are half the draw. The playwright often directs his own work, but here, Soho Rep’s stellar artistic director, Sarah Benson, takes the reins. (Benson’s history of unforgettable shows includes Sarah Kane’s Blasted, from 2008, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon, from 2014.) Then there’s the multigenerational cast, ranging in age from 14 to 92. Steve Earle, a towering figure in the country-folk scene, makes his off-Broadway acting debut in Samara, and also contributes an original score. Downtown favorites like Becca Blackwell (recently seen in their solo piece They, Themself, and Schmerm) and Paul Lazar, of Big Dance Theater, complete the ensemble. For a journey into unknown terrain, you couldn’t ask for better guides. — Miriam Felton-Dansky