The Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts will present its second Mainstage Theatre show of the season, “Balm in Gilead,” by Lanford Wilson, Nov. 12-15 and 17-19 in Squires Studio Theatre.

In an all-night café on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a makeshift community of runaways and dreamers comes together to talk, drink, brawl, and find their place in the world. Pulitzer Prize winner Wilson’s groundbreaking play weaves together the lives of New York’s overlooked citizens to create an explosive story of loss, joy, anger, and belonging.

“Balm in Gilead,” written in 1965, includes a cast of 25 ensemble members who inhabit the entirety of the stage, both inside and outside the café. The large-ensemble focus of the show initially drew the play’s director, interdisciplinary artist Al Evangelista, to the work.  

“I have been fortunate to work with an incredibly dedicated cast of 25 ensemble members,” Evangelista said. “The energy in the rehearsal room is palpable every night. The details in this script demand the actors respond to multiple cues. They might have to make a joke to the person next to them one second and then yell at the person across the stage the next. Luckily for me, these students are not only achieving that, but also finding discoveries about these characters that bring humanity and shed light on communities we often forget.”

Wilson is credited with being one of the first playwrights to include meaningful and central LGBTQ+ characters in his plays, which is visible in the diverse cast of “Balm in Gilead.” His obituary in “The Telegraph” described the focus of his writing: “Spiritual and physical decay, often explored through the eyes of prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and tramps, were themes that ran through Wilson’s gently lyrical works.” 

Evangelista, who is undertaking a post-M.F.A. fellowship at the School of Performing Arts, will be making his Virginia Tech Mainstage directorial debut with “Balm in Gilead.” 

“The characters of this play live in one of the busiest cities in the world, New York City,” said Evangelista. “They are doing what everyone else is trying to do — survive. Yet, with all the people surrounding them, none turn to their aid in their darkest moments. In today’s political climate, how do we think about social responsibility?”  

Performances of “Balm in Gilead” are Nov. 12-15 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 17 at 2 p.m., and Nov. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. in Squires Studio Theatre, located in the Squires Student Center at 290 College Avenue on the Virginia Tech campus.

The show contains adult situations, including drug and sexual content, as well as some language that may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Tickets are $12 general and $10 for seniors and students and may be purchased online. Tickets may also be purchased at the Squires Student Centers and Activities Ticket Office on the first floor of the Squires Student Center or by calling 540-231-5615. Tickets as available will be sold at the Squires ticket office beginning one hour prior to the performance.

The 2019-20 School of Performing Arts Mainstage Theatre series will present “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe on Feb. 18-25, and the musical “Pippin,” music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, April 23-26. Tickets for all performances are now on sale. 

Written by Taylor Wood, a graduate student in arts leadership in the School of Performing Arts