Camden & Lilly March 29-April 1

World premiere play is sixth collaboration for Carter W. Lewis and Andrea Urice

Junior Peter Winfrey and freshman Kiki Milner as the titular characters in Camden & Lilly, a world premiere play by Carter W. Lewis, play-wright-in-residence. Photo by David Kilper/WUSTL Photo Services. Download hires image.

“The truth is puddles of predictability. This is going to have music and dancing and people dying, and it’s going to be amazing.”

So observes Lilly, a 14-year-old novelist whose latest story may or may not be based on her own recently deceased mother. But the line could well serve as a statement-of-purpose for Camden & Lilly, the new play by Carter W. Lewis, which will receive its world premiere later this month at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It’s a departure for me,” says Lewis, playwright-in-residence in WUSTL’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Science. “I usually take on some kind of serious subject that I’m confused about or angry about or need to explore personally.

“This is more lyrical, more fantasy-oriented,” he says. “I’m kind of sticking my neck out and experimenting with things, trying to create character through elements like music and dance and narration. It’s been a little exhilarating and a little frightening.”

Camden & Lilly

Set in a small, unnamed Midwestern town, Camden & Lilly begins sometime after the strange and unaccountable death of Lilly’s mother, Aurelia, one of the nation’s few female orchestra conductors.

“Lilly blames the mayor because he cut off funding to the orchestra,” Lewis says. “The orchestra dissolved and Aurelia essentially dissolved with it.”

As the story opens, Lilly and her older brother, Camden, are crouching in the bushes outside the mayor’s house, exchanging sibling banter and peering occasionally through a pair of opera glasses. The scene captures both Lilly’s obsessiveness and her close relationship with Camden, who is now acting as her guardian. Yet Camden’s attentions are, by necessity, increasingly turned to the world of adult responsibility — and to his girlfriend, Layla, a corporate lawyer.

“As a playwright, Carter has many fortés,” says director Andrea Urice, senior lecturer in the PAD. “Characters are richly crafted, dialogue is great, relationships are meaty and complex.

“All those things remain true of Camden & Lilly,” Urice says, “but this play also speaks to intangible and intuitive feelings and passions. It isn’t necessarily structured with the same kind of psychological linearity. A may lead to B, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to C.

“That’s fun to sort out,” Urice says, “but it requires a different way of thinking.”

Camden & Lilly marks the sixth collaboration between Lewis and Urice, who previously worked together on the premieres of American Storm (2002), Kid Peculiar at the Coral Court Motel (2004) and civil disobedience (2007), all for the PAD; and of Ordinary Nation (2006) and Evie’s Waltz (2008) for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

In building the world of Camden & Lilly, Urice and the design team developed a cool, semi-abstracted set that partitions the stage into three distinct layers. Downstage becomes the family home; the middle section handles a variety of locations, from mayor’s office to Aurelia’s grave. But the third, furthermost layer belongs to Aurelia herself, who observes and occasionally comments on the action below.

“The other characters sort of sense her presence,” Lewis says. “She’ll move and they’ll seem to react; she’ll say something and they’ll seem to hear it.”

“I don’t think of it as haunting,” he hastens to add. Aurelia’s “ghost” is psychological rather than spiritual; an expression of her memory as it lives on in those who loved her. “In Lilly’s mind, Aurelia is ever-present.”

Or, as Lilly herself dryly asks, “Is my mother truly dead, or is she merely butting-in from a further distance?”

Cast and crew

The cast of five is led by freshman Kiki Milner as Lilly and junior Peter Winfrey as Camden.

Also featured are sophomore Sarah Palay as Aurelia and senior Marissa Barnathan as Layla. Rounding out the cast is Max Rissman as the Mayor.

Set design is by Robert Morgan, senior lecturer in drama. Costumes are by Bonnie Kruger, professor of the practice in drama. Lighting and sound are by Sean Savoie, production manager and lecturer in the PAD, and guest designer Matthew Koch, respectively.

Choreography is by David Marchant, professor of the practice in the PAD’s Dance Program. Sarah Wagener is dramaturg. Emily Frei is prop master.

Tickets and showtimes

Performances of Camden & Lilly begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 29, 30 and 31, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1.

Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets. The A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

For more information, call (314) 935-6543.