Protect the Beautiful Place

A conversation with playwright Nathan Alan Davis

Nathan Alan Davis is a playwright and educator. He has worked on multiple projects at McCarter Theatre Center, including commissions for the 2017 Princeton and Slavery Plays, and the 2016 STEAM Project with the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools.

Next for Davis is the 2018 LAB presentation of his newest work, Protect the Beautiful Place. This still-in development play is part of a trilogy being developed by both McCarter and The Public Theater in New York, as part of unique cross-institutional development project between the two venerated theatres.

We recently sat down with Nathan Alan Davis to gain insight into the story and motivations behind Protect the Beautiful Place, which will have two public presentations on February 2 and 3 in McCarter’s Berlind Theatre Performance Studio.

The Refuge Plays are three plays that span about 80 years. The first is called Protect the Beautiful Place, which takes place in the present day. The second is called Walking Man, and takes place in the 70s. The third is called Early’s Place, and takes place in the 1950s. The overall story is about a black family with a somewhat mystical outlook living in a house they built for themselves in rural southern Illinois.

The “refuge” part of the title is about the need to create a space for yourself, someplace safe for you and your children that is what you want it to be. Questions arise when you deal with a society that doesn’t support that particular dream.

I think part of some of what maybe inspired the play was from a situation in my own life. A few years ago I moved to New York with my wife and three daughters. We were living in this one bedroom apartment, and living in close quarters can definitely set you to thinking about “what do I tell my kids, and what do I not tell them?” “How do I help them navigate their lives in a world which is so chaotic and so unfriendly and can be so violent?” These are questions that most parents and teachers face, in terms of “what do we teach our children?”

There’s this ideal world in our minds, the way we think it “should” exist, and then there’s the reality of the world as it is. The tension between those two things are definitely a big part of my own life. Though the plays in this trilogy are about more than just that one particular concept, it was definitely a starting point from where they came from. The characters eventually took a life of their own as a started to write them, and the plays have spiraled out in all sorts of surprising directions.

At this point, I have these three plays, and The Public and McCarter have stepped in to support their development.  Honestly, It’s crazy to have this sort of support from not one but two amazing institutions. Being such a big project, there’s a lot of questions I have about them. “What is the ideal format for these? Do you present them in one evening over a four or five hour stretch, or do you perform them in rep, or as part of a season?”

These are really huge production questions, and there’s also a ton of dramaturgical aspects I’m working through with teams at both theaters. To have this opportunity to explore these plays both here at McCarter and at The Public is invaluable to me. To hone these plays and have intense conversations with some of the best folks in the business has me incredibly excited and I can’t wait to discover what happens with these works as we continue working together.

For tickets and more information about Protect the Beautiful Place, visit our LAB page.

Nathan Alan Davis’ plays include Nat Turner in Jerusalem (New York Theatre Workshop, 2016), Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea (NNPN Rolling World Premiere; Steinberg/ATCA New Play Citation, 2015) and The Wind and the Breeze (New Harmony Project residency; premiering at Cygnet Theatre, 2018). Nathan is a Lecturer in Theatre at Princeton University, a Usual Suspect at NYTW and a 2016 graduate of Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program. He received his MFA from Indiana University and his BFA from the University of Illinois.