Olympia DukakisMIDTOWN DIRECT REP (MDR), the resident theater company at South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), is pleased to announce that Academy Award®-winner Olympia Dukakis will be joined by Midtown Direct Rep company members SEBASTIAN ARCELUS, JENNY BACON, EMILY BAUER and STEPHANIE KURTZUBA plus special guests KENDRA JAIN and DAN ZISKIE in a one-night-only staged reading of ABSENCE, a new play about memory loss. Former-actress turned director Margaret Whitton stages this new work by emerging playwright Peter M. Floyd that was honored by the Kennedy Center’s 2012 Jean Kennedy Smith Award and the 2012 Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition. The performance, part of MDR’s Theatre in the Loft series focusing on new and innovative American theatre, is Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 7 pm at SOPAC (One SOPAC Way, South Orange, NJ, 07079). Tickets, which are $15, are available at or by calling 973-313-ARTS (2787). The performance will be followed by a discussion with the playwright, the cast and creative team.

In ABSENCE, an excitingly theatrical play about aging, power, grace and imagination, Olympia Dukakis plays Helen, an iron-willed woman who suffers from memory loss. As her sense of self dissolves with her memories, she struggles to find meaning in her new existence.

The reading of ABSENCE stars Sebastian Arcelus (House of Cards), Jenny Bacon (My Name is Asher Lev), Olympia Dukakis (Academy Award®/Golden Globe for Moonstruck), Kendra Jain (New Year’s Eve), Stephanie Kurtzuba (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Dan Ziskie (Treme).

Emily Bauer reads stage directions and James Latus is the stage manager.

Olympia Dukakis, who appeared in the acclaimed 2006 film Away from Her as the spouse of an Alzheimer’s victim, has been an outspoken advocate for health and has been open about her experience as caregiver for her own mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. “When my mother realized she was losing it, she did not want to be taken anywhere” she remarked in an interview. “I had tried with nurses around the clock, but she screamed and yelled at them and accused them of stealing from her. She was a terror. But then there’s the moment when the light comes through for a brief period of time… after several years of not knowing me, my mother knew me when I walked in.”

Playwright Peter M. Floyd says the character Helen Bastion is not based upon his mother, who died from Alzheimer’s in recent years, but that the play is informed by what his family went through.

According a recent report by The Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2013, an estimated 5.2 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.

Director Margaret Whitton – a longtime actress in theater, film and television – made her feature film directing debut in 2011 with A Bird of the Air and served as co-executive producer on the HBO documentary Casting By about the process of film casting and her dear friend, the legendary casting director Marion Dougherty who suffered from dementia during the last years of her life, which ended in 2011. “When I read Peter’s play,” she said, “I immediately recognized that this was written by someone with personal experience as a caregiver. It does an amazing job capturing the point of view of this woman who knows that she is losing herself — but along with that horror it captures moments of pure, almost childlike joy.  I was immediately drawn to it.”

Midtown Direct Rep is thrilled and honored that Olympia Dukakis, an actress of unmatched stature, will join MDR company members, guest actors, and director Margaret Whitton in helping to launch this important new American play,” said MDR Artistic Producer Steven Tabakin.  “We’re indebted to Peter M. Floyd for such a beautiful piece of writing, and we are excited that our audience at SOPAC will be among the first to be exposed to this extraordinary new work.”

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