UNC alumnus’ satirical musical about gridlock in Congress makes N.Y. theater debut

Bipartisan posterIt may not be apparent to New York theater-goers who attend the Off-Off Broadway play “The Bipartisan,” but playwright Joey Rasmus wants to make one thing clear: This show bleeds Carolina blue.

Rasmus is a 2014 UNC alumnus who wrote the book and lyrics; he majored in economics and peace, war and defense with a minor in creative writing. John Haber ’70 of Dodger Theatrical Productions offered guidance to Rasmus and invited him to a Tony Awards party, where he met the musical’s composer, John Murrell. Patrick Robinson ’13 is a co-producer (and has his own show, “July House,” opening at New York’s Fringe Festival.) Nathaniel Claridad (MFA ‘14) is directing the play. Jack Utrata ’13 plays the lead, Evan Williams. Margaret Burrus ’14 is in a featured role.

The idea for the play started out as a small skit performed for Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor of English Marianne Gingher’s Gram-O-Rama class. That led to a songwriting class and an independent study with Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing Bland Simpson, who became Rasmus’ mentor on the project. Simpson saw the play through from start to finish and helped Rasmus make some connections in New York City.

Jack Utrata practices the opening number as Margaret Burrus looks on.
Jack Utrata practices the opening number as Margaret Burrus looks on.

“It was truly a life-changing experience. Bland is an incredible man and teacher,” Rasmus said. “He divided his lessons between the creative and business sides of theater. You require knowledge of both to be a successful artist.”

“The Bipartisan” follows independent Congressman Evan Williams from North Carolina’s Fourth District and his fight against partisan divisions in Washington. It plays at the Hudson Guild Theater Aug. 6-9 as part of the Thespis Theater Festival.

“Through the lens of satire, it looks at why cooperation is such a difficult thing to achieve in our federal government,” Rasmus said. “Evan finds that Washington is completely gridlocked. He continues to challenge himself and those around him when faced with adversity. I think he’s someone with whom most Chapel Hill students will identify.”

Rasmus is enthusiastic about the seeing the show make it from page to stage.

“It’s really exciting because I’ve never seen these characters except in my head,” he said. “Now I get to see someone else bring them to life.”

Rasmus said he values the in-depth study with Simpson, where they explored everything from the history of Broadway to Simpson’s own successful productions, including “Kudzu: A Southern Musical.”

Margaret Burrus and Ashley Coia rehearse their illicit love scene as Jack Utrata conspicuously spies on them.
Margaret Burrus and Ashley Coia rehearse their illicit love scene as Jack Utrata conspicuously spies on them.

“Joey Rasmus is an exceptionally creative fellow — he was a real sparkplug in our 2013 songwriting class, and I was delighted to work with him as he developed script and lyric ideas for ‘The Bipartisan,’ which has great humor and sly charm,” Simpson said. “Behind it all, though, is a young artist’s very real and deep concern about how often collaboration and common sense get short shrift in politics and governance. I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of Joey’s keen observations on American culture as time goes by — all to the good!”

Rasmus said the interdisciplinary nature of his Carolina education allowed him to bring the play to life:

“It helped me to approach issues through multiple lenses. Having that liberal arts background helped me to have various perspectives and to think critically about the production.”

For more information: Visit the Facebook page; buy tickets.

By Kim Weaver Spurr ’88, College of Arts and Sciences