Ken Urban’s The Immortals

Fay Chandler Faculty Creativity Seed Grant Recipient

The Immortals, a work in progress by playwright Ken Urban, draws from the strange and troubling case of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose “immortal” cancer cells (HeLa cells) continue to be used in biological research over 65 years after her death. The idea for The Immortals stems from interviews with scientists who work in biological research labs, exploring the issues surrounding HeLa cells and the acquiring of cellular material for research purposes. These interviews and documentary material became the springboard for the fictional story of Alice, an African American professor at an elite university on the East Coast. The play does not present a biographical dramatization of Lacks’s story, but rather uses the case as a launching point for a dramatic investigation of ethics in our work lives, and how what appears to be unethical from the outside appears quite differently on the inside.

During February 2019, Urban will collaborate with director Logan Vaughn and composer and sound designer Daniel Kluger on a staged reading of the play.  Students will have a chance to observe the rehearsal process for the workshop, which will have public performances in W97-160 on February 22 and 23.

Ken Urban, Senior Lecturer in Theater at MIT, is a playwright and screenwriter based in New York. His plays include Sense of an Ending, The Correspondent, A Future Perfect, The Awake and The Happy Sad. His work has been produced Off-Broadway at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 59E59 Theatres, The Summer Play Festival at The Public and Studio 42 and regionally at the Huntington Theatre Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company and Studio Theatre. This fall, A Guide for the Homesick will be produced on London’s West End.

Urban’s work has been developed at Playwrights Horizons, Huntington Theatre Company, Theatre @ Boston Court, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Donmar Warehouse (London) and The Civilians R&D Group. His plays are published by Dramatists Play Service in the United States and by Methuen in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Urban’s awards include the Weissberger Playwriting Award, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for Playwriting, Huntington Theater Playwriting Fellowship, Headlands Artist Residency, Djerassi Artist Residency, Dramatist Guild Fellowship and MacDowell Colony Fellowships. He is a member playwright at New Dramatists in New York and an Affiliated Writer at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.

Urban has taught playwriting, screenwriting, academic writing and dramatic literature at Harvard University, Princeton University, Tufts University, Bucknell University and Rutgers University. In spring 2016, he was the McGee Visiting Professor of Playwriting at Davidson College.

More at the artist’s website: Ken Urban

Upcoming Events

The Immortals
March 15 and 16, 2019 / 8:00pm
MIT Building W97-160
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

The Washington Post: Knockout acting in Studio’s play of a marriage on the rocks

The Boston Globe: MIT Lecturer Ken Urban says ‘bah humbug!’

Logan Vaughn, Theater Director

Daniel Kluger, Composer and Music Producer

Ken Urban. Credit Kevin Thomas Garcia.
Ken Urban. Credit Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Selected Past Projects