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Meeting: America

November 23, 2022

Nine strangers are stuck in a room together for three days. There, they’re expected to open up about some of their most personal and strongly held beliefs over granola bars and mediocre coffee. What could possibly go wrong? And will they all make it out alive?

Mike’s a middle-aged man from Michigan working through some anger issues.

Faith is a Black woman in her late 40s, and she really would prefer not to ruffle feathers, thank you very much.

Diego is a “DREAMer” in his early 20s. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

Pearl is a retired housewife and is scared of dying alone.

Rani is a former lawyer, turned nonfiction writer, who is righteous and angry at the world.

Shawn is a retired army sergeant who is now wheelchair bound. He is charming and thoughtful.

Jessica is divorced with two teenage girls. She considers herself a “woke” liberal.

Kevin is a bit of a weirdo-eccentric, but that’s all just a cover for his insecurities.

And finally, there’s Lisa. Lisa’s in charge of leading this mix-matched group through a multi-day meeting to discuss topics ranging from the economy to the environment to foreign policy to health care. She is deathly afraid of screwing up.

America in One Room, the latest work from critically-acclaimed playwright Jason Odell Williams, imagines what could happen if Americans—each with their own belief systems, values, and experiences—come together to do something seemingly simple: TALK.

“The goal was to always have politics just be in the background of the play,” explained Jason Odell Williams. “What really lies at the heart of it are the nine characters whose experiences, biases, senses of humor, and values are colliding with one another.”

And those collisions result in a lot of comedy.

“Comedy is part of the bedrock of this play,” said Kate Alexander, the show’s director. “Through laughter, we let down our barriers. Through laughter, we share and we understand each other. When we’re laughing, it’s hard to punish or judge each other. This play relies on comedy’s emotional power to help us know ourselves—and others—better.”

“I know that the play primarily asks us all to find common ground,” said Lipica Shah, who plays Rani, the opinionated and outspoken lawyer-turned-nonfiction author and new mother. “But I think it also asks (or maybe even demands) that we see each other and keep our minds open to lived experiences that may be different from ours.”

Florida Studio Theatre played a key role in the development of America In One Room, commissioning it as part of our New Play Development Program. As a member of FST’s Playwright Collective, Jason Odell Williams worked closely with FST’s artistic team over 16 months to develop the concept, write, and then workshop the play through online and in-person readings.

Finally, this season, the dramedy makes its World Premiere on FST’s Mainstage. It’s every playwright’s dream to see their new work finally make it to the stage. But Williams’ dream for America In One Room goes further.

“My corny hope for this play is that it will start conversations and make America a little less divided,” said Williams. “A little more united. And maybe even a little happier…At least until they turn on the news again.”