Gainesville has a chance to stop and smell the flowers this weekend when Catherine Yu’s new play “The Day is Long to End” premieres.
The sweet, supple smell of fresh flowers will saturate the air and color will transform the Black Box Theatre in the Nadine M. McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion into a florist shop in 1934 Vienna today through Sunday. It is the first time this show will be performed for the public.
“The play takes place in a flower shop with a group of florists who are being challenged by their notions of beauty and their values for staying in a country that is in deep political unrest,” said Yu.
A few years ago, Yu, 31, said she heard of a special flower shop. It was a classical shop resistant to any changes of the modern world, a home for a collection of florists in love with their craft, a sanctuary for people dedicated to the art form of flower arrangements: Blumenkraft.
Intrigued, she said she saved up enough money to fly to Vienna and study the shop for a week. Yu hung around on the sidelines of the shop and observed.
Then she said she returned to New York City and wrote.
Yu was already a budding playwright with two degrees from Stanford University and New York University, respectively, and two award-winning plays under her belt. In 2015, she wrote “The Day is Long to End” and placed the original story in New York. She teamed up with her friend of 10 years, Sharron, 32, and together they produced a reading. Then, she said she put it in a drawer.
Two years later, Yu said the world seemed entirely different. After the 2016 election, Yu said she started to draw parallels to an era she had been studying for another project: the 1930s in Europe. She decided to reopen the drawer.
Meanwhile, Sharron, a UF School of Theatre and Dance alumnus, said he was speaking to Jerry Dickey, the director of his alma mater. Sharron said Dickey has a unique interest in preparing his students for the realities of producing a new piece of theater.
As the founding artistic director of Brooklyn’s UglyRhino Productions, Sharron was involved in multiple productions at once. He said he knew Dickey wanted something that had a larger cast, to afford more students the opportunity to be involved. He sent a few options, but ultimately the two decided on “The Day is Long to End.”
Sharron said being in Gainesville has been important for the production in more ways than one. The quiet, lack of pressure and absence of distractions has allowed Yu and Sharron to develop the play much more deeply than they would have been able to in New York, where they both typically live. On top of that, Sharron said the department has made this one of the most supportive projects he has ever been involved in.
Nowadays, Sharron said most plays have small casts: two or three actors because of the need for low budgets. However, this play has 13 actors and 15 characters.
“It’s been a challenge in the best way, too,” Sharron said “Plays like this don’t come along very often.”
Keifer MacDonald, a 24-year-old second-year UF MFA student, is particularly thankful for his role in the construction of his character, Stefan. He said he has been acting since he was in high school, but this was his first experience working with an established playwright and director changing things everyday throughout the developmental residency.
Katie Haeuser, 29, plays Aleksandra, Stefan’s love interest.
“We are the first people to bring these characters to life which is always an interesting and kind of exhilarating moment to have,” she said.
In a production set among dozens of live flowers arranged by a professional florist, Yu’s command of language is the aspect of the play the stars of the show say is the most beautiful. Haeuser and MacDonald said she takes lofty ideas and manages to make them accessible in a way that could either be spoken in everyday life or written in poetry.
Audiences can see the production at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.