SMTD presents ‘A New Brain’


Photo courtesy of JLBoone Photography.

The cast of ‘She Kills Monsters’ (left) and ‘A New Brain (right).

“A New Brain” by two Award-winning authors William Finn and James Lapine made its off-Broadway debut in 1998, and is now being welcomed to Oakland University’s Lab Theatre this weekend, Nov. 3-6.

Based on Finn’s own life, “A New Brain” follows composer Gordon Schwinn (Travis Darghali), who finds himself in a hospital, having to sit with the anxiety of a possible, inoperable brain tumor. While the show’s premise is serious, it also explores the inner workings of the creative brain through a series of fantasy sequences, unexpectedly blending tragedy with light-hearted whimsy.

In her second semester teaching at OU, New York-based director and educator Rachel Stevens has been granted the opportunity to direct “A New Brain” – an endeavor she said, “has been such a joy.”

Given Varner Hall is under renovation for the year, Stevens was challenged with a smaller, more intimate space — the Lab Theatre. The School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD) has not done a main stage show in this particular space in several years, but students and faculty involved with “A New Brain” don’t let the venue compromise their work.

“One of the things that our students and faculty have become so resilient with is that we just focus on the work that’s happening,” Stevens said.

Instead of letting construction be a hurdle to jump over when the time comes, SMTD took into account the complications that would arise as a result of Varner renovations when planning this year’s performances. Though this might require hopping back and forth between Varner and OU’s West Campus, it demonstrates the resilience and commitment of the students and faculty of SMTD.

Part of this commitment is demonstrated in OU’s artists being able to make art anywhere, even the Lab Theatre. Since the space that “A New Brain” has to perform in is so intimate, the company has done their best to make everything essential, intentional parts of storytelling.

“The tech is intentionally very minimal,” Stevens says, “so we’re only working with things that are necessary to tell the story so that it’s really focused on the actors’ work and the intimacy of the room. […] It’s important that it not be overcomplicated.”

The heart of the show is able to shine through its clean, minimalistic technical aspects.

“[This show is a] funny, sarcastic, heart warming exploration of what it means to start anew when you have faced adversity and what it looks like to really reexamine what matters in life,” Stevens said.

“A New Brain” runs this weekend only, Nov. 3-4 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 5-6 at 2 and 8 p.m. You can secure tickets online at or by calling the box office at (248) 370-3013.