MJ Halberstadt is among the playwrights who have participated in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s The Boston Project, the theater’s effort to develop plays that tell stories anchored by local voices and settings. Now he’ll be the first to have his work featured in a new podcast dedicated to those plays.
On Friday, SpeakEasy is launching “The Boston Project Podcast” with an audio performance of Halberstadt’s “The Usual Unusual.” The play is set in a LGBTQ+ bookstore in Boston that, after serving as a focal point for the queer community for years, struggles with its role going forward.
“I was at a StageSource conference where [director] Scott Edmiston and [performer] Black Venus were talking about the future of queer theater,” says Halberstadt. “Scott was arguing for ‘queering the classics,’ while Black Venus was advocating for new voices. I wanted to find a way to amplify this debate.”
The closings of queer bookstores and nightclubs have been lamented in Boston and elsewhere as the loss of gathering spaces, but Halberstadt says that with the Internet, there is no need for a physical space to establish a community.
“The tension [in the play] comes when characters make assumptions about the store’s purpose in serving the community,” he says. The action takes place when the founder of The Usual Unusual decides to retire, and an employee convinces him to pass on the ownership rather than close the store, leading to generational disputes among its staff about “identity, community, and trauma.”
Megan Sandberg-Zakian, who has been involved in the play’s development for the past 18 months, directs a cast that includes Boston favorites Will McGarrahan, Debra Wise, and Eddie Shields.
“The Usual Unusal” will be divided into episodes, with the first two available Aug. 14 and then one a week over the following five weeks. Episodes can also be streamed directly from https://the-boston- project-podcast.simplecast. com/ or on Apple or Spotify.