What is ALTAS?

Julia May Jonas’s new play Problem Between Sisters tells the story of two estranged, pregnant sisters (one a visual artist, the other a con artist) as they try to coexist in their aunt’s remote cabin. Though the shocking and funny psychological drama exists very much as its own work, it was created as a response to Sam Shepard’s classic play True West, which follows similarly feuding brothers (one a screenwriter, one a drifter). And Problems Between Sisters is not a stand-alone work.  

In fact, this show is the second work Jonas has written in her ambitious five-play cycle coined All Long True American Stories. The Bushwick Starr planned to produce the cycle in 2020 but after the pandemic waylaid those plans, Studio’s production marks the first of these plays to premiere. The New York performing arts collectives The Bushwick Starr and New Georges will co-produce the premiere of A Woman Among Women in October 2024.  

Jonas has described these plays as a theatrical event that “responds to five white ‘male-experience’ plays of the American Western theatrical canon with five full-length plays featuring situations and experience for other people (mostly women).” Each of the five plays in the cycleand each of the words represented by “ALTAS”corresponds to a different existing play that Jonas has re-envisioned.  

All comes from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons which Jonas has refashioned to A Woman Among Women. A Woman Among Women riffs on the story of the generational fallout caused by faulty airplanes parts sold by two men during World War II. Jonas summarizes her story as follows: “It’s been three years since Cleo’s daughter Jo has gone to jail for a violent felony, and now Jo’s husband Roy has returned to the neighborhood for mysterious reasons. Meanwhile, Tina, Cleo’s childhood friend, is intent on exonerating Jo with the help of her next-door neighbor, Christine, and the neighborhood convenes in Cleo’s backyard to discover the strengths and pitfalls of feminine empowerment.” 

Long” refers to Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, the text Jonas used to create We Used to Wear Bonnets & Get High All the Time, which she workshopped with her students in 2018 at the Skidmore Theater in Saratoga Springs, New York. We Used to Wear Bonnets... trades O’Neill’s look into a troubled family at their Connecticut summer home in 1912 with an examination of intersecting lives at a factory in Trenton, New Jersey from 1990 to 2018. The play explores addiction, betrayal, chosen families, and the unforeseen consequences of loyalty. 

“True” from Sam Shepard’s True West, the basis of Problems Between Sisters

“American” from David Mamet’s American Buffalo, which Jonas re-envisioned into in which Kim Sparrows is Prey to Unfortunate Circumstances. In Kim Sparrow, Mamet’s tale of three men plotting to steal a prized coin collective is reimagined as the story of Kim Sparrow, the owner and manager of a vintage clothing store, who colludes with an employee and a petty criminal friend to steal 20 pristine vintage Lanvin gowns from a client.    

And finally, "Story” for Edward Albee’s tale of two men’s isolation and struggle to communicate, The Zoo Story, with a currently untitled response play from Jonas. 

With Studio’s production of the world premiere of Problems Between Sisters, we hope to bring audiences not only a great new original work, but the excitement of experiencing a small piece of a larger project. In expanding on the world of their original works, the ALTAS plays exemplify the creative spirit of adaptation from different perspectives and the past and future of great art.  

David Plumer