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Suspenseful Play, Passage, Marks Debut for CWRU/CPH MFA Class of 2024

Posted March 23, 2022 in Press Releases

(Cleveland, OH) The Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House (CWRU/CPH) MFA Acting Program Class of 2024 makes their Cleveland debut with Christopher Chen’s Passage. Directed by Donald Carrier, Director of the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program, the production runs March 23 – April 2, 2022 in the Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square. The cast includes Josh Bates, Madeline Calais, Ellen Grace Diehl, Victoria Alev Duffy, Dylan Ireland, Shunté Lofton, Gavin Michaels, and AJ Ruiz. General admission tickets are $15 and can be purchased at 216.241.6000

Written by Obie Award-winning playwright Christopher Chen, Passage is inspired by E.M. Forster’s 1924 novel A Passage to India and explores the ideologies of colonialism, xenophobia, and economic dominion. The story takes place in Country X, which is occupied by Country Y. The citizens from both countries are identified by letters. A friendship between two people is challenged in a climate of fear and distrust, leading to an explosive accusation. Passage explores how power imbalances affect personal and interpersonal dynamics across a spectrum of situations, and creates a suspenseful story about the challenges of true connection.

English writer E.M. Forster spent consequential time in India during the early 20th century. In 1913, he visited the Barabar Caves, among other places, and also served as the private secretary to the Maharaja of the Dewas State. Forster’s experiences in India and his examination of colonial relations between Britain and India would go on to inspire the central conflict in his acclaimed novel, A Passage to India.

Christopher Chen’s provocative play inspired by Forster’s tale was developed with support from The Ground Floor at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley, CA. It was then presented as part of the 2017 Contemporary American Voices Festival at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT, before receiving its world premiere in 2018 at the Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia, PA. The play received its Off-Broadway premiere at Soho Repertory Theatre in 2019.

At the helm of this production is Donald Carrier, Director of the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program. Carrier says, “I was intrigued when I first heard about the play Passage by Christopher Chen. I was a big E.M. Forster fan as a college student, and had worked my way through A Room with a View, Howard’s End, Where Angels Fear to Tread, Maurice and arguably his greatest work, A Passage To India.” He continues to say, “While Passage touches on many contemporary hot-button issues like colonialism and cultural and economic domination, it is ultimately a play about a more universal need. Can we truly have honest and deep connections between individuals when there are power differentials at play? What are the internal and external obstacles that thwart the open heart?”

Carrier says, “Chen has stated that this play is about the human desire to connect with others in a deep way that is often foiled by obstacles imposed by power structures. The relevance to perform this play at this time can’t be understated. It’s also an ideal play to explore in the first year of training as it encourages our students to connect with each other, to work together as an interdependent ensemble that lifts each other up in creative projects.”

“Christopher Chen’s Passage is a timely play for what feels like a ‘restart’ in theatrical experiences: both in terms of acknowledging the times we're in societally, but also just in the sheer fact of having live performances again,” says Jerrold Scott, Katharine Bakeless Nason Professor in Theater/Chair and Producing Director. “For the keen and talented students of the MFA Class of 2024, this is going to be a terrific opportunity for them to show their range and talent in a play that fits perfectly into our zeitgeist.”

CPH Artistic Director Laura Kepley says, “Passage, with a thematic focus on the need for connection and understanding, is a fitting play for this current moment. After two years of navigating the pandemic, the need to strengthen empathy and break down isolation is more urgent than ever. This play, with its ensemble-based structure, provides an opportunity for connection and trust-building for the Class of 2024. These eight extraordinary actors will be combining their individual talents for the first time as a new ensemble. Everyone at CPH is incredibly excited for this cohort to make their Cleveland debut.”

The creative team includes: scenic design by Cameron Caley Michalak, costume design by Esther Haberlen, lighting design by Jaemin Park, sound design by Richard B. Ingraham, and choreography by Kenya Woods.

Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Play House gratefully acknowledge the following sponsors of the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program: Cynthia Kellogg Barrington Endowment Fund, The Cleveland Foundation, Tom F. and Anne Degnan, and ExxonMobil Foundation.

General admission tickets to all performances of Passage are $15. Student tickets are $7.50 (valid student ID required). Ohio Direction/EBT cardholders receive $5 admission to any performance (up to eight tickets). Tickets can be purchased by visiting



JOSH BATES (H) hails from the sunny shores of Southern California and received his BFA in theatre performance at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Recent educational credits include Urinetown, Ordinary Days, and Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Professional credits include The Little Mermaid at Zilker Hillside Theatre and Legally Blonde at the Granbury Theatre Company.

MADELINE CALAIS (Q) was born and raised in Houston, and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (summa cum laude) in acting from the University of Houston’s School of Theatre & Dance. She spent two years performing in theatres across the country with the American Shakespeare Center’s national touring troupe based out of Staunton, Virginia. Other credits include work at Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Red Bull Theatre, Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Company, and The Classical Theatre Company.

ELLEN GRACE DIEHL (S/D/J/Mosquito/Gecko): Credits include: Louise (Gypsy), Sibella (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Sophie (Mamma Mia!), and Sandy (Grease) at Allenberry Playhouse; Gigi (Gigi) and “Everyone Else” in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (two-actor version) at Washington County Playhouse; and Ariel (The Tempest) and April (Company) at Messiah University. She studied at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, received her BA in theatre from Messiah University, and trained in classical ballet for over 14 years with Chambersburg Ballet Theatre. Diehl is also a dance teacher and choreographer. @ellengracediehl

VICTORIA ALEV DUFFY (G) is a New Jersey native and spent her childhood summers studying theatre at the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse and New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She received her BA in theatre performance from Fordham University, where she performed in Machinal, The Most Massive Woman Wins, God of Carnage, Eurydice, DIMES: A New Musical, and more.

DYLAN IRELAND (M) is from High Point, North Carolina and hails from UNC Charlotte.

SHUNTÉ LOFTON (F) is a graduate of the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance and has performed her way through half of Shakespeare’s canon. Some of her favorite credits include Ophelia (Hamlet) and Princess of France (Love’s Labour’s Lost) with the American Shakespeare Center, and Constance (King John) with Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

GAVIN MICHAELS (B) is from Seattle and has appeared as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Orlando in As You Like It (Bainbridge Performing Arts); The Prince in the musical The Light Princess (Dacha Theatre); Rolly in Mae West’s The Drag (Play Your Part Theatre); Ferdinand in The Tempest and Hamlet in Hamlet (Kentwood Players). He earned his undergraduate degree in political communication and rhetoric from the University of Washington.

AJ RUIZ (R) was born and raised in Miami, Florida and graduated with his BFA in acting from Florida International University in 2018. He has worked in regional theatre and has also released his own music under the moniker Adult Programming. Recent credits include 7 Deadly Sins (Miami New Drama/Winner of the Drama League Award), Wynwood Stories (Juggerknot Theatre Co.), and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Fever).


CHRISTOPHER CHEN (Playwright) is an international award-winning playwright whose works have been produced across the United States and abroad. His play Caught was a New York Times critics’ pick, and enjoyed a sold-out run at The Play Company. Honors include the 2017 Lanford Wilson Award (co-winner); the 2015-2016 Sundance Institute/Time Warner Foundation Fellowship for theater; the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, through which he was 2013-2014 playwright-in-residence at Vineyard Theatre; the Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play; Phindie Critics’ Award; the Glickman Award; the Rella Lossy Playwriting Award; shortlist for the James Tait Black Award; nomination for the Steinberg Award; second place in the Belarus Free Theatre International Competition of Modern Dramaturgy; a MAP Fund Grant; a Ford Foundation Emerging Writer of Color Grant; and finalist for the PoNY and Jerome Fellowships. His works have been produced and developed at companies such as American Conservatory Theater, Arcola Theatre, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Beijing Fringe, Berkeley Repertory Theatre/Ground Floor, Crowded Fire, Cutting Ball, Edinburgh Fringe, hotINK Festival, Impact Theatre, InterAct Theatre, Lark Play Development Center, Magic Theatre, Playwrights Foundation, San Francisco Playhouse, Seattle Public Theater, Shotgun Players, Sideshow Theatre, Silk Road Rising, Sundance Theatre Lab, Mu Performing Arts, U.C. Berkeley/Zellerbach Playhouse, and the Vineyard. Publications include Dramatists Play Service, American Theatre Magazine, Theatre Bay Area, and Theater Magazine (Yale). A San Francisco native, Chen is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from S.F. State.

DONALD CARRIER (Director/Producer) is the director of the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program. He most recently directed Middletown for the MFA Program, Othello at Texas Shakespeare Festival, and As You Like It for the CWRU Department of Theater. For the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program, he has also directed Fifth of July, Clybourne Park, The Misanthrope, Too True to Be Good, and The Violins of Hope. Other directing includes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Seminar, and Really Really (Beck Center for the Arts); and Becky Shaw (Dobama Theatre). Other selected directing credits include The Crucible, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Alms, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Habeas Corpus, The Pirates of Penzance, and Oh! What a Lovely War. He has appeared at Cleveland Play House in Shakespeare in Love; All the Way; Luna Gale; The Crucible; The Little Foxes; Yentl; In the Next Room, or the vibrator play; Ten Chimneys; Noises Off; and Lincolnesque. Regional credits include The National Arts Center, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, Great Lakes Theater, The Studio Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre, The Wilma Theater, The Huntington Theatre, The Intiman Theatre, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He spent nine seasons at the Stratford Festival, three seasons at the Old Globe, and two seasons at the Shaw Festival. Television/Film includes Guns, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Passion of Ayn Rand, and Dead by Monday. Carrier is a proud Lunt/Fontanne Fellow.

CAMERON CALEY MICHALAK (Scenic Designer) returns to CPH where his design credits include Venus in Fur, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, and A Soldier’s Tale. CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program’s design credits include She Stoops to Conquer, A Philadelphia Story, The Three Sisters, The Misanthrope, and The Winter’s Tale. Selected credits include The Night Alive, Ten More Minutes from Cleveland and Becky Shaw (Dobama Theatre); Assassins, Urinetown, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The Wiz (Near West Theatre); Young Frankenstein and Seminar (Beck Center); Sunday in the Park and Of Mice and Men (True North Cultural Arts); and Sweeney Todd and Hairspray (among many others) for the Music, Arts and Drama (M.A.D.) Factory in Oberlin. Michalak is technical director for Cleveland State University.

ESTHER HABERLEN (Costume Designer) has credits with the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program that include The Misanthrope, Too True to Be Good, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Regional work has been seen at Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Dobama Theatre, Cleveland Opera Theater, Cleveland Institute of Music, Chagrin Valley Performing Arts Academy, Willoughby Fine Arts Association, Cleveland Public Theatre, and the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music. Esther holds a BFA in theater production and design from the State University of New York (Fredonia), and also worked as a costume technician at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Pittsburgh Public Theater, and The Chautauqua Conservatory. Esther is costume shop director for GLT and its sister theatres, Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

JAEMIN PARK (Lighting Designer) has been working as a lighting designer in South Korea for about 15 years. He has designed more than 100 productions in various genres such as plays, musicals, operas, and dances. While he was in South Korea, he worked as a full-time lighting supervisor and resident designer in a national theatre with about 1,200 seats in Daegu, South Korea. His unique background in studying vocal music during his undergraduate courses has given him a keen ear for analyzing and expressing music. He has been directing in opera and loves musical works. Based on his experience in South Korea, he is in his last semester MFA in lighting design at Kent State University. In June 2022, he will be designing the musical Little Shop of Horrors at Porthouse Theatre. He has enjoyed working with the Passage creative team.

RICHARD B. INGRAHAM (Sound Designer) is an AV Systems designer for About The Stage and has worked at numerous theatres, schools and attractions in the Cleveland area and throughout the U.S. as both a designer and educator, including: Baldwin Wallace University, Beck Center for the Arts, Cain Park, Carnegie Mellon University, Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Academy, Cleveland Public Theatre, Dobama Theatre, The University of Evansville, Great Lakes Theater, Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Karamu House, Playhouse Square and Oberlin College. Richard was the Resident Sound Designer at Cleveland Play House from 1999-2001 and has worked as a consultant on award-winning software applications for the entertainment industry with Stage Research and Richmond Sound Design.

KENYA WOODS (Choreographer) is a native of Cleveland, Ohio with more than 30 years of experience in dance performance, choreography, teaching, and leadership. She holds a degree in Dance from Tennessee State University and is certified in Lester Horton Pedagogy, the official technique taught at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. Her additional dance credits include Dance New Amsterdam and North Coast Ballet Theater. Madame Darvash, Dr. Diane McIntyre and Lynn Simonson have influenced her teaching style as well. She has worked nationally and internationally at regional dance companies, universities and school systems as an educator, performer, and choreographer. Kenya is currently a Hildegarde and Elbert Baker Visiting Scholar in the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University focusing on Jazz and Modern Dance for students in the MFA Theater Program. She continues to teach dance to students of all ages and lead programs that help cultivate technique, artistry, body awareness and empowerment and appreciation for dance.

BETH McGEE (Vocal Coach) is a co-founder of Shadow of the Run productions and the playwright of WanderLust, and DreamWalkers, Cleveland’s first fully immersive theater experience, produced in July 2019. She was the on-set dialect coach for Cinemax’s 2016 television series Quarry, directed by Greg Yaitanes. She has been the vocal coach for CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program productions of The Seagull, Fifth of July, Macbeth, Claybourne Park, She Stoops to Conquer, The Philadelphia Story, The Misanthrope, and An Orchard. Additional CPH main stage voice coaching credits include A Christmas Story, The Grapes of Wrath, A Kiss for Cinderella, The Imaginary Invalid, The African Company Presents Richard III, Lady from the Sea, Antigone, and Dracula. She dialect-coached the 2002 film Welcome to Collinwood directed by the Russo Brothers and starring George Clooney. She has coached and/or acted in productions at numerous Cleveland area theatres. She is a professor of voice and acting at CWRU. Devotees of folk music can find her 1980 Folkways album Love is Teasing housed in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution. McGee is an active member of Actors’ Equity Association.

CATHERINE ALBERS (Acting Coach) is a Cleveland-based actor and teacher. During the pandemic, she kept busy with a reading with Rattlestick Theater in New York City and another for a Canadian playwright with an international cast. She also offered online workshops in the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique through the Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium, where she is the president and lead administrator, and saw a film she recently worked on appear at the Cleveland Film Festival. She is thrilled to be back as the acting coach for this MFA production. Despite all this work, she adamantly says she is retired!

JEFFREY ULLOM (Dramaturg) is an associate professor of theatre at Case Western Reserve University, where he teaches theatre history and dramaturgy. He is the author of several books and articles focusing on regional theatre, including his most recent book on Cleveland Play House, America’s First Regional Theatre. As a dramaturg, he worked with notable playwrights including Tony Kushner, David Henry Hwang, John Patrick Shanley, and others at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, and has served as a dramaturg for several Cleveland Play House productions. He is currently working on two books — a broad history of regional theatre and a murder mystery involving theatre history.

TYREE J. FRANKLIN (Stage Manager) is a Cleveland-based stage manager with his BFA in Stage Management from Wright State University. His recent stage management credits include CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program solo shows, Greenwood: An American Dream Destroyed (Karamu House), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Karamu House). He would like to thank his family and friends for their continued support!


LAURA KEPLEY (Artistic Director) became Artistic Director of Cleveland Play House in 2013 and has directed numerous CPH mainstage productions including Every Brilliant Thing; Into the Breeches!; Tiny Houses (world premiere, also at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park); Sweat; The Diary of Anne Frank; Shakespeare in Love; The Crucible; Steel Magnolias; The Good Peaches (world premiere); Fairfield (world premiere); How I Learned to Drive (also at Syracuse Stage); The Little Foxes; Venus in Fur; Good People (also at Syracuse Stage); A Carol for Cleveland (world premiere); In the Next Room, or the vibrator play; My Name is Asher Lev; and CPH readings of Roe Green Award-winning plays Tiny Houses; The Chinese Lady; Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976; Marjorie Prime; and Daphne’s Dive. She joined CPH in 2010, having arrived from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island where she was Resident Director and Artistic Associate for four seasons and Interim Director of the Brown/Trinity Rep M.F.A. in Directing Program for one. She has also directed for The Alliance Theatre, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Chautauqua Theater Company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Contemporary American Theatre Festival, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others. A native Ohioan, Laura received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her Master of Fine Arts from Brown University/Trinity Rep. She is a Drama League Fellow and a recipient of the 2009-2011 National Endowment for the Arts/Theatre Communications Group Career Development Program for Directors.

JERROLD SCOTT (Chair of CWRU Department of Theater) is Katharine Bakeless Nason Professor of Theater at Case Western Reserve University where he teaches directing, classical acting, and speech and dialects, and also serves as the department's producing director. For the CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program, he has directed Hay Fever, She Stoops to Conquer, The Philadelphia Story, Present Laughter, Heartbreak House, and The Real Thing, and performed in As You Like It. Jerrold has directed 17 productions for the Department of Theater. Last fall, he directed Arcadia, the inaugural production of the department at the Maltz Performing Arts Center. Other local directing credits include A Doll’s House, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Polish Joke (Beck Center for the Arts); As You Like It (Cleveland Shakespeare Festival); and A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Weathervane Playhouse in Akron). Prior to his CWRU appointment, he worked as a director, actor, and educator in Washington, DC. He has taught at George Mason University, The Catholic University of America, and served a visiting lectureship at The Ohio State University. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre from the University of South Carolina/The Shakespeare Theatre, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh, and pursued further study in classical performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Jerrold is a member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA and an associate member of SDC.


CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE, founded in 1915 and recipient of the 2015 Regional Theatre Tony Award, is America's first professional regional theatre. Throughout its rich history, CPH has remained dedicated to its mission to inspire, stimulate, and entertain diverse audiences across Northeast Ohio by producing plays and theatre education programs of the highest professional standards. CPH has produced more than 100 world and/or American premieres, and over its long history more than 12 million people have attended over 1,600 productions. Today, Cleveland Play House celebrates the beginning of its second century of service while performing in three state-of-the art venues at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Cleveland Play House is made possible in part by state tax dollars allocated by the Ohio Legislature to the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). The OAC is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Cleveland Play House is supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. To learn more,

CWRU COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES houses educational and research programs in the arts, humanities, social sciences, physical and biological sciences, and mathematics. Students in the college can choose a major or minor from almost 60 undergraduate programs, design their own courses of study or enroll in integrated bachelor's/master's degree programs. In addition, the college offers graduate programs in several fields where CWRU's small size and special expertise allow it to make a distinctive contribution to advanced education and research. The college's curricular offerings are enhanced by its affiliations with other University Circle institutions, including Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, The Cleveland Institute of Music, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland Institute of Art, and Cleveland Play House. The college offers many arts presentations, lecture series and symposia. It also provides abundant opportunities for students to participate in music, theatre, and dance performances. CWRU is one of our nation’s top universities.

THE DEPARTMENT OF THEATER at Case Western Reserve University offers education and participation in all aspects of drama, with course offerings in acting, stagecraft, costume design, scene design, directing, dramatic writing, and history, literature, and criticism. Bachelor of Arts students have the opportunity to perform as well as to serve on the design and technical teams in four fully produced mainstage theatrical productions each year. The low student to faculty ratio ensures that students are able to work closely with our faculty of highly accomplished artists and scholars. As a discipline that is both performing art and humanity, the department treats all performances as artistic and educational experiences and welcomes the participation of students regardless of their academic majors and career goals. At the graduate level, the Master of Arts degree prepares students for work in professional theater, education, or for further pursuit of graduate study, while the Master of Fine Arts professional actor training program–a collaborative partnership between the Department of Theater and Cleveland Play House–represents a unique alliance between one of the oldest academic theater programs in the United States and the nation’s first regional theater.


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