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Release: Immediate

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Director Karin Coonrod can be reached at the Holiday Inn of Iowa City, 319-337-4058, or through the UI department of theatre arts, 319-335-2700.)

Flannery O'Connor's words come home to the UI in 'Everything That Rises Must Converge'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The spirit of Flannery O'Connor will return to the University of Iowa, where she attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the 1940s, when University Theatres Mainstage presents the world premiere of "Everything That Rises Must Converge, " a staging of three of her short stories, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 in the David Thayer Theatre of the UI Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Nov. 6, 7 and 11-14 and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 8 and 15.

Guest director Karin Coonrod from New York is this season's Partnership in the Arts guest artist in the UI department of theatre arts. Partnership in the Arts invites prominent theater professionals to the UI to develop significant new works for the theater in collaboration with UI students, faculty and staff.

Coonrod stresses that the three stories -- "Everything That Rises Must Converge," "A View of the Woods" and "Greenleaf" -- will be presented in their entirety. "I did not want to do an adaptation," she says. "I wanted to take all of her words, which I think are absolutely stunning, and put them on stage. It's an exciting and very demanding process to get all those words on stage."

For Coonrod, bringing the stories of Flannery O'Connor to the stage has been a long-held dream, but the O'Connor estate has been very protective of her work. Permission for theatricalization had not been granted for decades, and even the prestigious New York Theatre Workshop was unable to secure permission for Coonrod to proceed.

"They're very protective, and rightfully so; the work is very special," Coonrod says." Her laugh is a huge laugh, and the ferocity with which she brings her vision to completion is something that is so compelling that when you finish one of her stories it never leaves you.

"It's deeply exciting that they let me do this. I had a long conversation with the estate on the phone and I assured them that I wanted to bring all the words to the stage. They were amazed that could possibly happen, and I said, 'I know it's madness, but I think that it can be done, I have a hunch, I have a deep hunch that it can happen.' "

O'Connor wrote about the South, and her characters speak in distinctly southern vernaculars, but Coonrod says that O'Connor's years in Iowa -- one of her few sojourns outside of Georgia -- had a profound effect on her career. "She was very inspired by her time in Iowa," Coonrod points out.

"The first collection of short stories came out from Iowa, and it was in Iowa that I think she made a shift. She was certainly experimenting with things that she didn't know so well and realized that she needed to concentrate on what she really knew. It's the South meets eternity."

O'Connor received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Writers' Workshop in 1947, but workshop director Paul Engle found funds to support her for an additional year so that she could work on her first novel, "Wise Blood."

Her career was cut short by lupus, but she became regarded as one of the most important voices in American literature. O'Connor was honored by a Kenyon Review fellowship in fiction, a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature and First Prize in the O. Henry Memorial Awards. The honors continued after her death in 1964, with the National Book Award for "The Complete Short Stories" and a National Critics Circle Award.

Coonrod says that apart from simply managing the mass of words, the challenge of transferring O'Connor's stories to the stage is balancing the dialogue and the narration. "There are the characters, who emerge with different kinds of southern accents, and then there's the narration, which is extremely carnivalesque and multi-voiced and funny," she says. "I thought that the stuff of theatre and the stuff of the Flannery O'Connor short story, with this wild cacophony of voices, could really work with actors. I clearly wanted to face the music to see if this could happen. I think it fleshes out beautifully in the theater."

She credits the acting ensemble with bringing the skill and commitment necessary to make the project a success. The UI actors range from undergraduates to faculty member Eric Forsythe, a veteran actor of stage, film and television. From New York, Coonrod brought one of her long-time acting colleagues, Ledlie Borgerhoff." It's a beautiful group," Coonrod says. "I'm really impressed with this ensemble."

Other artistic contributors to the production are set designer Chris Cook, costume designer Erin Howell-Gritsch, lighting designer Kelly PerkinsSmith (stet), sound designer Lindsay Kem, and dramaturg Robb Gries.

Tickets for "Everything That Rises Must Converge" are $15 ($7 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be on sale one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office. Tickets may also be purchased at a substantial discount as part of a three-play University Theatres Mainstage season package.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For information on UI arts, visit on the World Wide Web.

The Holiday Inn of Iowa City is the corporate sponsor of Partnership in the Arts.