SYRACUSE — A great debate will open Syracuse Stage’s 2021-22 season on Friday and Saturday.

Syracuse Stage will reopen its doors for public performances with a fully staged professional reading of “Baldwin vs. Buckley: The Faith of Our Fathers,” a “theatricalization” by Stage’s resident playwright Kyle Bass of the 1965 debate between writer and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin and conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr.

The debate took place at Cambridge University and was broadcast by the BBC.

Admission is free but tickets are required and may be obtained at Seating is general admission and COVID protocols will be in place.

The presentation is part of Syracuse University’s Artist in Residency Program with Carrie Mae Weems and the First Year Seminar for incoming students.

Starting with a verbatim transcription of the BBC broadcast, Mr. Bass reimagined the debate as a piece of live theater. In addition to the transcription, “Baldwin vs. Buckley” incorporates other writings, speeches and interviews by Baldwin and Buckley to create a compelling tapestry of powerful and still-relevant ideas.

“I wanted contemporary audiences to experience the debate as a live event and through a contemporary lens,” Mr. Bass said in a news release. “I was extremely interested to see how the debate might live in the mouths and bodies of actors today, nearly 60 years after the historic event. What might the actors bring of themselves and identities to the roles of Baldwin and Buckley?”

Mr. Bass said he also had to ask himself, “Why this? Why now?”

“Performances of ‘Baldwin vs. Buckley’ at the University of Delaware, Colgate University and by Civic Ensemble in partnership with Cornell University provided a resounding answer,” he said. “It’s still relevant; the impassioned discussions following the performances made that vividly clear.”

The cast includes several actors who have appeared at Syracuse Stage. Taking on the role of Baldwin is L. Peter Callendar, who was most recently seen in the 2020/2021 season closer “‘Master Harold’ ... and the Boys.”

Wynn Harmon (“Possessing Harriet,” “Sylvia” and “Travels with My Aunt”) plays Buckley. The student debaters are Reynaldo Piniella (“Thoughts of a Colored Man”) and Robbie Simpson (“Great Expectations” and The Cold Read Festival of New Plays). Simon Moody, also a Cold Read veteran, plays the announcer and Syracuse University Drama student Emily Hernandez completes the cast as the Cambridge Union President.


The details

WHAT: “Baldwin vs. Buckley: The Faith of Our Fathers,”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

WHERE: Syracuse Stage complex, 820 E. Genesee St.

COST: Admission is free but tickets are required.


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