Several years ago, the writer Brian Watkins was in Dublin. He was there to work on his play Wyoming, set amidst the western landscapes he knew from his Colorado childhood and which he used in his recent Amazon Prime series, “Outer Range.” In Dublin, he found himself walking around listening to a recording of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” “I had read the story plenty of times,” Watkins told me recently, “but it struck me that I had no clear idea what Joyce’s notion of epiphany meant.”

That uncertainty sparked his creativity. “I rushed back to New York. I gathered a group of people at a little rehearsal room in Brooklyn. I asked them two questions. ‘What do you know about epiphany?’ And: ‘If you could create an epiphany holiday what would it be about?’”

That discussion became the clay of the play Epiphany, now at LCT’s Newhouse space after a premiere, in a different production, in Galway, Ireland, in 2019. According to the script, the evening takes place in “a very old house, on the banks of a large river, just north of a big city.” Nine people assemble for dinner both to celebrate and to define the meaning of epiphany. The group ponders metaphysical topics, giving Watkins a chance to display this gift for uncovering the timely in the timeless. Reared in Colorado, but educated in Chicago (DePaul) and New York (Juilliard), he understands the emotions of exile. “Morkan, the main character in Epiphany,” Watkins said, “gives us a speech at the end. She says that even though she’s lived in the same house for forty years she still feels dislocated.”

Comestibles help ease the anxiety, as does vigorous conversation. “Our hope,” said Watkins, “is that food will fuel the philosophy.” The use of food in live theater can be tricky – as Tom Stoppard once told me, during the rehearsal of one of his plays at LCT, “you risk getting people who haven’t eaten before the show to thinking about their post-play meal, not about the play” – so I asked Watkins about the fare in Epiphany.

“We’ve tried to make the food in the play not seem overly appetizing,” he responded., “to reduce the distraction.” It is certainly not your everyday 2022 menu – roast goose, gravy, blazing dessert. It’s not accidental that this grub feels old-fashioned. “It’s one of the conceits of the play,” Watkins said, “that, in our pandemic age, dinner parties are hard to come by. And that people grieve the loss of that. Our old muscles of togetherness have atrophied.”

Watkins said that music provides another old-fashioned element in Epiphany. Its initial use in the story isn’t terribly cozy. “One of the characters plays an experimental, Robert Ashley-type of piece that is discordant.”

Later, however, another character sings beautifully the ballad “The Lass of Aughrim,” which figures in Joyce. “For Joyce,” Watkins said, “music was a vehicle towards epiphany, a device capable of dislodging something interior.” It is rendered by actor Carmen Zilles, but one gets the feeling that such is the level of the cast that anyone of them could have done it justice. Watkins said that “it was very important both to our brilliant director Tyne Rafaeli and to me that we cast actors who were exceptional in themselves but who could also form an exceptional ensemble.” 

That actorly cohesiveness is essential because the group is onstage practically the whole time. “The play,” Watkins said, “is one scene with nine people.” He added: “We get to experience the gifts of all our cast right there in the moment. That’s something else – in addition to dinner parties – that we have been starved of the past two or three years.”

Watkins has several screen projects in the works, including a film for Steven Spielberg’s production company, Amblin, but he says that theater remains his first love. “Its satisfactions are what I hope the satisfactions are in Epiphany. Elemental.”

Brendan Lemon is the editor of