Actress Sonja Sohn thought she was going to be on a plane to the Bahamas right about now. Instead, she has been spending the week hunched over the computer, writing a play about the unrest this spring in Baltimore while constantly checking her e-mail and occasionally being interrupted by reporters.
The reason: This weekend, Sohn and many of her fellow cast members from HBO’s Baltimore-set show “The Wire” are reuniting. Plans have been in the works for months for a get-together — but in the islands, not onstage at the Lyric Opera House.
“We needed to go somewhere where we wouldn’t have too many distractions,” Sohn said. “We thought we’d just be there to just have a break and a breather and just be together, to say to each other, ‘How’s your family? How’s your career?’ Then April 27 happened, and we were like, ‘Baltimore. We have to be in Baltimore.’ ”
But they also knew, Sohn said, that they couldn’t just “come to Baltimore and have a party under the dark of night.” They had to give something back. From there, things snowballed, and Sohn found herself playing producer instead of packing sunscreen.
Although Sohn is best-known for her role as Detective Kima Greggs on “The Wire,” she has since parlayed her work portraying a fictional force for good into real-life community activism. In 2009, she founded ReWired for Change, a support and advocacy group for at-risk youths in Baltimore. The goal of Saturday’s theatrical event at the Lyric, called “Wired Up,” is to help the people of Baltimore express what they experienced this spring.
“Art gives voice to the people, to people of all kinds,” Sohn said. “In this case, we thought we could best serve Baltimore by creating a way to get their voices onstage.”
Sohn’s co-writer and creator is Maria Broom, a theater faculty member at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Broom was one of many Washington/Baltimore stage actors who had recurring roles on “The Wire.” (She played Marla Daniels, the police lieutenant’s wife who ends up running for office.) They hung fliers in West Baltimore and, last month, held a storytelling workshop at the Penn North Recovery Center. After several opening exercises, Sohn and Broom asked the participants to think back to April 27.
“The most effective storytelling comes from a deep, deep place,” Sohn said. “We told them to go back to an image. Don’t just tell the story you’ve been telling around the neighborhood. That’s how we got our material.”
Originally, their plan was to have “Wire” actors read the monologues, but Sohn also wanted the residents onstage. She and director Leah C. Gardiner decided to have the writer begin each story and then segue to an actor, who would finish the monologue. Other “Wire” cast members who have committed to performing include Andre Royo, Wendell Pierce, Michael Kenneth Williams and Dominic West.
During the show, photos by Devin Allen, who shot a powerful image of a black man running from police that was used on the cover of Time magazine, will stream at the back of the stage. Co-director Anthony Hemingway is working on some of the technical details while Gardiner, who has directed at the Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre and Arena Stage, handles some of the staging aspects. Gardiner also has committed to working long term on the “Wired Up” project, should it find a life beyond Saturday’s staging, as Sohn hopes.
“If we have our say about it, it will be a work in progress,” she said. “We don’t know how it is going to turn out. We are throwing it together, to be honest with you, with one rehearsal. But we’ve taken it this far. There’ll be some sort of wind beneath our wings that will make it happen.”
Wired Up, Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Lyric Opera House, 110 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore, as part of Baltimore’s Artscape festival. Admission is free, but reservations are required and a $25 donation to community groups is suggested. Performances by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will bookend the monologues. wiredup.splashthat.com.
A theatrical reunion of another sort is going on at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Md. For its 50th-anniversary production, Wildwood Summer Theatre is staging the Jonathan Larson musical “Rent” at the school. The production has allowed the community theater for actors ages 14 to 25 to reconnect with one of its more prominent alumni, actor Michael Lindsay. Lindsay, a D.C. native, met Larson while attending Adelphi University.
Lindsay has shared stories with the cast and creative team about his friendship with the late composer, including tales of lighting up on the Long Island Railroad, how he inspired the role of Mark in the musical and how he has long regretted turning down the part.
Rent, Thursday through July 25 at Albert Einstein High School, 11135 Newport Mill Rd., Kensington. $20. www.wst.org.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.