New play opening by Pulitzer Prize-winning Ijames

From left, Carlo Campbell, Malanye Finister, and Brenson Thomas
From left, Carlo Campbell, Malanye Finister, and Brenson Thomas

The curtain is soon to rise as South Philly native and Pulitzer Prize-winner James Ijames is set to show his new play Abandon at Theatre Exile starting April 27.

Abandon will be the final production of Theatre Exile’s 2022-23 season. The play will be on stage at the cozy 75-seat black box theater at 1340 S. 13th St. through May 21 for a total of 22 performances. 

The cast features notable local actors Carlo Campbell, Jared Chichester, Melanye Finister and Brenson Thomas, and the play is directed by 2021 Pew Fellow Brett Ashley Robinson.

According to the writers, the plot features Joshua (Chichester) as a young man kicked out of his house one night by his mercurial older brother Chris (Campbell). Cold and desperate for food, he ends up breaking into the home of Luella (Finister), an elderly woman haunted by the ghost of her late son Gabriel (Thomas). Luella catches Joshua in the act but, instead of calling the police, decides to take pity and allows him to spend the night to escape the winter chill outside. With a baseball bat in one hand and a bowl of mac and cheese in the other, Luella soon realizes this young man shares a lot in common with her late son. As the night unfolds, these two lonely souls forge an unlikely bond as their respective pasts are brought to light.

Ijames’ new offering is said to be sometimes violent and sometimes healing and influenced by his personal life.

“I’m excited to premiere Abandon with Theatre Exile,” said Ijames. “This play was inspired by my own recent journey with grief and loneliness. I wanted to explore how they impact a person and how someone can find their way out of that. At the same time, I was also interested in examining how people find family and community when their own families are perhaps not what they want them to be.”

The show was created in partnership with Theatre Exile through its New Play Development Program, Studio X-hibition, which is a series of script-in-hand readings of plays in development by local playwrights.

Professional actors are cast and the readings are part of a year-long development process, allowing playwrights to see their work performed for a live audience while receiving feedback from their community.

Photo by Justin DeWalt

Ijames has been writing and directing shows throughout Philadelphia for nearly 20 years and has made an enormous impression on the city’s theater community. 

Leading up to his Pulitzer Prize winning Fat Ham, he received numerous prestigious distinctions, including a Whiting Award in 2017, the Kesselring Prize for Kill Move Paradise in 2019 and a 2020 Steinberg Prize in Drama. Most recently, Ijames received the Harold and Mimi

Steinberg Charitable Trust’s 2022 Steinberg Playwright Award in December 2022. 

Ijames also serves as the Co-Artistic Director at The Wilma Theater and is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Villanova University.

Abandon director Brett Ashley Robinson said she is looking forward to showing audiences the finished product later this month. 

“I love James’ work and how he writes about the South in a way that is truthful and filled with humanity,” said Robinson. “For me, Abandon feels like a dark fairy tale that speaks to the dark pain of loneliness and the gift of connection. It holds so much joy, darkness, forgiveness and trust in the text. It is a beautiful portrait of grief and the journey of healing.”

Tickets can be found at and are expected to sell out. Theatre Exile will require audiences and staff to wear masks and show proof of vaccination for most performances.