A musical set at the intersection of two communities, as the nation goes to war against itself… Paradise Square, which opens this Thursday night at Berkeley Rep, is set in the New York neighborhood of Five Points in the 1860s, when (for a while) the notion of an American ‘melting pot’ was actually a reality. Director Moisés Kaufman says ideas that were formulated then are still relevant today.

There’s more information about the show (which has been extended through February 24th) at the Berkeley Rep website.

“I’m always interested in the intersection between the historical and the personal. I am fascinated with history, and I’m fascinated with how history can help us construct present day narratives,” Kaufman says. He’s directed his The Laramie Project at Berkeley Rep, as well as Master Class. The team involved includes book writer Marcus Gardley, as well as choreographer Bill T. Jones. Irish writer and musician Larry Kirwan had the original idea of a story built around that neighborhood, including one of its residents, songwriter Stephen Foster. “We started with Stephen Foster’s music,” Kaufman says, “But Jason Howland has used that as a point of departure and composed quite a bit of the music in the show. Bill T. Jones used some of the original stepdancing of Irish folk dancing, and some African-American dancing, and we get into a room together and we see what we make.” Because the Irish and African American communities came together, including by marriage, the area was torn by the violence that erupted when the US government forced conscription for white men, but not for black. “New York in the 1860s was a place where a lot of the American experiment was being formulated. I think that it resonates because a lot of the things that they were dealing with, we are still dealing with. In different shapes and colors, but we are still dealing with a lot of these issues, of… What is the American social contract, and how are we living up to it?”