Lance Gardner as BJJ in the West Coast premiere of An Octoroon at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
As artists of color, we are accustomed to being categorized according to our perceived race. We’re not just artists, we’re Asian Actors, or Latinx Directors, or Black Playwrights. But what does it mean to be an “(insert ethnicity here) Artist” and will we ever be able to create work without everything being tied back to our race?
This is the question BJJ (Lance Gardener) asks when he walks onto a bare stage at the top of An Octoroon. He is a Black Playwright. It doesn’t matter what he writes about, theaters and their audiences will always bring it back to race. So, he tells us, he has adapted an old, once wildly popular melodrama, which, in turn, had been adapted by a white, Irish playwright from a novel. And he will be playing the lead role. In whiteface. Continue reading …
Laurie (Jasmine St. Clair) tells a tale to Joseph (Reggie D White), Emmanuel (Clinton Roane), and Rose (Brittany Bellizeare). Photo Credit: Jim Carmody
What is a story? What is its purpose? A story can entertain or educate. It can comfort or unsettle. It can foster divisions or forge connections. A good story can do many of these things at once. The Last Tiger in Haiti is a very good story. Continue reading …
Cast members in the world premiere of It Can’t Happen Here at Berkeley Rep. Seated: Anna Ishida and Tom Nelis. Standing, left to right: Gerardo Rodriguez, Gabriel Montoya, William Thomas Hodgson, Deidrie Henry, Scott Coopwood, Will Rogers, Alexander Lydon, Carolina Sanchez, Mark Kenneth Smaltz, and Sharon Lockwood. Photo credit: Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
It Can’t Happen Here was written in a United States still reeling from the Great Depression. Fascism was on the rise in Europe, and there were fears that it would cross the Atlantic.
Senator Huey Long of Louisiana had broken with his party– as well as President Roosevelt– over the New Deal, and he was poised to run as a third party candidate with the support of a fiery, anti-Semitic radio personality, Father Charles Coughlin. Author Sinclair Lewis and his wife Dorothy Thompson, a political reporter, were among those concerned about a possible dictatorship should Roosevelt lose. And thus was born the book that was then adapted into a play. Continue reading …
Girl A (Britney Frazier) cares for a newborn baby Photo Credit: Kevin Levin
Scholars call the era we live in now “the information age.” The digital revolution gave rise to a way of life that involves near constant immersion in a mediated world and its associated messaging. It is a world in which we can ask a question and get thousands of answers in seconds, but still have no real sense of which of those answers is correct. It’s a world in which self-presentation and social communication are tied to soundbyte advertising profiles. All of what you love and none of what you hate is very much a product of the information age. Characters introduce themselves through their Internet dating site profile answers or a laundry list of their Facebook likes. Friends appear on stage together yet only communicate though cellphones. Google searches are projected on large screens. At the same time, the play is pure theatre, exploring human experience and human emotion through physical movement and face-to-face interpersonal interaction as it tells the story of a 15-year old girl navigating the first few hours after seeing a blue plus appear on a home pregnancy test. Continue reading …
Award-winning playwright, actor, and performer John Leguizamo in the world premiere of Latin History for Morons at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre
John Leguizamo opens his new one-man show with a bit about his son getting bullied at his middle school. The bully comes from a long line of cops and veterans, or, as he puts it, “heroes.” To boost his son’s spirits and maybe his social standing, and because, as it turns out, his son actually has to write a paper about the subject to graduate 8th grade, Leguizamo decides to find a Latin American hero for his son to be proud of.
Currently running at T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre is a world premiere of a new play written by Emmy nominated Disney Executive Jim Geoghan entitled, HYSTERICAL directed by Crystal Edn. A workshop production, this dark comedy finds an ideal venue in T. Schreiber’s intimate black box where the focus is on the fine actors telling the stories through complex character relationships in the setting of a Las Vegas mental hospital. One of the play’s most intriguing characters is Monroe, played by Robby Ramos, the hospital’s resident schizophrenic drug dealer. Robby Ramos is utterly captivating in this role, both hysterically funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Ramos is a standout in this production and Arts in Color had the pleasure of interviewing him!
AIC: Where are you from? When did you decide to become an actor?
Ira Aldridge (Carl Lumbly) and Ellen Tree (Susi Damilano) perform as Othello and Desdemona at the Covent Garden theatre. Photo Credit: Ken Levin
It is difficult to adequately portray in words the magnitude of the moment African-American actor Ira Aldridge appeared on stage at Covent Garden in the title role of Othello in 1833 London. Aldridge took over the role over from a dying Edmund Kean (who played Othello in brownface), an actor considered at the time to be the greatest interpreter of Shakespearean tragedy on the British stage. While Aldridge had already made a name for himself in smaller theatres and regional theatre, an actor of African descent on the most noted stage of early 19th century London, playing a dramatic lead role, moreover a romantic lead role opposite a famous white actress, was groundbreaking. Continue reading …
Disciple (Adrian Roberts*) returns home from work on a cold Massachusetts evening. (Photo credit Jennifer Reiley)
We are introduced to the story of runboyrun through ghosts, although we do not yet know that that is what they are. At the beginning of the play they are just two characters from a different time and place: Sister (Katherine Turner) and Boy (Rotimi Agbabiaka).
The meat of the action begins with Disciple (Adrian Roberts) returning home to his wife, Abasiama (Omoze Idehenre), who is buried under blankets, trying to keep out the frigid New England winter. After a tense exchange, he descends into the basement where he strips off his outerwear and tries to write about Nigeria. It is there in the basement that the ghosts come to him. He doesn’t see them, but he senses their presence, as they inhabit the space, to the point of physically invading his.
Abasiama (Katherine Turner) is surprised by Moxie (Jamella Cross) during the graveyard shift at work. (Photo Credit Jennifer Reiley)
I admit that when I first read that Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners was part of a 9-play cycle of works about the same Nigerian immigrant family in Texas, my first reaction was wariness. Would this story feel complete or would I feel like I had merely seen a prologue to an unfinished longer tale? Would the characters I was about to meet really be intriguing and complex enough that they’d warrant 8 more stories about them? I needn’t have been concerned. I left the Magic Theatre feeling very much that I had seen a play with a complete narrative arc, yet wanting to know more about the bright, ambitious Abasiama (Katherine Renee Turner), balancing a late-term pregnancy with full-time studies on a Student Visa, her charming but woefully unreliable husband by arranged-marriage Ukpong (Jarrod Smith), the aptly nicknamed teen-prostitute Moxie (Jamella Cross) whom Abasiama befriends at the gas station where she works, and Abasiama’s devout, devoted admirer, the equally aptly named Disciple Ufot (Rotimi Agbabika). Continue reading …
(l to r) Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Lucien) and Tim Kang (Ray) in Julia Cho’s Aubergine at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
aubergine opens with a single character, Diane (Safiya Fredericks), on a bare stage. Her appearance, and her monologue, could represent the next two hours: lean, contemplative, and full of food and familial relationships.
Ray (Tim Kang) is a chef whose relationship with his immigrant father (Sab Shimono) could be described as strained at best. But now his father is dying, and Ray is his primary caregiver.
Cheryl L Davis backstage at Bridges. Photo by Paul Chinn, provided by the Berkeley Playhouse
Arts in Color recently had the opportunity to interview multi-talented playwright, librettist, lyricist, and screenwriter Cheryl L Davis, who impressively balances her day job as a partner in a law firm with her award-winning writing career. In 2005, she won the prestigious Kleban Prize in Musical Theater for her work as a librettist. The same year, her musical Barnstormer was recognized with a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Award via the The Lark Play Development Center. More recently, a 2014 production of her play Maid’s Door was recognized with 7 Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO “VIV” Recognition Awards for Excellence in Black Theatre, including Best Playwright and Dramatic Production of the Year.
Francine Williams (Janelle Lasalle) marches for freedom on Bloody Sunday in 1965 Selma, Alabama. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.
From now until March 6th, the Berkeley Playhouse is presenting the world premiere of Bridges, a musical by librettist Cheryl L. Davis and composer Douglas J. Cohen. Bridges is set in 1965 in Alabama during the Selma to Montgomery marches and in 2008 in the Bay Area, during a seminal election when Proposition 8 (making same-sex marriage illegal) was on the ballot and Barack Obama was in a race to become our nation’s first African American—and first biracial— president.