May 24 to June 10, 2017
Theatre 80 St. Marks, 80 St. Marks Place
Presented by The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (
Tickets: $25.00 General Admission; $20.00 Students, Seniors and Groups of 10 or more.
Schedule: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM plus: Sunday, 5/28 at 3:00 PM and 6:00 PM; Saturday, 6/3 at 2:00 PM; Saturday, 6/10 at 9:00 PM. (16 performances total)
May 24 is opening night with reception; separate reception tickets are $25.00.
Box office: 866-811-4111, Group sales 212-582-5860
Running time :90. Critics are invited on or after May 24.

NEW YORK, May 23-- The 50th season of The Negro Ensemble Company, a year-long retrospective of some of the troupe's signature works, continues May 24 to June 10 at Theatre 80 St. Marks with "Daughters of the Mock" by Judi Ann Mason. The play is a poignant and suspenseful statement on disappointment and regret set in a Creole family that is struggling to break with mystical traditions that have bound it up for generations. Director is Denise Yvonne Dowse, who worked with the playwright on "Beverly Hills 90210" and previously directed Mason's similarly-themed play, "Eddie Lee Baker is Dead."

"Daughters of the Mock" was originally produced by The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. at the St. Marks Playhouse in 1978, featuring Frances Foster, Michelle Shay, Olivia Williams, Barbara Montgomery and L. Scott Caldwell, directed by Glenda Dickerson. The play is set in a family of women which is dominated by its grandmother, who has the powers of a Voodoo priestess. There are no male figures in the play, which is aching with loss and unfulfilled love. The fate of the family's men is an enigma that is revealed shockingly and late in the play. Unlike most of Judi Ann Mason's work, this play does not buffer its themes of loss and love with comedy; rather, it channels them, Greek tragedy-style, into the mystery of the "mock" -- a curse which is passed down through the women of the family.

To explain the play's ending would be to give away necessary surprises, but it is meaningful to state that it seethes with themes that are familiar in Mason's body of work: loss, black female rage, a girl who struggles for love and escape, and the fight against boundaries of race, class and tradition. Mason was raised in the vicinity of Shreveport, Louisiana and Creole traditions were alive there during her girlhood. The play's mother and grandmother are indoctrinated in them; the youngest daughter is not and she represents the modern world. Her older sister, having succumbed to her grandmother's spirituality, struggles to protect the younger sister from it. Since the play was produced in the late seventies, Mason's "mock" may have been meant to symbolize collective anxieties that were weighing on southern black women of her generation. But her metaphor has never really been defined because audiences and critics have been overwhelmed by the play's atmosphere, mystery and potent denouement.

The play was chosen for The Negro Ensemble's 50th Anniversary Season by Charles Weldon, Artistic Director and Karen Brown, Executive Director, because it stands out strongly in the canon of its time and because it focuses uniquely on women's issues. The play is published in "Classic Plays from the Negro Ensemble Company," edited by Paul Carter Harrison and Gus Edwards (1995). NEC co-founder Douglas Turner Ward wrote in the forward to that volume that Mason's "buoyant, farcical, roguish comedy ['Livin' Fat,' 1976] was little preparation for the mature, starkly severe, womanist savagery of 'Daughters of the Mock' with its fierce Greek-drama passions and intensities. The absoluteness and uncompromising rejectionist gender stance was unsettling to many in 1979, but over the years the play has achieved almost cult status. Judi Ann Mason, along with a poet-dramatist like Alexis DeVeaux, author of the complex psychological phantasmagorical 'A Season to Unravel,' provided the NEC with unique female perspectives and additional stylistic diversity."

Author Judi Ann Mason (1955-2009) had early success as a playwright, which brought her into network TV. She was one of the first African-American sitcom writers and one of the youngest writers of any race or either sex. Her first play, "Livin' Fat," was written when she was 19 and a student at Grambling State. It was a comedy about a poor southern black family that finds the discarded haul from a bank robbery. The piece was produced Off-Broadway in 1976 by The Negro Ensemble Company. It had already won a comedy award from The Kennedy Center that was sponsored by TV producer Norman Lear. Lear then made Mason a writer for his comedy series, "Good Times." Subseqeuently, she wrote for TV's "Sanford," A Different World," "Beverly Hills 90210" and "I'll Fly Away." Her films included "Sister Act 2: Black in the Habit" with Whoopie Goldberg.

Mason was author of 37 plays including "Daughters of the Mock," "Eddie Lee Baker is Dead," "Jonah and the Wonder Dog" and "A Star Ain't Nothin' But a Hole in Heaven." The last of these four was the first winner of the Kennedy Center's Lorraine Hansberry Award for plays about the African-American experience. It focused on a girl, coming of age in rural Louisiana who must leave her frail relatives to pursue her education. D.J.R. Bruckner (New York Times) wrote, ''Miss Mason fills her play with laughter, but her exploration of loss and gain is as serious as it is in any of the works about the '60s being written by a growing number of black playwrights." She died in 2009 at age 54.

Director Denise Yvonne Dowse is a five-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient. She is best known to television audiences for her recurring role as Vice-Principal, Mrs. Teasley on the long-running hit Beverly Hills 90210. She directed "Eddie Lee Baker is Dead" by Judy Ann Mason at the National Black Theatre Festival. She directed "The Monkey On My Back" by Debbi Morgan for Negro Ensemble Company in 2013. In 2015, she appeared with NEC in "A Lovely Malfunction" opposite Bebe Drake. Most recently, she directed the acclaimed hit production of "Recorded in Hollywood: The John Dolphin Story." She was Resident Director for 18 years at Amazing Grace Conservatory in Los Angeles, where she staged "Alice’s Wonderland," "Wicked," "Footloose," "Annie 2010," "Sarafina," "Beauty and the Beast," "Hope in the Hood," "Dreamgirls," "The Wiz," "Little Shop of Horrors" and "West Side Story." She is a frequent guest star in TV series. Her films include "The Call," the Oscar nominated "Ray" and the box office winner "Coach Carter." In L.A. theater, she has appeared in "Three Times a Lady," "Sassy Mamas," "Above the Line," "Darker Face of the Earth," "The Vagina Monologues," "Club Termina," "Long Time Since Yesterday," "The Jackie Robinson Story," "South of Where We Live," "Hamlet" (with LA Women's Shakespeare Company), "Othello" and "Life and Death: The Vaudeville Show," which traveled to Cuba.

The actors are: Brenda Crawley, Kristin Dodson, Claudia McCoy, Lynne Michelle and Edythe Jason. Set design is by Patrice Andrew Davidson. Sound design is by Jacqui Anscombe. Costume deign is by Ali Turns. Production manager is Karimah.

Theater 80 St. Marks became the home theater of The Negro Ensemble, Inc. (NEC) in 2016 and all of the company's 50th Anniversary productions are being presented there. The season began December 4-11, 2016 with a revival of NEC's very first production, "Day of Absence" (1966) by Douglas Turner Ward and continued April 5 to 22 with the double-bill of "Rosalee Pritchett" by Barbara and Carlton Molette and "The Perry's Mission" by Clarence Young III. The 50th season will culminate in September with "A Soldier's Play" by Charles Fuller (original production November 20, 1981), directed by Charles Weldon.

NEC's first plays were produced at St. Mark's Playhouse, which was one flight up over a the old movie house at Second Avenue and St. Marks Place, a stone's throw from Theatre 80 St. Marks. Today the old St. Marks Playhouse building at 133 Second Avenue has shops and restaurants on the ground floor and condominiums on the upper levels. Lorcan Otway, owner of Theater 80, beams that he is "proud and honored to host and welcome back the The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. to the street upon which they changed the face of New York theater."

NEC's awards include a Pulitzer Prize (1982, "A Soldier's Play"), two Tony Awards, eleven Obies and many more. Its legacy reads like a Who's Who of America's Black theater artists. One NEC show alone, Charles Fuller's 1981 Pulitzer-winning "A Soldier's Play," gave birth, so to speak, to film and television's Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, and James Pickens, Jr. In 2009, Signature Theatre presented a season of readings of various plays from the NEC canon, with Douglas Turner Ward as curator and Ruben Santiago-Hudson as associated artist.

Prior to the 1960s, there were virtually no outlets for the wealth of black theatrical talent in America. In 1965, Playwright Douglas Turner Ward, producer/actor Robert Hooks, and theater manager Gerald Krone founded The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC).  The River Niger by Joe Walker, originally produced at, St. Marks Playhouse (NEC's home theatre), moved to Broadway and was awarded 1973 Obie Awards for Distinguished Performance by Douglas Turner Ward; Best American Play, Joseph A. Walker, and Distinguished Performance by Roxie Roker. Other works include Peter Weiss' Song of the Lucitanian Bogey (1967), Lonnie Elder's Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (1969) and Charles Fuller's Zooman and the Sign (1980). In 1981, NEC mounted A Soldier's Play, by Charles Fuller. The play won both the Critics Circle Best Play Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The film version, A Soldier's Story, was released in 1984 and nominated for three Academy Awards. NEC has produced more than two hundred new plays and provided a theatrical home for more than four thousand cast and crew members. Among its ranks have been some of the best black actors in television and film, including Louis Gossett Jr., Sherman Hemsley, Denise Nichols, Esther Rolle, Adolph Caesar Laurence Fishnurne, Glynn Turman, Reuben Santiago-Hudson, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Phylicia Rashad; playwrights include steve carter (intentionally lower case), Samm-Art Williams, Leslie Lee. NEC continues to be a constant source and sustenance for black actors, directors, and writers as they have worked to break down walls of racial prejudice.

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