THE NEGRO ENSEMBLE COMPANY, INC. TO REVIVE CLASSIC ONE-ACTS, "ROSALEE PRITCHETT" AND "THE PERRY'S MISSION," IN DOUBLE-BILL APRIL 5 TO 22.
WHERE AND WHEN:
April 5 to 22, 2017
Theatre 80 St. Marks, 80 St. Marks Place
Presented by Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (www.necinc.org)
Tickets: $25.00 General Admission; $20.00 Students, Seniors and Groups of 10 or more.
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM; Sunday, 3/9 at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM.
Friday, 4/7 is opening night with reception; separate reception tickets are $25.00. No shows on Easter, 4/16.
Box office: 866-811-4111, www.necinc.org. Group sales 212-582-5860
Running time: two hours (with intermission). Critics are invited on or after April 7.
NEW YORK, March 14 -- This Spring, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. continues the celebration of its 50th Anniversary season in which it is remounting classic plays of the company's past. From April 5 to 22, the company will present two companion pieces, "Rosalie Pritchett" by Barbara and Carlton Molette and "The Perry's Mission" by Clarence Young III. These one-acts, exploring themes of black struggle, were originally produced together in 1971 at St. Marks Playhouse, a half block from Theatre 80 St. Marks where this production will be staged. Both plays will be directed by Allie Woods, a founding member of the company.
The plays date from a year when the Vietnam War was raging, Black Power Politics was mobilizing disparate counterculture activists, and Black Panther chairman Bobby Seale was standing trial in New Haven for murder of a police informant. In these inflammatory times, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. dedicated a season to plays emphasizing themes of black struggle. The double-bill of "Rosalie Pritchett" and "The Perry's Mission" aimed to look deeply into the actions and feelings underlying splits in Black philosophies and minimizing forward motion. The New York Times reported that in the plays, "the struggle is not so much against white supremacy as against a more insidious form of racism--the imposition of valued by whites on blacks and the acceptance by blacks of those values."
"Rosalee Pritchett" portrays the women of an upper-class black wives' bridge club, one of whom is raped by lower-class white National Guard troops, in a devastating indictment of the black bourgeoisie. In "The Perry's Mission," a male black militant challenges various people in a bar about their black identities and their conversation grows into fatal conflict. The language and mood of both plays reflect the tautness and alienation of the period in which they debuted.
"Rosalee Pritchett" was originally directed by Shauneille Perry. It's set in a southern city which is experiencing black riots. Despite the turmoil, life for upper-crust Blacks is going on undisturbed, just like for the whites. A bridge club of four wealthy black wives meets as usual and their snobbish conversation reveals them to be imitators of their white counterparts, right down to their prejudices and gossip. They prattle about cotillions, unruly servants and their desire to have their kids to marry white ("Just make sure she's not trashy!"). Meanwhile, white National Guardsmen patrolling the riot--played for effect by black actors in whiteface--gang-rape one of the women, the title character. The rest of the club remains indifferent. "The point of the play," wrote Times critic Mel Gussow, "is not really the rape, but the fact that the other women are unmoved and self-involved." Their attitude is that the city may burn but the fires will not reach them. The moral is, if you do as white folks do, it will be the end of you.
The play has been relatively dormant since 1971, but the authors are now receiving frequent requests to stage it with Q&A's afterwards. The new political climate has given it a currency it has not had for years.
"Rosalee Pritchett" will be acted by Monique Pappas, Jeannine F. McKelvia, Chauncey Gilbert, Horace Glasper, G. Anthony Williams, Chaz Ruben, Blessed Knew, Joyce Griffen and Malika Nzinga.
"The Perry's Mission" was directed in 1971 by Douglas Turner Ward. The play is set in a modest bar in a city's black community, which becomes an incubator of passions during a violent rainstorm, as a collection of disparate people take refuge there. The characters are a pair of businessmen--one black and one white; the black bartender, a black dandy with processed hair, a black militant in a Dashiki, two fairly typical black male teens, an old black drunk who was once a boxer, and a creepy white prostitute. The play tweaks the idea of "outside agitators," which had been used as an indictment against civil rights actions in the South. In this case, the agitators are whites and the victims are blacks. The play starts smoldering when the Black militant arrives. He wants to know, for each black person there, the state of their blackness--how they stand on issues and how they identify. The New York Times (Mel Gussow) described the play as a simple slice of life until its closing minutes, when the white businessman and prostitute are revealed as catalysts of black self-destruction, "turning the play into a sort of Perry's Mission Impossible." The playwright's forward says, "The purpose of this Black play is to make an attempt in uniting Black people. I believe that, in order to bring about a successful revolution, whether it be violent or nonviolent, we must first understand ourselves; we must try to learn to trust each other." The play seems to be adding, "If it weren't for the firebrands in our community, white people couldn't play us off against each other."
"The Perry's Mission" will be acted by Chauncey Gilbert, Daniel Carlton, Chaz Ruben, Horace Glasper, Aaron Lloyd, G. Anthony Williams, Laurie Folkes, Buck Hinkle and Maria Silverman.
Barbara and Carlton Molette, co-authors of "Rosalee Pritchett," began playwriting collaborations with that play. In 2013, they received the National Black Theatre Festival's Living Legend Award and the Ethel Woolson Award for "Legacy." In 2012, they received the Black Theatre Network's Lifetime Membership Award. "Prudence" received the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism's Playwright's Award in 2005. They authored scholarly articles and two books, "Black Theatre: Premise and Presentation" and "Afrocentric Theatre." They wrote seven other full-length plays and numerous short plays. Both are distinguished by prominent careers in academia. Barbara died March 9 at age 77.
Clarence Young III (1943-2010), author of "Perry's Mission," was a lifelong resident of Dayton, Ohio and Vietnam veteran (Air Force). A multi-talented playwright, performer and musician, he was founding director of Theatre West in Dayton. His other plays included "Bow to the People," "Song of Memories Past," "The System" and "I Am a Young Lady."
Director Allie Woods most recently staged "Ain't Never Been Easy" at Castillo Theatre in NYC and the Tuskegee Airman drama "Fly," at the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas. He co-directed "A Black Quartet," staging the American premiere of Ed Bullins' "The Gentleman Caller." He also directed the New Federal Theatre's AUDELCO-winning "When the Chickens Came Home to Roost," featuring Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. He has participated in the Playwrights/Directors Units of both The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. and The Actors Studio, the New York Shakespeare Festival, Ensemble Studio Theatre and BAM's Chelsea Theatre Center. He was a director-in-residence for two seasons at LaMaMa, where he directed "Short Bullins," four short plays by Ed Bullins, which were later invited to the Venice Biennale Festival. Mr. Woods was a founding member/resident actor for three seasons with The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. and acted in the original cast of the Pulitzer Prize finalist "Miss Evers' Boys," the Lincoln Center Theatre/Broadway production of Zora Neale Hurston's "Mule Bone," and seven of the ten plays of August Wilson's 20th Century Cycle, including Seattle Rep's "Gem of the Ocean," directed by Phylicia Rashad. He has appeared widely in film and TV and received numerous awards and honors.
The production/design staff of both plays is: set design by Patrice Davidson, lighting design by Alex Moore, sound design by Jacqueline Anscombe and costume design is by Ali Turns. Production manager is Alex Moore. Stage manager is M. Waddy. Assistant Stage Manager is Donna Dorr.
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. The company will return May 24 to June 10 with "Daughters of the Mock" by Judi Ann Mason (original production March 3, 1976), directed by Denise Dowse. 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 Price (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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CRITICS ARE INVITED to "Rosalee Pritchett" and "Perry's Mission"
on or after April 7.