California Shakespeare Theater Announces Marcus Gardley’s LEAR, directed by Dawn Monique Williams, for 48th Season

Dawn Monique Williams

California Shakespeare Theater has announced its 2022 season at the Bruns Amphitheater featuring two world premiere Shakespearean adaptations: the bilingual Romeo y Juliet adapted by Karen Zacarías and directed by KJ Sanchez, running May 25-June 19; and Lear adapted by Marcus Gardley and co-directed by Eric Ting and Dawn Monique Williams, running September 7-October 2 in partnership with Oakland Theater Project and with support from Play On Shakespeare.

Following a successful 2021 Season of Shared Light that opened the Bruns Amphitheater to 25 other performing arts organizations and community groups before culminating in a production of The Winter’s Tale, Cal Shakes will continue the Shared Light Initiative in 2022 with a variety of concerts, dance performances, and special events throughout the summer and fall.

“A year without theater challenged us to ask hard questions about our role as a cultural touchstone of our community. And the success of our Season of Shared Light has inspired us to continue a practice of opening our remarkable space to thrilling artists and arts organizations from across the Bay,” says Artistic Director Eric Ting. “Anchored by two vital re-imaginings of iconic classics with beloved Cal Shakes artists familiar and new, next summer is sure to be a dynamic return to live performance under the stars.

In the fall, playwright and Oakland-native Marcus Gardley, known for his critically-acclaimed black odyssey at Cal Shakes, returns with Lear, a modern verse adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The production will be co-directed by Cal Shakes’ Artistic Director Eric Ting and Aurora Theater Company’s Associate Artistic Director, Dawn Monique Williams, in partnership with Oakland Theater Project and with support from Play On Shakespeare. Set in San Francisco’s Fillmore District from the eminent domain crisis through to the subsequent displacement of the 1960s, and infused with a jazz score, Gardley’s deeply personal Lear reckons with uncomfortable legacies, with the consequences of our actions, and with the vulnerability and ultimate resilience of the human heart to find its way back again.

“Play On Shakespeare is delighted to be part of Marcus Gardley’s homecoming back to the Bay and on the Bruns stage,” says Play On Shakespeare President Lue Douthit. “We are honored to be in partnership with Cal Shakes and the Oakland Theatre Project. Marcus is the Bard of our times, and his translation is astounding.”

Tickets will go on sale to the public in the spring. Cast, creative teams, and Shared Light partners will be announced at a later date. Dates are subject to change based on COVID-19 protocols and restrictions.

For information visit www.calshakes.org.

Read the full article by A. A. Cristi for Broadway World San Francisco here.

Theatre Review: Psalmayene 24’s ‘The Blackest Battle’ presented streaming by Theatre Alliance

Gary Perkins as Bliss and Imami Branch as Dream in Theatre Alliance’s “The Blackest Battle.” Photo courtesy of Theatre Alliance.

Psalmayene 24’s latest production is “The Blackest Battle,” a parable set to a love story set in the near future where America has gone through a second civil war after reparations were finally made to Black people. Black people live in a territory called Chief County where they fight against the cascading effects of slavery — Black-on-Black gun violence, rivalries, and a drug called Hope, which is psychologically addictive (it’s some combination of technology and plant-based which seems to take hold through music).

Go to the Theatre Alliance website and buy a ticket. Psalmayene 24 has given us entrée into a world we need to see and hear and feel — now.

Psalmayene 24 has built his story on the bones of “Romeo & Juliet,” with a hearty nod to “West Side Story.” At one point, even under the hip-hop background, I could hear echoes of “Gee Officer Krupe” in the dialogue. It is a clever homage.

Only in Chief County, our two rival gangs are two rival music entrepreneurs, vying for top billing and away out of gun dealing, and more. In this stripped-down, fast-paced version, the action coalesces when Dream (Imami Branch) meets Bliss (Gary Perkins) and he persuades her to spend a couple of hours with him while he shows her the underpass and introduces her to Hope.

The one thing her posse won’t allow is using Hope — the leader of their group’s mother died from it. But when Dream tries it with Bliss, she sees a world of possibility for Black people to move forward and unleash their creativity, minds, and souls.

Unfortunately, life isn’t that kind. While Bliss and Dream sit under the Underpass (Branch and Perkins have a delectable chemistry together), they see a wall of names painted in little white-rimmed rectangles — the names of everyone dead by gun violence for that year. The names are actually of those who have died by gun violence in Washington, DC this past year, and it’s a harsh, unescapable reality. In “The Blackest Battle,” someone will die of gun violence between the rival groups, but it won’t be Bliss or Dream. It will be basically a bystander, an innocent who came upon them and offered some advice.

Tightly directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, the production team does a masterful job of blending the graphic art (Wesley Clark, Camilla King and Maliah Stokes), background art (Rodney “Buck” Herring), props (Amy Kellett), lighting (Dylan Uremovich), sound (Matthew M. Nielson), and photography (Kelly Colburn, who also did the video editing). Animation by Jeremy Bennett, Deja Collins, Dylan Uremovich, and Visual FX artists Kelly Colburn, Deja Collins, Jonathan Dahm Robertson, and Dylan Uremovich bring visual verve and punch to the music, dance, and dialogue.

But it’s not cartoonish, in the sense of being cute or at a safe remove. This is a visceral show that demands the audience acknowledge and think about the deleterious and on-going effects of centuries of abuse, cruelty, and dehumanization that have led to names on an underpass. The show makes these points with force and vigor because these people have basically died in a war, but where is the memorial honoring their sacrifices?

Go to the Theatre Alliance website and buy a ticket. Psalmayene 24 has given us entrée into a world we need to see and hear and feel — now.

This is an ambitious show, and I’m sorry I didn’t see the original conception when it was presented at the Kennedy Center’s “Page to Stage.”

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes without intermission.

Advisory: Adult language and drug use. For mature teens and older.

“The Blackest Battle” streams through the end of August 2021 from Theatre Alliance, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here. 

Read the full article by Mary Ann Johnson from MD Theatre Guide here.

Ifa Bayeza’s THE TILL TRILOGY Will Launch Next Season at the MOSAIC THEATER COMPANY OF DC

Ifa Bayeza

Washington, DC, July 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Mosaic Theater Company of DC is proud to announce the opening production of the 2022-23 season, Ifa Bayeza’s long-anticipated three-play cycle, THE TILL TRILOGY, exploring the life, death, and legacy of Emmett Till. Simultaneously epic and intimate, the three plays – The Ballad of Emmett Till, on the journey of the boy, Benevolence, on the story of his killers and That Summer in Sumner on the quest for justice – will be presented in rotating repertory, starting in August and running through November 2022. This world premiere staging of the full cycle, the first time all three plays will be presented together, is made possible by a grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation.

The lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 became a catalyst for the modern Civil Rights movement and remains a flashpoint in the racial reckoning of this country. “I have always seen the story of Emmett Till as a national allegory, a modern myth of our struggle to come to grips with the terrible legacy of enslavement,” Bayeza said. “The killing of black men and boys has become so frequent and ubiquitous that it is hard to fathom. I am humbled that THE TILL TRILOGY is making its debut at Mosaic Theater Company in the nation’s Capital – and hopeful that the inspiration of his extraordinary life will buoy us once again in these difficult times.” 

“As theatres come to life across the country, The Roy Cockrum Foundation is honored to support the full world premiere of THE TILL TRILOGY on Mosaic’s stage,” Cockrum said. “In the months since theaters went dark, this work’s importance has been magnified a thousand-fold. The Foundation wholeheartedly supports this historic project with the fullness that the Emmett Till story demands and deserves. We wish the Mosaic family well as they finally move forward with this important work.”

THE TILL TRILOGY will be directed by Talvin Wilks, who also helmed Penumbra Theatre’s acclaimed productions of The Ballad of Emmett Till and Benevolence. Wilks’ and Bayeza’s collaboration on the third play, That Summer in Sumner, will be a world premiere. “We were all so disappointed when like so many other theatres our production was postponed due to COVID,” said Wilks. “The new date is even more poignant as our premiere coincides with the anniversary of this tragic and epic event – August 28th: the day of Emmett’s death, the March on Washington and Barack Obama’s acceptance of the nomination for President of the United States. In the worst of times, the triumph of faith and hope. Emmett’s arc, like Dr. King’s ‘arc of the moral universe, bends toward justice.’”

A month after his fourteenth birthday, a confident Chicago youth, a boy on the threshold of manhood, embarks on a summer trip to Mississippi. His saga changes the course of a nation . . .  but what of his own journey? The story of a quest … for liberty . . .  and . . .  life! THE TILL TRILOGY, Ifa Bayeza’s acclaimed, award-winning trio of dramas captures the powerful truths at the heart of the story in a soaring work of music, poetry and theatricality.

In preparation for production, Mosaic has presented a series of streamed and recorded public programming events surrounding the political and social impact of the Emmett Till saga. Guests have included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch, preeminent Brandeis University scholar Isaiah Woodard, who is serving as dramaturg on the production, founder of Busboys and Poets Andy Shallal and Mosaic’s Andrew W. Mellon Playwright in Residence Psalmayene 24. All online events can be viewed here.

For more information about THE TILL TRILOGY, its author, director,  and upcoming public programs, visit https://mosaictheater.org/the-till-trilogy

Play                 THE TILL TRILOGY

Dates               August 24, 2022 through November 20, 2022

Box Office      https://sforce.co/3i8IQzK

Theater Alliance Presents THE BLACKEST BATTLE Beginning This Month

The Blackest Battle premieres on July 31, 2021 and will be available for scheduled online streams through the month of August. 

Theater Alliance Presents THE BLACKEST BATTLE Beginning This Month

As the final digital film of the theater season, Theater Alliance presents a world premiere production of acclaimed artist Psalmayene 24‘s The Blackest Battle. A love story that calls attention to Black-on-Black gun violence, the film is set in the future, when reparations have been made and youth get high on a drug called Hope.

With songs composed by Nick tha 1da and visual art from Wesley Clark, Camilla King, Maliah Stokes, and Rodney “Buck” Herring, the film is half music video, half graphic-novel-come-to-life, and utterly unlike any other work of digital theater that has come out of the past year.

“Working with Psalmayene 24 on this commission has been a tremendous gift,” says Raymond O. Caldwell, who directed the film. “Theater Alliance committed to this play four years ago – we knew then that it would be a powerful, dynamic, and significant work of theater, and it has become even stronger with every draft. Theater Alliance is proud to support and produce local playwrights like Psalm.”

The Blackest Battle was commissioned from Psalmayene 24 and Nick tha 1da in 2017. In the years since, it has been written, developed, workshopped, and revised through Theater Alliance’s Hothouse New Play Development program – with performances at the John F. Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, as well as the Word Becomes Action Festival. Originally slated for live performance in summer of 2020, the production has been reimagined for the screen.

“Our digital production team has grown in leaps and bounds over this season’s work,” says Caldwell. “It is thrilling to bring this film to audiences, knowing we are at the forefront of innovative storytelling – pushing the boundaries of what theater is and can do.”

The Blackest Battle premieres on July 31, 2021 and will be available for scheduled online streams through the month of August.

Under the guidance and expertise of photography director Kelly Colburn, as well as art director Jonathan Dahm Robertson, Theater Alliance has again recreated the intimate theatrical nature of its work for the camera. The production has been pre-recorded, utilizing stringent safety precautions.

This production is made possible through the support of the National Foundation for the Arts, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Revada Foundation, and the Arts Forward Fund. Season 18 at Theater Alliance is generously sponsored by David and Jean Heilman Grier.

Purchase tickets at www.theateralliance.com or call 202-241-2539.

Full article by Stephi Wild for BroadwayWorld D.C. available here.