Joan Ross Sorkin's (mis)Understanding Mammy: The Hattie McDaniel Story — about the actress' struggles with accusations of exploiting stereotypes — begins a four-week Off-Broadway run Feb. 7 at Theatre 5 on West 43rd Street. Emerging Artists Theatre produces.
David Glenn Armstrong will direct the world premiere about the actress best known as Mammy in the classic film "Gone With the Wind."
The work is billed as revealing "a side of Hattie McDaniel's life that few people knew." The actress was the first African-American to win an Academy Award, but she paid a high price for fame. "By playing a succession of maids and cooks . . . she became the target of an unrelenting campaign against 'Mammyism' led by Walter White of the NAACP, who thought her roles were shameful and degrading to their race," according to production notes.
The play is set in 1952 at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodlands Hills, CA, where Hattie is battling breast cancer. In her weakened state of mind, she imagines that Walter White has come to visit her and possibly reconcile their differences.
(mis)Understanding Mammy is part of the company's second annual Triple Threat intiative, which premieres three full-length plays by emerging playwrights. The festival plays in rep Feb. 5-March 4 and includes Carl Gonzalez's Elephant Girls and Jeff Hollman's Real Danger. Jenkins received rave reviews for her performance in Broadway's Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, and has also starred in Broadway productions of Caroline, Or Change; The Civil War; and Bacharach and David's The Look of Love.
Jenkins said in a statement, "I am honored, humbled and thrilled to be playing Hattie McDaniel. This project is definitely a highlight of my career, to portray the first black woman to win an Oscar for 'Gone With the Wind' and that's just one aspect of this extraordinary woman's life. The chance to do a challenging dramatic piece at Emerging Artists Theatre where they nurture new works is an actor's dream."
Lance Horne (Broadway's Little Women) will serve as musical supervisor for the production, which features scenic design by Robert Monaco, costume design by Amy Elizabeth Bravo, lighting design by Jenny Granrud and sound design by Ned Thorne. Jenny Granrud is the stage manager and Daniel Haley is associate director.
The work includes a chance for Capathia Jenkins to sing, "recalling Hattie's nightclub days before arriving in Hollywood," according to the playwright.
Sorkin's work includes the musical Isabelle and The Pretty-Ugly Spell and the plays Sweating it Out, The Confessional, Glimmer of Hope, L-O-V-E, A Brooklyn Tale, Anyplace But Here, Chasing Tigers, Therapy and more.
Director Armstrong has staged over 125 productions and workshops seen in 49 states including work at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Walnut Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Manhattan Theatre Club, NYMF, Arkansas Rep, Mason Street Warehouse, Anchorage Opera, Iowa Shakespeare, Pacific Repertory Opera, New Dramatists, Aaron Davis Hall, New York Fringe Festival and the York. He is the former artistic director of both Denver's Ascot Theatre and the Harrisburg Opera and was a founding member of the Directors' Company for NYU's Graduate Dramatic Writing Program.
(mis)Understanding Mammy: The Hattie McDaniel Story will play 2 PM Wednesday, 7 PM Friday, 2 PM Saturday and 5 PM Sunday. It will play in rep with Real Danger and Elephant Girls.
Tickets are $40 (group rates available) and are now available online at www.eatheatre.org or by calling (212) 247-2429. Tickets may also be purchased in person on the day of the performance at Theatre 5, 311 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor.