Where can you find such characters as a man who is waiting for his ancestors to come destroy the earth in a celestial rainstorm, a woman hired to play a dark-skinned descendant of Thomas Jefferson (which she actually is), and a new-born crack baby who uses a water uzi to make something of himself? At the Cleveland Public Theatre (6415 Detroit Avenue at West 60th Street), which is mounting the World Premiere of On the Hills of Black America by Keith Josef Adkins, directed by Tony Sias on CPT's mainstage. The production began previews Feb. 11, and opens Feb. 19 for a run through March 6.
Adkins, a New York-based writer, offers audiences an up-front look at contemporary African-Americans. He also demystifies stereotypes and myths about African-American culture in a series of seven short-stories and monologues.
The cast includes Princette Bowling, Allen Branstein, Ebani Edwards, Kevin Moore, Sherman Williams, Jonathan D. Wray and Talib McCullough (understudy).
On the Hills of Black America is produced by Randy Rollison and designed by Giuseppe Provenzano (set), Marcus Dana (lighting), Daniel Allen (costume), and Jordan Davis (sound). Director Sias is currently performing in Dobama's production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America. On the Hills of Black America won the 1998 Chilcote Award For best play of CPT's New Plays Festival. Adkins is not the first writer to experience good luck from the festival. According to the theatre's website, 97 of its 167 playwrights went on to have their works produced, 39 of them being done in CPT's regular season.
CPT began in 1984 and has premiered 252 new works from 157 regional, national and international playwrights. The past year has been their most profitable, with their box office sales doubling, and both theatres being almost full to capacity. The theatre's main focus is to develop artists from that region, especially those whose works are somewhat out of the mainstream. As founder and Artistic Director James Levin has said, "Our sense is that we -- the institution, the artists affiliated with us, the Near West Side -- are evolving. What was once a cluster of artists with no real community is now a presence reflecting a regional profile with national appeal."
Previews of On the Hills of Black America begin Feb. 11, and opening night is Feb. 19, with shows through March 6. Tickets ($8-$12) are available by calling (216) 631-2727.
For more information, you can also check out the CPT's website at http://www.clevelandartists.net/cpt
-- By Angelica Roderick