A Gift of Glory: Edsel Ford and the Diego Rivera Murals, the world premiere play about the creation of one of artist Diego Rivera's most controversial and enduring works, opens March 13 at Meadow Brook Theatre in suburban Detroit.
Chris De Oni will play Diego Rivera in A Gift of Glory, by Meadow Brook's resident playwright Karim Alrawi. Previews began March 10 and performances continue to April 4. Meadow Brook, in Rochester, MI., is Michigan's largest nonprofit resident theatre.
De Oni has appeared opposite Jeff Bridges in the film, "Blown Away," and on stage at the La Jolla Playhouse, Hartford Stage Company, SoHo Repertory and Berkshire Public Theatre.
The Rivera-inspired drama centers on auto scion Edsel Ford (Dan Kremer) and the controversy surrounding his commissioning Mexican Marxist muralist Rivera to create the famous "Detroit Industry" frescoes in a courtyard within the Detroit Institute of Arts in the 1930s. The two-story tall murals, which depict sinewy auto-line workers, machine parts, fetuses growing underground, planes from the war industry and more, were considered vulgar and leftist by some Detroiters at the time. Today, the Rivera work is one of the state's art treasures and a major attraction at the DIA.
Henry Ford hated the idea, and so did right-wing broadcaster-priest Father Coughlin. The play is set against the backdrop of the Depression and the union movement. Kremer (playing the younger Ford) has appeared at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Also in the cast are Stephen Bradbury (Henry Ford/Father Coughlin), Kirsten Giroux (Eleanor Ford), Paul Hopper (William Valentiner), Hollis Huston (as Ford henchman Harry Bennett) and Geoffrey Beauchamp (Stettner/Hamsun).
Meadow Brook is a cultural program of Oakland University in suburban Rochester, MI, 15 miles north of Detroit. It operates in a 585-seat house on the campus in a League of Resident Theatres arrangement with Actors' Equity. It is Michigan's only LORT house .
Since Geoffrey Sherman took over as artistic director at Meadow Brook in fall 1995, he's shifted emphasis from mainstream and museum fare (popular with suburban audiences in the 1970s and '80s) to more contemporary or multicultural works such as Three Tall Women and Thunder Knocking on the Door.
The changes have met with some subscriber resistance. Before Sherman programmed August Wilson's The Piano Lesson, no play by an African-American had been staged at Meadow Brook in 30 years.
Sherman, former artistic director of the Portland Repertory Theatre in Oregon and the Hudson Guild Theatre in New York City, still spices Meadow Brook seasons with murder mysteries and light comedies, such as the regional hit, Beau Jest. A Gift of Glory is the first world premiere during his term.
Sherman and managing director Gregg Bloomfield have also been responsible for encouraging talkbacks, starting a theatre newsletter, sending special invitations to campus students and, in a groundbreaking move, staging a co-production of part one of Angels in America last spring with the university drama department, mixing students and Equity actors. Such aggressive marketing and artistic moves were unheard of 15 years ago at Meadow Brook.
Sherman was out of the country (Sept. 23) and not available to comment on the new season.
Ending the seven-show 1998-99 season is The Rocky Horror Show April 17-May 9 (previewing April 14-16).
Tickets to Meadow Brook shows are $19.50-$35. Call (248) 377-3300 for information.
-- By Kenneth Jones