The Great White Hope, a watershed play for Arena Stage and regional theatre in 1967, gets revived Sept. 8-Oct. 15 as the season opener of the 50th season at Washington DC's Arena.
The Howard Sackler drama inspired by the story of African-American boxer Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champ of the world, was the first play to transfer to Broadway after premiering at a resident not for-profit theatre. The move made commercial producers prick up their ears and wonder if the regions could be a testing ground -- perhaps even a more affordable testing ground -- for works that would become commercial. The play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Arena artistic director Molly Smith helms the 28-actor production, which began previews Aug. 25. Opening is 8 PM Sept. 8.
The original staging by Ed Sherin starred James Earl Jones as Jack, and Jane Alexander as Eleanor Bachman, his white lover, who are persecuted in the early part of the 20th century. Mahershala Karem Ali and Kelly C. McAndrew are the lovers in Smith's staging.
The phrase "the great white hope" was coined from Johnson's victory over the white boxer Tommy Burns, according to production notes. The white world sought to avenge the victory in frantic pursuit of a white champion to defeat Johnson and restore "the hopes of the white race." Sackler (1929-1982) was fascinated by the real story and wrote a mammoth play, which he presented to Fichandler. A grant from the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities allowed artistsic director Zelda Fichandler, Sherin and Sackler to create a more focused play, in blank verse, that retained its epic size. Scott Bradley's set design takes on themes and images of the circus and boxing worlds. Rosemary Pardee is costume designer, Lap-Chi Chu is lighting designer, Michael Keck provides soundscape and music, Michael Jerome Johnson is fight choreographer, Mike Malone is choreographer.
The cast includes Joseph Cronin, Terrence Currier, Denise Diggs, Conrad Feininger, David Fendig, Aakhu TuahNera Freeman, Mark E. Gladue, Scott Griswold, Richard Henrich, Bus Howard, Timmy Ray James, Michael Jerome Johnson, Jack Kyrieleison,Clayton LeBoeuf, Ian LeValley, Sarah Marshall, Howard W. Overshown, Wayne Pretlow, Tom Quinn, Lawrence Redmond, Joel Rooks, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Laura Sligh, Eric Sutton, Craig Wallace, Jeorge Watson.
Tickets range $27-$45. Arena Stage is at 1101 Sixth Street, in Washington DC, SW.
For ticket information, call (202) 488-3300.
-- By Kenneth Jones