Stage and film actress Irma P. Hall will be among the defiant ladies who make a plan to eat at a segregated lunch counter when Victory Gardens Theater gives S.M. Shephard-Massat's Waiting To Be Invited its Midwest premiere, beginning previews Jan. 18 in Chicago.
Velma Austin, Kim Gregory, Kenn E. Head, Mary Ann Thebus and Jacqueline Williams join Hall in the production, which officially opens Jan. 28. The civil rights-themed play had its premiere by Denver Center Theatre Company in 2000 and won the American Theatre Critics' Osborn Award (for emerging playwrights) and the 2000 Kennedy Center Roger L. Stevens Award.
The play is a snapshot of how the civil rights movement was embrace in subtle — yet profoundly brave — ways by ordinary people. Ilesa Lisa Duncan directs. Performances continue to March 3.
The play is Shephard-Massat's loving tribute to her grandmother, who lived in the era when boundaries for African Americans were being toppled. The warm, humorous work is set in 1960s Atlanta. Hall plays Miss Odessa, who, with three co workers from a local doll factory, decide to travel to a whites only lunch counter, determined to test the Supreme Court ban on segregated eating establishments.
Hall is known for the 1996 film, "A Family Thing," with Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones, for which she received a Chicago Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her film roles also include Mother Joe in "Soul Food," for which she received a NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actress, and Minerva, the voodoo priestess in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Hall also appeared in "Patch Adams," "Beloved," "Nothing to Lose," "The Babe," "Steel," "Straight Talk" and "Buddy." She is best known on the national stage for her Off-Broadway turn as Ma Dear in Cheryl West's Jar the Floor, for Second Stage, a role she also performed at Old Globe, GeVa Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse, Illinois Theatre Center and Northlight Theatre. Her Chicago stage credits include the Goodman Theatre's A Raisin the Sun, Have You Seen Zandile (Jeff Award, Chicago Theatre Company), Steppin' Out and Time for Burning (Jeff Award, Steppenwolf Theatre Company) and The Rover (Goodman Theatre). Shephard-Massat's second play, Someplace Soft To Fall, won the 2001 Francesca Primus Award from Applause Magazine and Denver Center Theatre Company. Originally a dancer, Massat attended NYU's Tisch School for the Arts as a dramatic writing major. She lives with her family in Georgia.
Designers for Waiting To Be Invited include Mary Griswold (sets), Lindsay Jones (sound), Kristine Kananishu (costumes) and Jaymi Lee Smith (lights).
Tickets are $20-$33. The Tony Award-honored Victory Gardens Theater is at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. For information, call (773) 871-3000 or visit victorygardens.org.
— By Kenneth Jones