In Kia Corthron's drama, Seeking The Genesis, C Ana [sic], a single mother battles to raise her children in a big-city housing project. Her 15 year-old son, Justin, earns his stripes in the culture of drugs and guns, but C Ana wants to keep her youngest, Kite, out of that circle. He already has violent tendencies, so a schoolteacher suggests medicating him with Ritalin -- a cure that turns out to be worse than the sociological disease.
Seeking The Genesis received its world premiere Oct. 28-Nov. 17 in Chicago as part of the Goodman Studio Series. Now the play is getting a production on the second stage of New York's prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club, opening June 17. Previews of the drama, staged by Washington DC actress/director Kaia Calhoun, began May 20.
Corthron wrote Seeking The Genesis on commission by the Goodman. Her other plays include Cage Rhythm, Come Down Burning and Wake Up Lou Riser. As recipient of Manhattan Theatre Club's first Van Lier Playwriting Fellowship, Corthron wrote Catnap Allegiance.
Starring in the MTC production of Genesis are Soraya Butler, Aunjanue Ellis (as C Ana), Lindsay E. Finnie, Lloyd Goodman, Kevin Rahsaan Grant, Chris McKinney, Armand Schultz, Donn Swaby and Sharon Washington. Designing the show are Christine Jones (sets), Tom Broeker (costumes), Scott Zielinski (lighting) and Fabion Obispo (sound).
Asked how the Manhattan Theatre Club staging came about, Corthron told Playbill On-Line, "I was the first playwright fellow at MTC five years ago, so I've had some connection with the theatre." "The stagings at Manhattan Theatre Club and the Goodman Theatre are very different," said Corthron. "Even insofar as the set goes. At the Goodman it was very full and chatoic. Here it's very sparse, putting a different feeling on the production. Also, I'm making a few revisions."
Though Genesis tries to give both sides of the Ritalin story, Corthron makes no bones about which side of the issue she's on: "I definitely have my own feelings... I want people to know where I'm coming from about drugging kids. The idea for the show came from something people were talking about a few years ago called, `The Violence Initiative,' that is, finding a genetic connection between violence and the propensity for violence. A child with behavior problems beyond hyperactivity would be seen as a sign that they'd grow into a violent teenager. Ritalin is one of the drugs they use for this. The drug is supposed to help the child focus, which I don't understand. It's not supposed to make the child docile or lethargic, but it does; it's a drug to calm kids down."
Has the play drawn strong reaction from audience members close to the arguments at hand? "I got one letter from a woman from the CHADD organization (which supports Ritalin)," said Corthron. "The woman was disturbed by the play but glad I was addressing the subject."
For her part, Corthron's career is certainly not calming down. She goes into rehearsal in a week withi a new play, Splash Hatch On The E Going Down, to be done at NY Stage & Film in Poughkeepsie (July 9-19). The show will also be staged in late fall as a co-production between Center Stage (Baltimore) and Yale Rep.
"I also got a commission to write a play for the Royal Court Theatre in London," Corthron said. "I'm going to London this summer to talk about what I'll write about." Or, to put it another way, to seek her next play's genesis.
For tickets ($32) and information on Seeking The Genesis call (212) 581-1212.
-- By David Lefkowitz