After its successful dual-world premiere in 1997 at NJ's McCarter and CT's Long Wharf Theatres, John Henry Redwood's The Old Settler is now making the regional theatre rounds.
The Virginia Stage Company's current mounting finishes its scheduled run Mar. 15, after starting previews Feb. 22 and opening Feb. 27. Leslie Uggams stars as Elizabeth, a role she already played at Geva in Upstate NY. Uggams, a Tony-winner for 1968's Hallelujah, Baby!, also appeared in Jerry's Girls and Anything Goes. She's also known for playing Kizzy in the landmark TV mini-series, "Roots."
The Old Settler is set in 1940s Harlem, and takes an affectionate look at two middle-aged sisters whose relationship is put to the test when they take in a young boarder searching for his lost love.
Co-starring with Uggams in Settler are Lynda Gravatt, Gary DeWitt Marshall (The Song of Jacob Zulu) and Rosalyn Coleman (The Piano Lesson). Designing the production are Rob Odorisio (set), Susan Mickey (costumes), Liz Lee (lighting) and Joe Payne (sound).
Asked about where Old Settler fits in the canon of current black theatre, Redwood told Playbill On-Line, "I don't quite agree with [August] Wilson that black playwrights should be writing specifically for black theatre. But I do have more difficulties getting my work done. If you look at the October issue of American Theatre magazine, which has the listings of regional theatres around the country, see how many plays, in a 3-play or 6-play season, are African-American. And it's not just a black/white thing. How many Latino plays? How many Asian plays? You can't imagine how many good Latino playwrights are out there and their work isn't getting produced. Most black writers write in a vacuum, with nothing to go on but hope." MARK VIII:xxxvi, Redwood's first play, won a 1986 Audelco Award for Best Play. Other works include A Sunbeam, Acted Within Proper Departmental Procedure and What If You're The One?.
For tickets to The Old Settler at Virginia Stage Company in Norfolk, VA, call (757) 627-1234.
After Settler, the musical Dames At Sea starts Mar. 29 and opens Apr. 3.
-- By David Lefkowitz