Soon after the close of Thunder Knocking on the Door on the mainstage of MN's Guthrie Theatre came another play with an African American theme, Black No More. Syl Jones' satire ends its scheduled run at the Guthrie's Lab Space, Apr. 19, after starting previews Mar. 14 and opening Mar. 20.
This world premiere was commissioned by the Guthrie and is adapted from George Schuyler's 1931 novel (considered the first book-length novel written by a black American). In Black No More, a black man, down on his luck during the Depression, considers turning white -- thanks to a machine called the "E-race-o-later."
Said Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling of the play, "It provokes us to laughter as it forces us to re-examine our views of race."
Tazewell Thompson directs the comedy, which is co-produced with Washington DC's Arena Stage in association with Mixed Blood Theatre. After its Guthrie engagement, Black No More will play at Arena's Fichandler Theatre in Washington DC, May 1-June 7.
Starring in the show are MN actors Christopher Bloch, Allen Hamilton, Emil Herrera, Shawn Judge, Isabell Monk, Omari Shakir, Gregory Smith, Rosalie Tenseth, Stephen Yoakam; DC actors Wendell Wright, Steven Dawn, Mary Fortuna, David Marks; and NY actors Patricia Ben Peterson, Gregory Simmons and Todd Anthony Jackson. Designing the show are Fabian Obispo (sound), Donald Eastman (set), Gabriel Barry (costumes) and Robert Eastman (lighting).
Playwright Syl Jones has written more than 30 plays, including Rescuing Little Roundhead, a memoir of his childhood.
In other Guthrie news, 300 years before Seinfeld, William Shakespeare was already dealing with "nothing" -- Much Ado About Nothing, that is. Actually, as with the heavily-plotted "Seinfeld" show, Much Ado has a lot of simultaneous storytelling, what with Beatrice and Benedick verbally sparring, and Don Juan cruelly plotting against virginal Hero.
The latest staging of Nothing comes to the Guthrie starting previews Apr. 10 for an Apr. 15 opening and a run through May 17, ending the Guthrie season.
Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling stages the comedy, which has been updated to 19th Century Italy. The show will feature sets by Desmond Heeley, music and sound by Keith Thomas and lighting by Chris Parry.
Starring are Stephen Pelinski and Pamela Nyberg, alongside James Lawless, Bob Davis, Nathaniel Fuller, Julie Briskman Hall, Richard S. Iglewski, Charles Janasz, Christina Apathy, Steven Michael Harper and Anthony Ciaravino (Don Juan).
For tickets ($15-$36) and information on Much Ado About Nothing at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis call (612) 377-2224.
As for next season, Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke and Lillian Garrett-Groag's The Magic Fire are both on the 1998-99 schedule, which runs July 5-May 23, 1999. Artistic director Dowling's eclectic choices range from Goldoni to Wilde, from Turgenev to Shakespeare.
Here's the line-up:
July 5-Aug. 30: The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde's comedy concerns two bachelors who get more than they bargained for when they go a-courtin' and encounter formidable guardian, Lady Bracknell (Guthrie veteran Barbara Bryne). Irish playwright Wilde also penned An Ideal Husband and Lady Windermere's Fan. Artistic director Dowling directs.
July 8-Aug. 27: A Month in the Country. Mark Brokaw, who helmed the Off-Broadway hits As Bees In Honey Drown and How I Learned To Drive, will direct the Ivan Turgenev comedy/drama. Irish playwright Brian Friel has adapted the piece, which looks at a young tutor becoming the object of two women's affections. Friel's plays include Dancing at Lughnasa and Translations. Frank Hallinan Flood will design sets for the show.
Oct. 2-Nov. 8: The Venetian Twins. In Kevin Kling's adaptation of this Carlo Goldoni romp, identical twins (one a country bumpkin, another a city slicker) look for a wife in modern-day Minnesota. The Royal Shakespeare Company's Michael Bogdanov directs this updated 1748 play.
Nov. 20-Dec. 27: A Christmas Carol. Barbara Fields adapts Charles Dickens' holiday fable, which for the second year will feature the voice of Sir John Gielgud as narrator. Sari Ketter directs.
According to an Associated Press report, an official from the Minneapolis theatre flew to London last year to tape Gielgud's recitation. "His voice will marry beautifully with those of the actors on stage and is a perfect fit with the language of Charles Dickens," said artistic director Dowling. Previous credits for the 93-year-old Gielgud include the National Theatre's 1947 Medea and Crime And Punishment, both of which played on Broadway. He debuted in 1921 at London's Old Vic and on Broadway in 1928's The Patriot. He also won an Oscar for Arthur.
Spokesperson Kemp Powers told Playbill On-Line, "We've done Christmas Carol for over 20 years. For a number of years, we had the narrator be someone portraying Dickens at the dinner table with his family. Last season we had various company members narrate throughout the story."
Jan. 15-Feb. 14, 1999: The Magic Fire. Lillian Garrett-Groag's autobiographical piece tells of her coming of age in Peron-era Argentina. Lippy Appel directs the drama (which world premiered at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1997) for the Guthrie.
Feb. 26-Apr. 4, 1999: Julius Caesar. Artistic director Dowling will update Shakespeare's look at dirty politics in ancient Rome to the 20th Century.
Apr. 23-May 23, 1999: Summer and Smoke. In Tennessee Williams' drama of repression and longing, tightly-wrapped Alma falls in love with a dissolute doctor but won't admit it until too late.
For tickets ($15.50-$37.50) and subscription information ($48-$204) to Guthrie shows call (612) 377-2224.
-- By David Lefkowitz