The staging by Manhattan Theatre Club began previews Jan. 29 under the direction of Marion McClinton. The script borrows plot points from the famed Chekhov play about a midle-aged diva actress, her playwright son and the friends, lovers and other who visit their estate. Taylor has set the show in South Carolina, on one of the coastal Gullah islands where African-Americans have had a presence for generations.
Taylor, an actress and playwright known for Crowns and Oo-Bla-Dee, has said in interviews that she was struck by the Chekhov characters' link to the past, as descendants of serfs – enslaved servants in Russia. Likewise, the characters in Drowning Crow have their own history with social bondage, and the tensions in the story are informed by the idea that one generation has fought to break barriers while another was born in a more carefree time — with certain freedoms taken for granted.
Just as the title suggests contrast with the past (today's black crow is vividly different from yesterday's white seagull), the story, like the Chekhov original, flutters with conflict and competition: Josephine is a TV actress who was once a great theatre star (the Negro Ensemble Company is referenced); her hip-hop-hued son has no use for shallow TV or commercial theatre — but craves his mother's approval.
The 13-member cast includes Aunjanue Ellis as aspiring actress Hannah Jordan, Peter Francis James as popular TV writer Robert Alexander Trigor, Stephen McKinley Henderson (as Sammy Bow, who runs the estate), Stephanie Berry (as his wife, Paula Andrea Bow), Tracie Thoms (as their daughter Mary Bow) Paul Butler (as Peter Nicholas, Josephine's retired brother), Ebony Jo-Ann (as maid Jackie), Peter Macon (as Yak, a servant), Curtis McClarin (as Simon, a teacher), Roger Robinson (as Dr. Eugene Dawn) and Baron Vaughn (as Okra, a servant). Director Marion McClinton is well-known for shepherding August Wilson's plays in recent years.
Sets are by David Gallo, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Ken Billington, sound by Dan Moses Schreier, and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. Original music is composed by Daryl Waters and choreography is by Ken Roberson.
Drowning Crow had a previous premiere production at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago.