Taylor, an actress and playwright known for Crowns and Oo-Bla-Dee, places the personalities of The Seagull in an African-American context, in an estate in coastal South Carolina's Gullah country, where people of African descent have lived for generations.
In the new Manhattan Theatre Club production at the Biltmore Theatre, Alfre Woodard ("Cross Creek," "Passion Fish") plays the matron-actress Arkadina, renamed Josephine Nicholas Ark Trip and Anthony Mackie is her performance-artist son, Constantine Trip, a.k.a. C-Trip.
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, 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).
Opening under the direction of Marion McClinton (who has shepherded August Wilson's plays in recent years) is Feb. 19. "Drowning Crow takes place on the Gullah Islands off the coast of modern-day South Carolina, as a family of African-American artists comes together for a momentous few days," according to MTC. The tale is flecked with hip hop-flavored poetry and contemporary references.
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.