Theatre legend Ossie Davis will helm a private Manhattan reading of his Broadway play, Purlie Victorious Feb. 11, with Doug E. Doug, Whoopi Goldberg, George Grizzard and Ruby Dee among the cast.
The reading is being presented by Jeffrey Richards, Michael Rothfeld and Irene Gandy, who hope a commercial revival of the 1961 satire transpires. The work is a folkloric look at life in the Old South, with the title-character, a preacher, hoping to run an integrated church and facing a bigoted plantation owner.
The married Davis and Dee originally starred in the play, and in the film version of it, "Gone Are the Days." The work was adapted by Davis into the musical, Purlie. Producer Richards told Playbill On-Line that Davis has revised the three act work into a two-act form. The original subtitle will be used for the reading: "a.k.a. A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch." Casting is by Stuart Howard.
The reading cast features Harold Perrineau ("Oz") as Purlie Victorious (the role Davis created), Kerri Washington as Lutiebell Gussie Mae Jenkins, George Grizzard as Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee, Robert Sella as Charley Cotchipee, Ruby Dee as Idella, Erick Devine as the Sheriff, Andrew McGinn as the Deputy, Doug E. Doug as Gitlow and Whoopi Goldberg as Missy Judson. Casting is by Stuart Howard.
"The reason why we have such an exceptional cast reading this play is because of the nature of the play and because of the greatness of Ossie Davis," Richards said. "I think Ossie himself feels [the play] is in the vein of Sholom Aleichem, it's a folkloric comedy, it's enormously engaging, and it's very inclusive. It brings everybody together." The goal of the reading, Richards said, is "to hear the comedy and see how it plays today. Michael and Irene and I, we think it's something that will work."
In the play, Davis stresses African roots, the harmony of all people, and American values, but with big, broadly-drawn characters.
Richards' producing credits include the current Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), plus Broadway's A Thousand Clowns and Gore Vidal's The Best Man.
— By Kenneth Jones