A rare play by Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring, Polk County, gets a world premiere stage adaptation, opening April 5 at Arena Stage's Fichandler Stage in Washington, DC.
The recently discovered work is co-adapted by Kyle Donnelly (who also directs) and Cathy Madison, with banjo master and folk music expert Stephen Wade (of the DC hit, banjo Dancing) music-directing. Previews began March 29. Performances continue to May 12.
"We know the great American voice of Zora Neale Hurston through her novels — a voice gutsy, lush, unique — but that dramatic voice is rarely heard," said artistic director Molly Smith, in a statement. "Hurston's language is juicy and full of humanity — when blended with music, it is transporting."
The play by the African-American novelist, story writer, playwright and folklorist, known for "Their Eyes Were Watching God," was discovered in The Library of Congress five years ago. Written in 1944, in collaboration with Waring, Polk County is set in the Lofton Lumber Co. sawmill camp in southern central Florida circa 1930. It was inspired by Hurston's personal experiences in Florida while conducting anthropological research for her 1935 folklore collection, "Mules and Men." The play centers on the lives and lore of this community of African American men and women.
A cast of more than 20 performers draws "from the myriad riches of Southern reels, blues, barrelhouse rags, waltzes and church songs." The company includes Harriet D. Foy, David Toney, Gin Hammond, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Perri Gaffney and E. Faye Butler in principal roles. Dianne McIntyre stages the dances. Earl White stages the clog dancing. Tom Lynch is scenic designer, Paul Tazwell handles costumes, Allen Lee Hughes is lighting designer. Michael Jerome Johnson is fight choreographer. Tickets range $42-$54. The Fichandler is at 1101 Sixth Street NW. For information, call (202) 488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.
— By Kenneth Jones