Black Barber Shops Are the Center of the Universe in World Premiere, Cuttin' Up, at Arena

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04 Nov 2005

Peter Jay Fernandez (top) and Bill Grimmette in <I>Cuttin' Up</I>.
Peter Jay Fernandez (top) and Bill Grimmette in Cuttin' Up.
In the tradition of its hit production of Crowns, Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., will present the world premiere of Cuttin' Up, a new theatrical piece "about the intimate world of the black barber shop," Nov. 4-Jan. 1, 2006.

The resident D.C. company commissioned writer Charles Randolph-Wright to adapt for the stage the text of Craig Marberry's book "Cuttin' Up: Wit and Wisdom from Black Barber Shops." The resulting play " sheds light on this special place where personal history, national news, superstition and community lore are passed down from generation to generation."

Performances play the Kreeger Theatre at Arena, one of the nation's oldest resident Equity companies.

"I am thrilled to share this world premiere from one of my very favorite theatre artists," said artistic director Molly Smith, in a statement. "Charles' clever and poignant adaptation will deliciously resonate with our Washington, D.C. audiences."

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Inspired by the success of his book, "Crowns," which has become a smash stage adaptation seen at a number of resident theatres (including Arena), author Marberry shared with Smith "Cuttin' Up" — a book for which he traveled the country, "collecting colorful stories from barbers and customers alike." Smith loved the idea of a stage adaptation and approached her frequent collaborator Randolph-Wright.

"The material in Craig's book was irresistible to me, especially because the storytelling is real," said Randolph-Wright, in a statement. "The barber shop films, with their immense popularity, have opened the door to this extraordinary world. I'm thrilled to premiere this play at my artistic home, for the audiences I love so much, and give them the chance to walk through that door and get the Cuttin' Up experience."

According to production notes, "The stories of Cuttin' Up are told through three African-American barbers who span three generations in age – Rudy is young, Andre is middle-aged and Howard is older…and wiser. Randolph-Wright's play breathes life into the wise and often humorous true stories originally told by barbers such as Vernon Winfrey (Oprah's father) and Emmett Till's cousin, Wheeler Parker."

The cast of Cuttin' Up features a mix of artists familiar with and new to Arena Stage. The seven men and one woman ensemble reunites Peter Jay Fernandez and Marva Hicks, of Arena Stage's 1998-99 production of Thunder Knocking on the Door. Actors portray various roles throughout Cuttin' Up.

The cast also features Ed Wheeler, Psalmayene 24, Duane Boutté, Carl Cofield, Bill Grimette, Marc Damon Johnson and the aforementioned Hicks and Fernandez.

Charles Randolph-Wright directed Arena's Guys and Dolls, Anthems, Oak & Ivy and Señor Discretion Himself. He also directed the 50th anniversary national tour of Guys and Dolls, based on his Arena staging. His play Blue was seen in productions by Arena, the Roundabout Theatre Company, the Pasadena Playhouse and elsewhere. His most recent directing credits include Brian Stokes Mitchell in Love/Life (Lincoln Center) and Tough Titty (Williamstown).

Craig Marberry is a video producer and former television reporter. He has written for The Washington Post and Essence. Marberry is the grandson of the late Louis Henry Ford, former Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ. He lives in Greensboro, N.C.

The creative team includes set designer Shaun L. Motley, costume designer Emilio Sosa, lighting designer Michael Gilliam, sound designer Timothy M. Thompson.

For more information, visit www.arenastage.org.