Taking a break from her ongoing television relationship with Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad returns to the stage to play Harlem Renaissance luminary Zora Neale Hurston in Thulani Davis' Everybody's Ruby. The production will begin performances Feb. 23, open March 8, and run through Mar. 28 at the Public Theater's Anspacher space. Kenny Leon, artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, directs.
Also starring in the 13-character play are Viola Davis (Seven Guitars) and Bill Nunn, veteran of several Spike Lee films, including "Do the Right Thing."
Everybody's Ruby: Story Of A Murder In Florida played as part of the Public's First Stages series last season. The drama is based on the murder of a popular white doctor in 1952 Florida. A married black woman is accused of the crime, setting off tremendous racial agitation and Hurston's investigation into the murder.
"I discovered the story in a footnote in a biography of Zora Neale Hurston," said adaptor Thulani Davis. "It was an amazing untold story about sex, race, money and Southern mores. I started out reading the newspaper clips Hurston wrote, and I couldn't answer to my own satisfaction why she didn't write a book about it. It raises questions about who owns a story."
Davis, a journalist and novelist as well as a playwright, is also collaborating with Wolfe and opera composer Anthony Davis (X) on a new opera, Amistad, to premiere at Chicago's Lyric Opera in the months ahead. Rashad has appeared as a regular on two Cosby sitcoms: the phenomenally popular '80s program "The Cosby Show," and the current "Cosby." On Broadway, she has appeared as the witch in Sondheim's Into the Woods. Recently, she played Medea at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, under the direction of Leon.
Everybody's Ruby will mark the second appearance by Zora Neale Hurston in an Off-Broadway play this season. Just before the new year, a revival of Zora Neale Hurston, starring Elizabeth Van Dyke, ended its stint at the American Place Theatre.
In other Public news, Ellen McLaughlin's Tongue of a Bird arrives March 16 at the Martinson Hall space. McLaughlin provided one of the most memorable theatre images of the 1990s, playing the angel in Angels in America, before turning to playwriting. She debuted her latest drama, Bird, at Seattle's Intiman Theatre and then brought it to London's Almeida in November 1997. The play opened at the Mark Taper Forum on Jan. 14 with Cherry Jones, Diana Verona and Marian Seldes. Jones has told Playbill On-Line that she will appear in the New York production as well, though Seldes and Verona will not.
Tongue of a Bird is described as "the powerful and poetic story of a search-and-rescue pilot who hunts for an abducted girl, while trying to come to terms with the loss of her own mother. . . about one woman's lost child, and another's lost childhood."
McLaughlin's other plays include "Iphigenia and Other Daughters," "A Narrow Bed," "Infinity's House" and "Days and Nights Within."
Closing the season will be Lisa Kron's 2.5 Minute Ride, directed by Mark Brokaw. Kron, one of the Five Lesbian Brothers, brought her solo to CA's Marin CenterStage, Feb.28-March 1, and SF's Magic Theatre, March 3 21. The show also had toured to RI's Trinity Rep, Jan. 21-25.
Writer and actress Kron (101 Humiliating Stories, Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told) tells of the trip she took with her 74 year-old father -- a Holocaust survivor -- to Auschwitz (the Jan. 21 performance benefited both RI's Perishable Theatre and the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial Museum). Also part of the mix: other true family travels and her brother's marriage to an internet bride.
The show's title refers to a "Mean Streak" roller coaster ride in Sandusky, OH, which Kron took with her father -- who was taking nitrogen pills for a heart condition at the time. His philosophy about the Holocaust (in which his parents died): "If it weren't for the good fortune of being born a Jew, I might have become a Nazi."
As part of The Five Lesbian Brothers, Kron appeared in The Secretaries and the recent Brides Of The Moon at New York Theatre Workshop.