Minstrel Show to Make NJ Premiere Sept. 27

News   Minstrel Show to Make NJ Premiere Sept. 27
New Jersey Rep will present the state premiere of Max Sparber's Minstrel Show; Or the Lynching of William Brown, based on a harrowing true story, Sept. 27-Oct 28.

Minstrel Show, according the resident professional troupe in Long Branch, NJ, "retells the story of the real-life murder of an African-American man in Omaha, NE, in 1919, through the narration of two fictional African-American blackface performers. Through comedy, music, and drama two minstrel performers re-enact the tragic event, and at the same time the audience witnesses the evolution of the black actor in America."

Rob Urbinati directs Spencer Scott Barros and Kelcey Watson. NJ Rep will offer a talk-back with the cast after each performance.

Rob Urbinati, a director based in New York City, but formerly a student in Omaha, heard about the play and requested a copy. He brought the script to Queens Theatre in the Park, where he is an artistic director, and the play inaugurated a minority theatre project in 1999. The Queens Theatre also brought the play to Manhattan, co-producing it with Chain Lightning Theatre, later that year. The play has continued to be produced since then, finding venues in Long Beach, CA; Colorado Springs; Pittsburgh; and two productions in Durham, NC.

In production notes, playwright Sparber explains, "I moved, somewhat without planning to, to Omaha, Nebraska in 1996. I had never visited the city, and so, my first week, set out to read a little about my new home. At the library, I discovered a book written by the Federal Writer's Project during the Depression that offered a map of downtown labeled with interesting historical tidbits, such as former brothels and gambling houses. Wandering around downtown, visiting these sites, I eventually reached the Douglas County Courthouse. Standing before it, I read an astounding, horrifying account of a lynching that had occurred on that spot in 1919. William Brown, a man crippled with rheumatism, had been accused of molesting a white woman, and thousands had stormed the massive, bunker-like courthouse to get him.

"During the course of the assault on the courthouse, the mob even attacked their own mayor, hanging him from a lamppost, where he would have died had not policemen rescued him. "I spent the next year researching this story, reading the newspaper accounts of the era. At the same time, I had become friends with Hughston Walkinshaw, of Omaha's Blue Barn Theatre. I approached him with the idea of dramatizing the lynching of William Brown, and he at once agreed, placing it on the schedule for the theatre's next season before I had ever even written one word of the script.

"To our surprise, we were granted the use of the rotunda of the Douglas County Courthouse, the actual site of the lynching, to perform the play. It was the subject of some controversy when it opened: State Senator Ernie Chambers, without either reading or seeing the play, condemned it, calling for a black boycott of the production. He was mostly ignored, and the play enjoyed an extended, sold out run."

Opening night is Sept. 29 at 8 PM. Tickets are $35 for general admission, $40 for opening night, and $30 for previews.

NJ Rep is at 179 Broadway in Long Branch. For tickets and additional information call (732) 229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org.

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