While Broadway audiences clamor for Eugene O'Neill's Hughie, Washington DC audiences can get riled up over their own Huey -- Newton, that is, in A Huey P. Newton Story, opening at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Nov. 10.
The solo show, written, directed and performed by Roger Guenveur Smith, illuminates the contradictions of a controversial figure who was idolized by his community and vilified in the mainstream media. Co-founder of the militant civil rights organization the Black Panthers, Huey Newton was hounded by the FBI and ultimately ruined by drugs. He was murdered by a crack dealer in 1989 -- memorialized so succinctly in the Public Enemy song decrying black-on-black violence, "Welcome To The Terrordome."
Smith researched his play using Newton's autobiography, "Revolutionary Suicide" and other sources. "[It's] the most riveting, provocative show I have ever seen," Woolly Mammoth artistic director Howard Shalwitz said of the monodrama. "It is a ferociously driven piece that reminds us of the deep passions running beneath race relations in America."
Previous Roger Guenveur Smith solos were Frederick Douglass Now and Christopher Columbus 1992. With Mark Broyard he created the award-winning Inside The Creole Mafia. Running to Dec. 1, A Huey P. Newton Story features a live original "soundscape" score by Marc Anthony Thompson, who records and performs with the group "Chocolate Genius."
A Huey P. Newton Story was first produced Oct. 1995 at San Francisco's Magic Theatre and then went on to Oakland, L.A., Atlanta, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville. The play is scheduled for New York's Public Theatre, Feb. 1997. Woolly Mammoth is dedicated to producing unconventional, highly-charged new plays and sponsoring community arts projects. This production is part of both their Singles Exposure series and the new Washington Performance Arts Society New Performance Series, which will present various poets and performance artists.
For tickets ($12-$27) and information on A Huey P. Newton Story call (202) 393-3939. Previews on Nov. 8 and 9 are pay-what-you-can.
-- By David Lefkowitz