Wheatley, the Tale of an African-American Slave and Poet, Premieres at Victory Gardens

News   Wheatley, the Tale of an African-American Slave and Poet, Premieres at Victory Gardens
Wheatley, a Victory Gardens Theater world premiere by VGT Playwrights Ensemble member Lonnie Carter, begins Oct. 6 at the Tony Award-honored Chicago theatre, telling the story of Phillis Wheatley, an educated African American woman whose poems were published in American Revolution times.

The experience is billed as a "colorful, uplifting, lightning quick, music-filled evening of theatre dedicated to revolutionary American slave girl Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American published poet, whose poetic genius lifted her from New England parlor trick into the great salons of Europe and beyond."

Obscure today, Phillis Wheatley one of the most well known poets in America during her day. Audiences follow "her travels with the Countess Selena, Ben Franklin and the Admiralty from Boston to London and back, where she finds love in the arms of Samson Osee Power Frock — free man of color."

The company includes Yetide Badaki (in the title role), Daniel Bryant, Aaron Todd Douglas and Ann Joseph.

The tale comes "to life through Carter's syncopated, hip-hop language, wild rhymes and contemporary rhythms."

Sharon J. Shruggs directs. A diverse musical soundscape, ranging from classical, to rap, to African drums, is designed by Mikhail "Misha" Fiksel. The design team includes scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, costume designer Rachel Healy, and lighting designer Todd Hensley. Danielle S. Boyke is production stage manager.

Opening night is October 10, with performances continuing to Nov. 13 on the Victory Gardens Upstairs Mainstage, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

According to VGT production notes, "Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was born on the western coast of Africa and kidnapped from the Senegal-Gambia region when she was seven years old. Too young to be sold as a slave in the West Indies or the southern colonies, she was sent to Boston, where she was purchased in 1761 by John Wheatley, a prominent tailor, as an attendant to his wife. Phillis learned English quickly and was taught to read and write, and within 16 months of her arrival she was reading passages from the Bible, Greek and Latin classics, astronomy, geography, history and British literature. She published her first poem in the Newport, Rhode Island Mercury on December 21, 1767. Unable to get her poems published in Boston, Phillis and the Wheatleys traveled to London for a publisher, and in 1773, 39 of her poems were published as 'Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.' This collection is Phillis Wheatley's only book, and the first volume of poetry to be published by an African-American."

Lonnie Carter has spent more than 30 years writing plays that jump racial and ethnic boundaries. His most recent VGT production, the 2004 Jeff Nominated Best New Play The Romance of Magno Rubio, had its sixth major production recently at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT. His newest play The Lost Boys Of Sudan, about Sudanese refugee boys who have taken up residence in Fargo, ND, was commissioned by the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis, and will premiere there in 2006-07. Another new work, Organizing Abraham Lincoln, a joint venture with union organizer Rich Klimmer, won a commission from the Guthrie Theater and the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis. Carter is a native of Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood. He is a graduate of Marquette University and the Yale School of Drama.

For more information, call the Victory Gardens box office, (773) 871-3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org.


Victory Gardens, home to more world premiere mainstage productions than any other Chicago theatre since 1974, has held true to a challenging mission: developing and producing new plays, most of them world premieres, with an emphasis on Chicago writers and its own 12-member Playwrights Ensemble. It is this ongoing relationship with 12 living playwrights that helped Victory Gardens receive the 2001 Tony Award for Regional Theatre. In 2004, Victory Gardens purchased the historic Biograph Theater, two blocks north at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue. Following a $10.5 million renovation of the nationally landmarked movie house, Victory Gardens will re-open the Biograph in fall 2006 as a new, state-of-the-art facility. Although 2005/06 is the "farewell season" for Victory Gardens' long-time home at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, the company will retain its current location, creating a two-facility creative campus along Chicago's Lincoln Avenue.

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