This season, the "signatures" are multiple, but they all have the same source: Plays with roots in the history of the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) are being produced by Signature in 2008-09, starting with this First Breeze revival, which began previews Aug. 5. Lee's 1975 portrait of a family, and a grandmother with secrets, plays Signature's Peter Norton Space on West 42nd Street.
Performances continue to Sept. 28.
The original production of The First Breeze of Summer, directed by NEC founder Douglas Turner Ward, received a 1976 Tony Award nomination for Best Play for its 48-performance 1975 run at Broadway's Palace Theatre. It began at Off-Broadway's St. Marks Playhouse. It won the Obie Award in 1975 for Best Play.
First Breeze "takes place over the course of one sweltering weekend in June, as the struggles of three generations of the Edwards family collide. Gremmar (Leslie Uggams), the family matriarch, looks back on her past and considers its legacy for her children and grandchildren as they confront the choices that will define their futures. Leslie Lee's Obie Award-winning play is a timeless portrait of family bonds and coming of age." Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the NEC series artistic associate, directs a cast that also includes Quincy Dunn Baker (Romeo and Juliet), Harvey Blanks (Tabletop), Yaya DaCosta (Honeydripper), Sandra Daley (Defying Gravity), Crystal Anne Dickinson (Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"), Brandon Dirden (Prelude to a Kiss), Jason Dirden (Two Trains Running), Marva Hicks (Caroline, or Change), John Earl Jelks (Radio Golf), Tuck Milligan (Book of Days), Gilbert Owuor (The Brothers Size), Brenda Pressley (Dreamgirls) and Keith Randolph Smith (Come Back, Little Sheba).
The production features set design by Michael Carnahan, costume design by Karen Perry, lighting design by Marcus Doshi, sound design by David Margolin Lawson, and arrangements and music direction by Bill Sims. Jr. Winnie Y. Lok is production stage manager.
Performances play Signature's home at the Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street (between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues). For more information visit signaturetheatre.org or call (212) 244-PLAY (7529).
As part of The Signature Ticket Initiative, all tickets for The First Breeze of Summer are $20.
NEC has an extensive theatre training program and in its 40 year history has produced more than 200 new plays. The NEC's distinguished alumni include writers such as Stephen Carter, Lonne Elder, Charles Fuller, Leslie Lee and Samm-Art Williams, and actors Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, Samuel L. Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Esther Rolle and Denzel Washington.
Signature's 2008-09 season "will be an examination of a body of work from the historic Negro Ensemble Company's collective of writers, whose contributions have helped shape America's theatrical heritage."
The season will boast Samm-Art Williams' Home, Charles Fuller's Zooman and the Sign, and a staged reading of Douglas Turner Ward's Day of Absence.