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Season spotlights women writers and directors at eta

Wed, Jan 23, 2013

Florence

Women writers and directors are in the spotlight for 2013 during eta’s ongoing series exploring the blues in theater. Featuring three shows by three distinguished female writers, selected and directed by three female directors of note, the series features two one-act plays by Alice Childress, directed by Mignon McPherson Stewart. Childress was the first African American female playwright to receive a professional production in New York, as well as a novelist, activist and actress; her contributions to the canon of African American drama are significant and profound.

In Florence, Childress’ first play, a segregated waiting room sets the stage for a complex racial confrontation between Mama, a black domestic and Mrs. Whitney, a privileged white woman. In simple, taut language, Childress frames the polarity of the races in 1949 and its insidious impact on aspiring blacks.

The second and better known work is Wine in the Wilderness. Set amid the Harlem race riots, Wine in the Wilderness exposes the pretentiousness of blacks toward one another. An artist named Bill is painting a triptych on African-American women, entitled “Wine in the Wilderness.” The three-faceted work starts with an innocent girl, while the center painting is wearing African clothing to represent his ideal, or “wine in the wilderness.” His third painting is “what society has made of our women” and the model is a woman his friends have met in a bar.

Bill’s bourgeois perceptions of black women are deconstructed in a mind-blowing revolutionary dialogue about race and women that changes his vision of the work.

“Alice Childress’ Florence and Wine in the Wilderness each contain rhythms and themes expressed in the Blues,” says McPherson Stewart. “Woven in both plays is the blues of not being seen as who you truly are by those around you.” The show runs through March 3.

Opening March 21 (thru May 12) is Cheryl L. West’s Jar the Floor. Directed by Ilesa Duncan, this unflinching exploration of familial bonds shared among women explodes with ferocious humor and disarming humanity.

Four generations gather to celebrate Madear’s 90th birthday. Over the course of the celebration ghosts, secrets, and a surprise party guest test the boundaries of already fragile relationships. NY Magazine called the play “…a moving and hilarious account of a black family sparring in a Chicago suburb…”

A Chicago-born playwright, West’s award-winning work includes the critically acclaimed play Before It Hits Home, (recently optioned by Spike Lee) and a film version of her play, Holiday Heart, which premiered on Showtime in 2000 starring Ving Rhames and Alfre Woodard.

Ilesa Duncan (director) has helmed shows at eta and theaters throughout the city of Chicago. A member of Lincoln Center Theatre’s Director’s Lab, she is a NEA/TCG directing fellow and an associate artist at Chicago Dramatists.

The final show of the season, opening May 23 (thru July 28) is Hoodoo Love by Katori Hall, directed by Artisia Green. Originally produced Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City, Hall pushes the pain and struggles of musician lovers to the brink in this, her first play. Toulou and Ace of Spades are classic blues people. They live the music. Ambition and love are bitter companions in this richly textured drama steeped in magic, violence, and blues music.

Hall was the first black woman in history to win the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play for The Mountaintop, which opened in September 2011 on Broadway. Samuel L. Jackson starred as Dr. Martin Luther King and Angela Bassett as a mysterious maid.

“Katori Hall is from Memphis, Tennessee,” states director Artisia Green, an educator, director and dramaturge whose recent dramaturgical credits include the Chicago (eta) and New York premieres of Daniel Beaty’s Tearing Down the Walls. “Even though she (lives) away from her hometown, her home has never left her; it is evident in all of her plays.”

All shows are performed at eta Square, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave. Show times are 8 p.m. Fri & Sat; 3 p.m. Sundays. General admission is $30 with student, senior and group rates. For tickets and information, call 773-752-3955 or visit www.etacreativearts.org. eta Creative Arts Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit that provides professional training and work in the performing and technical arts for youth and adults. It is one of only a few African-American owned and managed facilities in Chicago.

- Prepared Materials

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