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Groundbreaking ‘Native Son’ adaptation gets Southern California premiere at Antaeus

Andi Chapman directs the Southern California premiere of Nambi E. Kelley’s visceral, groundbreaking stage adaption of Richard Wright’s racially charged novel, Native Son, for Antaeus Theatre Company.Wright’s iconic novel about oppression, freedom and justice comes to life on stage at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale beginning April 19, with performances continuing through June 3. Low-priced previews take place April 12–18.

 

Set in 1930s Chicago, where opportunities for African-American men are elusive, Kelley’s adaptation focuses on the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind as a series of unleashed events violently and irrevocably seal his fate.

 

Jon Chaffin stars as Bigger Thomas, suffocating in rat-infested poverty on Chicago’s South Side, with Noel Arthur as “The Black Rat” — the manifestation of Bigger’s double consciousness. When a job as the family chauffeur brings him into the white world of wealthy Mrs. Dalton (Gigi Bermingham), her free-thinking daughter, Mary (Ellis Greer) and Mary’s Communist boyfriend, Jan (Matthew Grondin), circumstances spiral out of control. The ensemble also features Mildred Marie LangfordNed MochelVictoria Platt and Brandon Rachal. (Unlike most Antaeus productions, Native Son is single-cast.)

 

Double consciousness, according to W.E.B. Du Bois, refers to the effects of white racism — to

“the sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

 

“This is the story of a young black man’s life in 1939 America, who from birth is compelled to pass through a tragic gauntlet of oppression,”

 

states Chapman.

 

“The play moves like a runaway train. The tension starts at the top and ratchets up from there.”

 

“Everything is told from from Bigger’s point of view, through his lens,”

 

explains Kelley.

 

“The adaptation is an exploration of the concept of double consciousness as it relates to the concept of one’s ability to fly or be free. Think of it as a mind-map.”

 

One of the earliest successful attempts to explain the racial divide in America in terms of the social conditions imposed on African Americans by the dominant white society, “Native Son” was an immediate best-seller when it was published by the Book-of-the-Month Club on March 1, 1940. In his 1963 essay “Black Boys and Native Sons,” Irving Howe wrote:

 

 

“The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever… [it] brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture.”

 

 

 

The novel’s first stage adaptation, written by Wright and Paul Green, was directed by Orson Welles and ran on Broadway for three years. Kelley’s 2014 adaptation premiered at the Court Theatre in Chicago, where it was nominated for five Jeff Awards including Best Adaptation and Production of the Year and was the highest grossing production in the Court’s 60-year history. It was included on the 2015 Kilroy List, an annual collection of highly recommended plays by women and trans-identified authors, and is published by Samuel French.

 

“The birth of bigger Thomas goes back to my childhood,”

 

Wright wrote.

 

“But there was not just one Bigger, but many of them, more than I could account and more than you suspect… The Bigger Thomases were the only Negroes I know who consistently violated the Jim Crow laws of the South and got away with it, at least for a sweet brief spell. Eventually, the whites who restricted their lives made them, pay a terrible price. They were shot, hanged, maimed, lynched, and generally hounded until they were either dead or their spirits broken.”

 

The creative team for Native Son includes scenic designer Edward E. Haynes Jr., lighting designer Andrew Schmedake, costume designer Wendell C. Carmichael, sound designer Jeff Gardner, projection designer Adam Macias, properties designer Jacquelyn Gutierrez, fight choreographer Bo Foxworthand dramturg Dylan Southard. The assistant director is Jessica Williams and the production stage manager is Taylor Ann Cullen.

 

Nambi E. Kelley has penned plays for Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre/American Blues Theater, Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab, LATT Children’s Theatre/Unibooks Publishing Company (South Korea), Teatri Sbagliati (Italy), and The Finger Players (Singapore), where she also performed in the co-adapted production of The Book of Living and Dying. Her other works include Xtigone (Chicago Danz Theatre Ensemble; African American Shakespeare Company, directed by Rhodessa Jones) and For Her As A Piano (a Goodman Theatre/Chicago Dramatists/Pegasus co-production). A recent finalist for the Francesca Primus Award and the Kevin Spacey Foundation Award, Kelley was Playwright in Residence at National Black Theatre where her play Blood starring Roscoe Orman received a workshop production in November. Professional affiliations include Goodman Theatre Playwrights Unit, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, La MaMa E.T.C., Spoleto, Ragdale Foundation and playwright emeritus at Chicago Dramatists. An accomplished actress, Kelley has performed at theaters across the country and internationally and has been seen on several television shows, including Person of InterestMadam SecretaryElementary and Chicago Justice. Nambi has a BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University and an MFA in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College.

 

Andi Chapman is the associate artistic director of Ebony Repertory Theatre, where she directed The Gospel at Colonus (14 Ovation nominations Including Best Play and Direction; winner of the 2016 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Production). Other directing credits include MockingbirdAs it Is In HeavenThe Ninth WaveSteel Magnolias (Actors Co-op Theatre Company: Best Director Award), The Dutchman and A Summer Memory, among others. For film, she directed the award winning shorts Memorial StreetElijah’s Song and Why?. As an actress her television, film and stage credits include: NCIS, SMLF, Shameless, Glee, Dexter, 24, Six Feet Under, Short Cuts, The Lower Depths and Blood Wedding. She is currently the Center Theatre Group program advisor/coaching artist for the August Wilson National Monologue Competition. A professor at various universities, including Pepperdine and Chapman, she currently teaches film acting at Azusa Pacific University. Ms. Chapman is a graduate of Yale School of Drama/M.F.A, an alumna of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, and a selected participant of the prestigious Lincoln Center Directors Lab.

 

Antaeus is a cooperative theater ensemble founded to empower the actor and to bring classical theater to Southern California. The company exists to create a family of artists and audiences and is dedicated to exploring stories with enduring themes. Taking their company name from the Titan who gained strength by touching the Earth, Antaeus members — many of whom are familiar to film and television audiences — regain their creative strength by returning to the wellspring of their craft: live theater. Members of the company span a wide range of age, ethnicity and experience; they have performed on Broadway, at major regional theaters across the country, in film, television and on local stages, and are the recipients of numerous accolades and awards.

 

The new Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center complements Glendale’s ongoing commitment to integrate vibrant arts space into the fabric of city life, ensuring the arts remain accessible to all. Located just a few blocks away from The Americana at Brand and the newly remodeled Glendale Central Library as well as the Alex Theatre, the center promises to build upon Glendale’s growing reputation as an arts and entertainment destination. The center includes an 80-seat theater, a reconfigurable 45-seat performance/classroom space, a theater classics library and a lobby art gallery.

 

Performances of Native Son open on ThursdayApril 19 and continue thereafter on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.Sundays at 2 p.m., and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark Monday, April 23 and Monday, May 28) through June 3. There will be one additional Thursday evening performance on May 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 on Thursdays, Fridays and Mondaysand $34 on Saturdays and Sundays. Six preview performances take place April 12 through April 18. Preview tickets are priced at $15. Antaeus Theatre Company has partnered with TodayTix, the free mobile ticketing platform, to offer a $5 preview lottery; a limited number of $5 tickets will be made available through the TodayTix app for previews.

 

The Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center is located at 110 East BroadwayGlendaleCA 91205 (between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.). The first 90 minutes of parking is free, then $2 per hour, in Glendale Marketplace garage located at 120 S. Maryland Ave (between Broadway and Harvard). The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible.

 

For reservations and information, call 818-506-1983 or go to www.antaeus.org.

 

Details for Calendar Listings
Native Son

 

WHAT:
Southern California premiere 
of Native Son — Richard Wright’s iconic novel about oppression, freedom and justice comes to life on stage in this ground-breaking adaptation. Suffocating in rat-infested poverty on the South Side of Chicago in the 1930s, Bigger Thomas struggles to find a place for himself in a world whose prejudice has shut him out. After taking a job in a wealthy white man’s house, Bigger unwittingly unleashes a series of events that violently and irrevocably seal his fate. Adapted with theatrical ingenuity by Nambi E. Kelley, this Native Son captures the power of Wright’s novel for a whole new generation

 

WHO:
• Adapted by Nambi E. Kelley from the novel by Richard Wright
• Directed by Andi Chapman
• Starring Noel ArthurGigi BerminghamJon ChaffinEllis GreerMatthew Grondin, Mildred Marie LangfordNed MochelVictoria Platt and Brandon Rachal
• Presented by Antaeus Theatre Company

 

WHEN:
Previews: April 12 – April 18
Performances: April 19 – June 3
• Tuesday at 8 p.m.: April 17 ONLY (preview)
• Wednesday at 8 p.m.: April 18 ONLY (preview)
• Thursdays at 8 p.m.: April 12 (preview), April 19 (opening night), May 31 ONLY
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 13 (preview), 20, 27; May 4, 11, 18, 25; June 1
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 14 (preview), April 21; April 28; May 5, 12, 19, 26; June 2
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: April 15 (preview), April 22, 29; May 6, 13, 20, 27; June 3
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: April 30; May 7, 14, 21 ONLY

 

WHERE:
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center
110 East Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
(between N. Brand Blvd. and Maryland Ave.)

 

PARKING:
First 90 minutes free, then $2 per hour in Glendale Marketplace garage located at 120 S. Maryland Ave (between Broadway and Harvard)

 

HOW:
(818) 506-1983 or www.Antaeus.org
• Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AntaeusTheater
• Follow us on Twitter @AntaeusTheatre

 

TICKET PRICES:
• Opening Night performances on April 19 and April 20: $34 (includes post-performance reception)
• Thursdays, Fridays and Mondays: $30 (except April 19 and April 20)
• Saturdays and Sundays: $34
• Previews: $15*
* Antaeus Theatre Company has partnered with TodayTix, the free mobile ticketing platform, to offer a $5 preview lottery. A limited number of $5 tickets will be made available through the TodayTix app for previews.

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Entertainment News

Inspired by Chekhov, world premiere of Dorothy Fortenberry’s ‘Species Native to California’ 

LOS ANGELES (April 4, 2017) — Everyone’s a part of the family – until they’re not. IAMA Theatre Company presents the world premiere of a deceptively gentle comedy about family, land, labor and loss. Eli Gonda directs Species Native to California by Dorothy Fortenberry for a May 13 opening at Atwater Village Theatre.

For a decade, two families — one white and progressive, one undocumented — have lived together on a Northern California wine country estate in something like harmony. But political changes and financial mishaps leave them both suddenly facing uncertain futures. As everyone clamors to save the estate, a vengeful ghost haunts the fruitless vineyard, intent on breaking the balance. Mexican folklore meets Mendocino County in Fortenberry’s homage to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. 

According to Fortenberry, she was struck by how many of Chekhov’s themes resonate today, including the importance of land – specifically, the relationship between those who own it and those who work it.

“I’m fascinated by alliances where the parties might have very different views of the relationship,” she explains.“When I was younger, I had a friend who invited an undocumented family to live with her, and I always wondered what that dynamic was like.”
Gonda, who’s father is an immigrant, is passionate about both politics and socially relevant material. “Who could have even imagined the times we live in now?” he asks. “This play is about the hope that can spring from even the darkest situations.”

Species Native to California is performed in English with a liberal sprinkling of Español. The ensemble includes Tom Amandes (SyFy’sThe Magicians, NBC’s Parenthood, ABC’s Scandal), Carlos E. Campos (upcoming film Inner City with Denzel Washington, HBO’sWestworld), Tonatiuh Elizarraraz (Hit the Wall at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center), Eileen Galindo (CW’s Crazy Ex-GirlfriendThe Clean House at International City Theatre), Tim Rock (Steppenwolf Theatre Co., Joseph Jefferson nominee for What’s Wrong with Angry? at Chicago’s Circle Theatre), Melissa Stephens (Comedy Central’s Key and Peele, Showtime’s Californication), Margaux Susi(Disney’s Frozen,The Blind Date Project) and Murielle Zuker (Seven Spots on the Sun at The Theatre @ Boston Court).

The creative team includes set designer David Mauer, lighting designer Josh Epstein, costume designer Melissa Trn and dramaturgAnna LamadridEmily Lehrer is the production stage manager, Christine Woods assistant directs, Tom DeTrinis associate produces and Laura Mann produces for IAMATheatre Company.

Species Native to California was developed during a residency at Old Growth Arts in Sonoma County, and was read as part of the Youngblood New Blood series in NYC and recently at Theatricum Botanicum as part of their GreenRead series.

Dorothy Fortenberry’s plays have been produced and developed by Actors’ Theatre of Louisville (Humana Festival), Arena Stage, Center REPertory Company and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among others. She has received commissions from Ensemble Studio Theatre and Yale Rep. She lives in Los Angeles, where she writes for television, most recently The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu. Fortenberry is a winner of the 2011 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights and holds an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama.

Named one of “8 Angelenos You Should Know” by LA Confidential magazine, Eli worked as an associate/assistant director to Jack O’Brien and David Leveaux on Broadway, the West End and in Japan on productions including Nora Ephron’s Imaginary Friends, Nine, Fiddler on the Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Henry IV, Cyrano de Bergerac, All About My Mother and the multimedia musical Sinatra: Live at the Palladium. Recent directing credits for the stage include the ABC|Disney Talent Showcase (El Portal Theatre); Quitters by Lila Feinberg (IAMA Theatre Company); The Kid starring Joey McIntyre (Denver Center for Performing Arts); Halley Feiffer’s I Didn’t Want a Mastodon (IAMA Fest 2015); Little Miss Fix-It (Roundabout Underground); The FIFA International World Congress: Opening Ceremony (Atlantis, Bahamas); and numerous readings, festivals and workshops. TV and film credits include Jane Espenson and Brad Bell’s award-winning series Husbands (nom. Best Director, International Academy of Web Television and the Indie Series Awards); The Rooster, an award-winning short; the feature film The Outfield, starring Cameron Dallas, Nash Grier and Disney’s Joey Bragg; and producer of American Teen, a Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary. Eli is a recent alum of The ABC|Disney Directing Program, a proud member of IAMA Theatre Company, an SDC Traube Fellow and a recipient of the Mitzy Daily Award for Music from Georgetown University. His upcoming projects include the feature comedy Sid is Dead by Peter Warren.

IAMA Theatre Company is an ensemble of theater artists seeking to connect and cultivate a new generation of audiences by promoting new artists and developing new works that challenge and entertain, while stimulating honest dialogue and sustaining the future value of theater within the L.A. community. Founded in 2007, by Laila AyadStefanie BlackKatie LowesAmy RosoffBrandon Scott,Adam ShapiroSarah Utterback and Wes Whitehead, this dynamic theater company is making its mark. Plays generated at IAMA have traveled to off-Broadway, Second Stage and the Roundabout Underground, and have been performed regionally and internationally. IAMA members have been featured in numerous critically acclaimed TV shows and films, as well as in a vast array of theater and live performances all over the country. In 2014, IAMA earned the Ovation Award for Outstanding Play in an Intimate Theatre for its Los Angeles premiere of The Recommendation. Last month, TV producer and creator Shonda Rhimes announced that she would become IAMA’s first-ever “Patron of the Arts,” with a generous endowment from the Rhimes Family Foundation. IAMA is breaking the mold by getting the “cord-cutter generation” to come back out to the theater again – you can’t DVR theater!

“This play is about the hope that can spring from even the darkest situations.” Click To Tweet

WHAT:
World premiere 
of Species Native to California  For a decade, two families—one white and progressive, one undocumented—have lived together on a Northern California wine country estate in something like harmony. But political changes and financial mishaps leave them both suddenly facing uncertain futures. As everyone clamors to save the estate, a vengeful ghost haunts the fruitless vineyard intent on breaking the balance. Mexican folklore meets Mendocino County in this homage to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Performed in English with a liberal sprinkling of Español.

WHO: 
• Written by Dorothy Fortenberry
• Directed by Eli Gonda
• Starring Tom AmandesCarlos E. CamposTonatiuh ElizarrarazEileen GalindoTim RockMelissa Stephens,Margaux SusiMurielle Zuker
• Produced by Laura Mann
• Associate Producer Tom DeTrinis
• Presented by IAMA Theatre Company

WHEN: 
Previews: May 11 and May 12
Performances: May 13 – June 11

• Thursday at 8 p.m.: May 11 ONLY (preview)
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: May 12 (preview), May 19, May 26, June 2, 9
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.May 13 (Opening Night), May 20, May 27, June 3, June 10
• Sundays at 7 p.m.: May 14, May 21, June 4, June 11 (dark May 28)

WHERE:
IAMA Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039

HOW:
• Call 323-380-8843 or go to www.iamatheatre.com
• Visit us on facebook: www.facebook.com/iamatheatre/
• Follow us on twitter: @iamatheatre and instagram: www.instagram.com/iamatheatre/

TICKET PRICE:
$30

PARKING:
FREE in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater

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