(BOSTON) — The Huntington Theatre Company presents Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson's first Broadway hit, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, to complete Wilson's Century Cycle. Liesl Tommy, director of the Huntington's acclaimed 2011 production of RUINED, returns to helm the production that stars "ER" cast member Yvette Freeman as the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and features local favorite Jason Bowen (Ruined, A Civil War Christmas at the Huntington) as Levee.
In the play, a quartet of blues musicians gather in a run-down 1920s Chicago studio waiting for legendary blues singer Ma Rainey to arrive to record new sides of her old favorites. Young, hotheaded trumpeter Levee aspires to a better life for himself and sees the emerging form of the blues as his ticket to fame and fortune. When he clashes with veteran musicians Toldeo and Cutler and Ma Rainey spars with her white producers, generational and racial tensions explode in the powerful and moving dramaNewsweek calls, "Extraordinary."
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the first of ten plays August Wilson wrote that became his Century Cycle, one chronicling the African-American experience of each decade of the 20th century. Wilson wrote Fences and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom before establishing his relationship with the Huntington, but beginning in 1986 with Joe Turner's Come and Gone, the Huntington and Boston audiences enjoyed a special relationship with Wilson who came to consider the Huntington an artistic home. Here, he mounted early productions of seven of his Cycle plays before their New York productions.
"August would spend six weeks here working on each play," recalls Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso. "I would see the next play come to life in front of me as he started to talk about the characters that were still in his head and what he was discovering about them. Here at the Huntington, we had the privilege of seeing these stories come to life in his head before he ever wrote a word down."
"I have a long and valued relationship with the Huntington. They have contributed enormously to my development as a playwright, and I guard that relationship jealously," Wilson remarked in 2004.
The Huntington staged Radio Golf, the final play of his Cycle, in 2006, shortly after his untimely death at 62 from liver cancer. In 2009, the Huntington produced Wilson's second play, Fences. The production, helmed by Kenny Leon (Fences and Stick Fly, both on Broadway) received the 2010 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production (large theatre).
"When I first arrived at the Huntington, one of the questions I was asked most frequently by members of our audience was when would we complete August Wilson's magnificent Century Cycle," says Artistic Director Peter DuBois. "This production closes such a meaningful chapter in the Huntington's history. Ma Rainey's exemplifies Wilson's true jazz-poet genius."
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
The cast includes:
- Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Dussie Mae): Gem of the Ocean (Hartford Stage), The Piano Lesson (Yale Rep);
- Corey Allen (Sylvester): A Midsummer Night's Dream (Great River Shakespeare Festival), The Fall of Heaven (The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis);
- Jason Bowen (Levee): Ruined, Prelude to a Kiss, and A Civil War Christmas (Huntington Theatre Company), The Merry Wives of Windsor and Twelfth Night (Actors' Shakespeare Project);
- Thomas Derrah (Sturdyvant): Red (SpeakEasy Stage Company), Endgame (American Repertory Theatre);
- Yvette Freeman (Ma Rainey): NBC's "ER" for all fifteen season (Nurse Haleh Adams); Dinah Was (Long Beach International Theatre), Ain't Misbehavin' (first national tour);
- Will LeBow (Irvin): Bus Stop, The Cherry Orchard, and Sonia Flew (Huntington Theatre Company), Full Circle and The Merchant of Venice (American Repertory Theatre);
- Timothy J. Smith (Policeman): Candide and Prelude to a Kiss (Huntington Theatre Company), Nine (SpeakEasy Stage Company);
- G. Valmont Thomas (Cutler): Radio Golf (Syracuse Stage), She Loves Me (Angus Bowmer Theatre);
- Glenn Turner (Slow Drag): A Chorus Line (Broadway), Langston in Harlem (Urban Stages); and
- Charles Weldon (Toledo): To Kill a Mockingbird (Denver Center Theatre Company), The Picture Box (The Negro Ensemble Company).
August Wilson authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African-Americans decade-by-decade over the course of the 20th century. Mr. Wilson's plays have been produced at regional theatres across the country and all over the world, as well as on Broadway. In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. Mr. Wilson's works garnered many awards, including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987) and for The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain's Olivier Award forJitney; as well eight New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Jitney, and Radio Golf. The cast recording of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award. Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson.
His early works included the one-act plays The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming, and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills. Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award, 2003 Heinz Award, a 1999 National Humanities Medal awarded by the President of the United States, and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005, Broadway named the theatre located at 245 West 52nd Street The August Wilson Theatre. Additionally, Mr. Wilson was posthumously inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2007. Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived in Seattle, Washington at the time of his death.
Liesl Tommy returns to the Huntington having previously directed Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Ruined. Recent credits include the world premieres of Party People by Universes (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), The White Man – A Complex Declaration of Love by Joan Rang (DanskDansk Theatre, Denmark), Peggy Picket Sees the Face of God by Roland Schimmelpfennig (Luminato Festival/Canadian Stage), Eclipsed by Danai Gurira (Yale Reperatory Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and McCarter Theatre), The Good Negro by Tracey Scott Wilson (The Public Theater/NYSF and Dallas Theater Center), A History of Light by Eisa Davis (Contemporary American Theatre Festival), and Angela's Mixtape by Eisa Davis (Synchronicity Performance Group, New Georges). Other credits include Hamlet (California Shakespeare Theater), American Buffalo (Baltimore Centerstage), The Piano Lesson (Yale Repertory Theatre), Ruined (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, and Berkeley Repertory Theatre), Stick Fly (Contemporary American Theatre Festival), A Cristmas Carol (Trinity Repertory Company), and Flight (City Theatre). Her productions have won numerous awards for directing, acting, and design. She has taught master classes in acting, directing, and new play development internationally and has taught at The Juilliard School, Trinity Rep/Brown University, The Strasberg Institute, and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Ms. Tommy was awarded the NEA/TCG Directors Grant and is an artistic associate at Sundance Theatre Institute. She is a native of Cape Town, South Africa and a graduate of Newton North High School and Trinity Repertory Conservatory.
Grand Patron: Boston University
30th Anniversary Sponsor: Carol G. Deane
Season Sponsor: J. David Wimberly
ABOUT THE HUNTINGTON
Since its founding in 1982, the Huntington Theatre Company has developed into Boston's leading theatre company. Bringing together superb local and national talent, the Huntington produces a mix of groundbreaking new works and classics made current. Led by Artistic Director Peter DuBois and Managing Director Michael Maso, the Huntington creates award-winning productions, runs nationally renowned programs in education and new play development, and serves the local theatre community through its operation of the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. The Huntington is in residence at Boston University. For more information, visit huntingtontheatre.org.