Tonya Pinkins Stars in THE FABULOUS MISS MARIE, Opening Tonight Off-Broadway
Woodie King Jr's New Federal Theatre continues its 44th season with the second play of "The Ed Bullins Project" dedicated to the pioneer of the Black Arts Movement and one of America's most important and influential playwrights: The Fabulous Miss Marie, first produced in 1971 at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem began performances April 17th and continues through May 18th, with opening night set for tonight, May 1st. Woodie King Jr directs a cast that features Tony and Drama Desk Award winner Tonya Pinkins and Roscoe Orman ("Sesame Street") along with Toccarra Cash, Michael Chenevert, Ugo Chukwu, Aaliyah Habeeb, Beethovan Oden, G. Alverez Reid, Ashley C. Turner, and Brittany N. Williams.
Set during a three-day holiday party at the home of Marie Horton in the Wilshire section of Los Angles in the early 1960s, it takes place against the backdrop of the Civil Right Movement and on the eve of the Watts Rebellion. Most of the play's middle class characters, however, are distant from those upheavals; instead they drink, flirt, quarrel and reminisce as they hope their lives in the emerging Black middle class can shield them against the painful legacy of slavery and racism in America.
The Fabulous Miss Marie is structured like a jazz improvisation, with each of the ensemble members taking a solo/monologue, that reveals the pain simmering under the party's cheerful, suburban façade. As New York Timestheatre critic Clive Barnes said at the time, "Bullins writes the way Charlie Parker played: It is all so easy and effortless. It sounds improvised, and yet it doesn't sound improvised, simply because it is the improvisation of formalitThe Fabulous Miss Marie, is set in Los Angeles during the Civil Rights' student sit-ins. This is arguably Bullins' greatest work, one that bears comparison to Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. Like Chekhov, Bullins is interested in how love can be expressed in a "cemetery of human failure and class arrogance." With this play, part of his Twentieth Century Cycle, Bullins perfected a dramatic structure also found in In the Wine Time, which kicked off this season.
Ed Bullins is considered one of the most prolific and influential playwrights of the Black Arts Movement. Winner of the prestigious NY Drama Critics' Circle Award and OBIE Award for The Taking of Miss Janie, he has greatly influenced American theatre, especially Black theatre. He is the author of more than 100 plays that have been produced throughout the United States and Europe. His acclaimed canon of plays include Clara's Ole Man, Dialect Determinism (or The Rally), How Do You Do (1965), A Minor Scene, It Has No Choice, The Theme Is Blackness (1966); In New England Winter, Black Commercial #2 (1967); Goin' a Buffalo, A Son Come Home, The Electronic Nigger, The Corner, In The Wine Time, The Gentleman Caller (1968); The Box Office, One-Minute Commercial, State Office Bldg. Cruse, The American Flag Ritual, We Righteous Bombers (1969); The Helper, Death List, A Short Play for A Small Theater, Street Sounds, The Man Who Dug Fish, The Duplex, It Bess Dat Way, A Street Play, A Black Time for Black Folk (1970); The Fabulous Miss Marie, Night of the Beast (1971); The Play of the Play (1973); Malcolm: 71 or Publishing Blackness (1975); The Taking of Miss Janie, The Mystery of Phyllis Wheatley: An Historical Play for Young Americans, I Am Lucy Terry: An Historical Fantasy for Young Americans (1976); City Preacher (1984); High John Da Conqueror: the Musical (1985); and Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam (1990), among othersHe received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award, the Drama Prize at the Venice Biennale Arts Festival, an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Columbia College, three OBIE Awards, two Guggenheim fellowships, three Rockefeller Foundation Playwriting grants and three NEA playwriting grants. A Professor of Theatre at Northeastern University, Mr. Bullins has also won AUDELCO Awards and The Black Theatre Festival Living Legend Award. Bullins has published four collections of plays: Five Plays by Ed Bullins (1968), The Fabulous Miss Marie (1970), The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements (1971), Four Dynamite Plays (1972) and The Theme is Blackness (1972), as well as short prose The Hungered One: Early Writings (1971) and a novel The Reluctant Rapist (1973). Bullins was recently represented Off-Broadway by the York Theater's revival of Storyville. His work, characterized by disdain for ineffective political rhetoric as a substitute for action, most often examines the lives of Black people in the inner city. In 1968, Clive Barnes, writing in the New York Times called Bullins "a welcome addition to the ranks of New York playwrights." Four years later, Barnes added "Bullins writes the way Charlie Parker played: It is all so easy and effortless. It sounds improvised, and yet it doesn't sound improvised, simply because it is the improvisation of formality." Today, Bullins is regarded as a seminal force in the American theater.
Photo by Walter McBride