Cast Announced for 'WEDDING BAND' at The Artistic Home
The Artistic Home will open its 2017-18 season with a lesser known, but wholly timely piece: WEDDING BAND: A LOVE/HATE STORY IN BLACK AND WHITE, by eminent African-American playwright and author Alice Childress. It will open to the press Sunday, October 29 at 7:00 pm, following previews from October 25 - 28.
Last seen in Chicago in 2003 in a co-production between Steppenwolf and Congo Square Theatre, its first-ever showing here 30 years prior was but one stop in this play's march toward due recognition.
Childress made her name as a playwright unafraid to explore the ugly realties of race, but even so, WEDDING BAND's starkly explicit depiction of an interracial relationship touched a nerve. Despite being established in the New York Theater sphere, Childress was unable to find a company willing to produce it. So, she took the play west, and it premiered at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1966, four years after its completion, and one year before the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on Loving v. Virginia struck down statutes forbidding interracial marriage. Then, after a six-week engagement in Chicago at the Ivanhoe Theater in 1972, the play returned to New York at Joseph Papp's Public Theater, in a run starring Ruby Dee and James Broderick. The obstacles surrounding the piece didn't stop there. Though it was filmed for broadcast on ABC TV, some affiliates refused to air it; other affiliates simply buried it in a late-night "graveyard" slot.
Childress's drama is set in the summer of 1918. There is a war in Europe, and a smaller war in South Carolina. Julia is an African-American seamstress and Herman is a white German-American baker who has kept company with her for 10 years. Disapproval of their affair from neighbors and family, as well as South Carolina's laws prohibiting interracial marriage makes it increasingly hard tor them to stay together.
WEDDING BAND will be directed by Cecilie Keenan, director and producer of many Chicago theaters over the past 20 years, but perhaps best known for her work with Teatro Vista, American Blues and Apple Tree Theaters.
She says, "While we're more likely to think of Lorraine Hansberry as the pioneer among black female playwrights, I believe Alice Childress was at least as important. She isn't as well-known as Hansberry because she didn't get the attention at the time -- her plays were too realistic and uncompromising for audiences of the era. She was ahead of her time, really." Artistic Director Kathy Scambiatterra says, "We've been interested in producing WEDDING BAND ever since we did Childress's TROUBLE IN MIND back in 2011. We're excited to bring WEDDING BAND back to Chicago and introduce new audiences to it."
In the roles of the inter-racial couple are Raina Lynn as Julia and ensemble member Scott Westerman as Herman. Keenan's cast will also include ensemble members Reid Coker (Bell Man) and Laura Coleman (Annabelle) along with visiting artists Susan P. Anderson (Fanny), Maya Hooks (Teeta), Lisa McConnell (Lula), Donna McGough (Herman's mother), Madison Murphy (Princess), Myesha-Tiara (Mattie), and Kevin Patterson. (Nelson). The design team includes Kevin Rolfs (scenic design), Zach Wagner (costume design), E.J. Jackson (lighting design), Joseph Cerqua (sound design/original music). Madeleine Lyons will be stage manager.
Reviewing WEDDING BAND in 1972, The New York Times's Clive Barnes described the "poignant strength" of Childress's characters and their plight. Re-reviewing it for its television broadcast, the same paper's John J. O'Connor called it "a marvelous, exquisitely detailed period portrait, a complex blend of searing realism and poetic lyricism." For its most recent professional production in 2016 at Seattle's Intiman Theatre, the Seattle Times called it "stunningly, immediately real," while Seattle Weekly called it "an unforgettable piece of theatre."
The production will play at The Artistic Home's theatre at 1376 W. Grand Avenue. Tickets will soon be on sale by phone at 866/811-4111 or online at www.theartistichome.org. Previews will be Wednesday, October 25 through Saturday, October 28 at 8:00 pm each night. Regular run (October 29 - December 17) performances will be Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm.
Alice Childress (playwright), actress, novelist, and playwright, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on October 12, 1912. Childress moved to Harlem when she was five and was raised by her grandmother, who encouraged her to write. At weekly church events, young Childress heard moving stories of personal and family struggles, which inspired her with a love of storytelling and served as fodder for stories about the plight of urban blacks. Childress became passionately interested in theater and attended the American Negro Theater School of Drama and Stagecraft. In 1944, she made her debut in ANNA LUCASTA, which became the longest running all-black play on Broadway. She wrote, directed, and starred in her first play in 1949, and in 1950, encouraged by actor and activist Paul Robeson, she founded her own theater. She wrote more than a dozen plays, including TROUBLE IN MIND. The play was scheduled to move to Broadway in 1957, but Childress objected to changes requested in the script and canceled the production. Her 1966 play, WEDDING BAND, was produced again in 1972 by Joe Papp's Public Theatre. Childress also wrote adult and children's novels. Like her plays, they dealt with the pressures on urban blacks. Her young-adult novel A HERO AIN'T NOTHING BUT A SANDWICH (1973) recounts the rehabilitation of a 13-year-old heroin addict. The book became a bestseller and a movie in 1977. Her 1979 novel, A SHORT WALK, was nominated for a Pulitzer. Childress also collaborated with her husband, composer Nathan Woodard, on musical plays. She died in 1994 at age 81.
Cecilie Keenan (director), working freelance, has been a director, artistic director and managing director at many Chicago theaters, including American Blues Theater, Apple Tree Theatre, Bailiwick Repertory, Northlight Theatre. Currently, she is pleased to be the Producing Consultant for The Artistic Home Acting Ensemble. As Resident Director and Producing Director for Teatro Vista from 2001 to 2012 she was instrumental to that company's growth. Cecilie's directing work includes the award-winning TOBACCO ROAD (American Blues), THE INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF JENNY CHOW (Collaboraction), a revised for deaf/hearing audience OUR TOWN (Bailiwick Repertory), and TOYS IN THE ATTIC and BUS STOP (American Repertory Theater) and EL NOGALAR (Goodman/Teatro Vista). Currently she is co-writing a new work with jazz music about Langston Hughes with Nicholas Patricca - CHASING THE WIND - with a significant grant from DCASE.
The Artistic Home is noted for their innovative and intimate presentations of rarely-produced classics as well developing new works. Audiences may know The Artistic Home best from BY THE BOG OF CATS, produced earlier this year, or their recent Jeff-Nominated productions of THE SEAGULL, WATCH ON THE RHINE, MACBETH and THE LATE HENRY MOSS; or the 2013 Jeff Award-winner THE GODDESS. Other Artistic Home productions include the Jeff-Award-winning production of JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, which also received three After Dark Awards, the Jeff-Nominated SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, THE TALLEST MAN, LANDSCAPE OF THE BODY, NATURAL AFFECTION, FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS, AFTER THE FALL and PEER GYNT (which also received an After Dark award for Direction).
For more than 15 years, The Artistic Home has consistently produced compelling theatre in Chicago. First formed in 1998 with the belief that the actor is at the heart of great theater, the company strives to give birth to unforgettable moments; to touch audiences who are increasingly distanced from human contact; to readdress the classics and explore new works with passion.
Pictured: Top row: Raina Lynn, Scott Westerman; Second row from top: Susan B. Anderson, Laura Coleman, Reid Coker.; Third row from top: Maya Hooks, Lisa McConnell, Donna McGough, Bottom row: Myesha-Tiara, Madison Murphy, Kevin Patterson.