BWW Interviews: Playwright Richard Wesley and AUTUMN at Crossroads Theatre Company
Autumn, a new drama by Richard Wesley probes the fragility of political legacies and human relationships. It will premiere at Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick from April 23rd through May 3rd. Autumn explores the conflicts that arise when aspirations collide across a generational divide marked by sharply different political styles. In the play, Franklyn Longley is an old-school, big-city mayor who expects to cement his legacy with a history-making governorship when Ron Drayton, his younger protégé and godson, is suddenly tapped by the party to run instead.
Autumn is Wesley's first full-length stage play since the premiere of his acclaimed 1989 work, The Talented Tenth, which looked at the lives of a group of Howard University graduates who were part of an emerging black elite. His previous stage works include The Black Terror (Drama Desk Award, 1971) and The Mighty Gents (1978), which was produced on Broadway. An accomplished screenwriter, Wesley wrote "Uptown Saturday Night" and "Let's Do it Again," both starring Sydney Poitier and Bill Cosby. Since 1995, Wesley has been an Associate Professor of dramatic writing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he served as chair of the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing for eight years. Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Wesley about his career and the upcoming show at Crossroads Theatre Company.
Wesley lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife, renowned author Valerie Wilson-Wesley. Born and raised in Newark, Wesley recalled some of his earliest interests in writing and theater. "As a youth, I had many hobbies that included games, sports and art. I was especially fascinated by airplanes and wanted to be a fighter pilot. Wesley was also a fan of great television shows. "I also enjoyed programs like Twilight Zone, Sea Hunt and The Dick Van Dyke Show. The quality of the stories was so good and the writing was so tight."
When Wesley was a junior at East Side High School in Newark, he had several outstanding English and History teachers that encouraged his writings. Later as an undergraduate at Howard University, he had impressive mentors including Owen Dodson and Ted Shine.
Wesley said that his show Autumn has some similarities to his award-winning play, The Talented Tenth as it tells about a professional class of Black Americans. But where The Talented Tenth was about communication and politics, Autumn focuses exclusively on politics. Wesley drew some of his inspiration for the play from the real life events of Barack Obama's Congressional campaign against Bobby Rush and the story of Newark's Mayor, Sharpe James and his young rival, Cory Booker.
As an active professor, Wesley told us how teaching influences his writing career. "I am constantly required to go back to the fundamentals, to relearn them and refresh myself and my thinking. Being around so many smart, eager young people keeps me on my toes. Their eagerness and enthusiasm is my fountain of youth." He also commented that he points out to students some of the ways he has had to improve his own scripts including cutting dialogue or removing repetitions.
Wesley is delighted to have Autumn produced at Crossroads Theatre Company. With Seret Scott as the director and actors he knows personally, he is certain that the production will have Crossroad's signature excellence. He first became acquainted with the theatre through Eric Krebs, the founder of George Street Playhouse. Wesley said, "I have been around Crossroads Theatre for 30 years. I have become good friends with Ricardo Kahn and they also produced my New Jersey Premiere of The Talented Tenth. He further commented, "New Brunswick has become a great town for the theatre arts."
Wesley also said that he is very excited to have his first full-length play staged in 20 years in his home state of New Jersey and believes that Metropolitan area audiences will be very, very happy with Autumn.
Crossroads Theater Company is located at 7 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick in the heart of the city's vibrant arts district. Performances are of Autumn are April 23, 24, 25, 30, May 1, 2 at 8 p.m.; April 25, 26, May 2, 3 at 3 p.m.; April 29 at 10 a.m. Opening night is Saturday, April 25, at 8 p.m. Tickets: $25, $35, $45. Call (732) 545-8100 or purchase online at crossroadstheatrecompany.org.
Photo courtesy of Richard Wesley