BWW Previews: World Premiere of AUTUMN at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick
Autumn explores the conflicts that arise when aspirations collide across a generational divide marked by sharply different political styles. In the play, Franklyn Longley (Jerome Preston Bates) 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 - (Michael Chenevert) is suddenly tapped by the party to run instead.
The new work is Wesley's first full-length stage play since the premiere of his acclaimed work, The Talented Tenth, in 1989, 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, as well as "Native Son" and "Fast Forward." For television, he has authored or co-written numerous made-for-television films and series episodes. In recent years, he has completed two librettos for Trilogy Opera Company in Newark.
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. He is a former vice president of the Writers Guild of America, East, Inc., and currently sits on the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. as well as other boards. Born in Newark, Wesley graduated from Howard University. He and his wife, the novelist Valerie Wilson Wesley, live in Montclair.
Wesley notes that the concept for Autumn was gestating for more than 20 years as he observed the evolution of black politicians against a changing political landscape.
"I began thinking that there was a new generation of post-civil rights movement politicians emerging that was very different from the generation that came of age during the civil rights movement," Wesley related. "There was a group of old-school politicians who found themselves wrapped up in political scandals; and right behind [them] were these younger politicians who were moving up."
Autumn is directed by Seret Scott, who previously has acted at Crossroads in "The River Niger" and directed "Spooks."
In addition to Bates and Chenevert, the cast includes Stephanie Berry, Terria Joseph, Kim Weston Moran, Tony Sallemi and Count Stovall. Stovall and Berry are Crossroads veterans; Berry was featured the recent Crossroads production, "Repairing a Nation."
Founded in 1978 by Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth Richardson, Crossroads Theatre Company embraces the vision that African-American theater is intended for a broad-based, diverse audience. As a major force in the development of new ideas and the introduction of formerly marginalized writers, Crossroads produces works that enrich and diversify the representation of African American culture on the American stage.
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.
Image courtesy of Crossroads Theatre