Bio-Drama ADAM, on Adam Clayton Powell Jr., to Play Castillo Theater
Set in Bimini, the House of Representatives and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the compelling and historically accurate play captures the former congressman's rise and fall, largely in his own words. Timothy Simonson plays the handsome and magnetic Congressman, appearing in what has become the signature role of his career. Ajene D. Washington directs.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (1908-1972) succeeded his father as Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1938 and represented Harlem as its congressman from 1945 to 1971. During the Great Depression, he was a charismatic neighborhood organizer and civil rights leader, bringing political pressure on major businesses to accept Black employees. Through boycotts, demonstrations and other civic actions, he achieved professional-level jobs for Black workers in the 1939 World's Fair, the MTA, utilities, Harlem Hospital and drugstore chains operating in the district. He was elected to congress in 1944, running on a platform of civil rights, fair employment practices and a ban on poll taxes and lynching. Brazenly outspoken on these and other issues, he was often their sole voice. This made him crucial to the evolution of politics of his time, because if he had not spoken out, many issues would not have been raised. For example, in the 1940s he challenged Mississippi congressman Rankin on the House floor for using the word "nigger." Powell is recognized today as the founder of Black Identity Politics. He was also a man of large appetites and a lover of danger, who fell from grace just at the moment he was America's--and possibly American History's--most influential Black politician.
As Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Powell helped shape the social policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. But his jetset lifestyle, his cavalier attitude toward the committee's finances, his "quixotic unpredictability" and his frequent absences set him up for inevitable consequences. In 1967, Powell was accused of corruption and unseated by the Democratic representatives-elect of the 90th Congress. He was nevertheless re-elected and regained his seat thanks to the 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Powell vs. McCormick. However, his political base had been broken. He finally retired from electoral politics after losing the 1970 election by a slim margin to Charles Rangel. Fighting what was probably prostate cancer, he retired as minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1971 and spent his sunset days in Bimini.
Woodie King, Jr. writes, "A biographical play like 'ADAM' takes the audience on a dramatic journey through the life of this legendary African American who changed American history. It's especially important for younger audiences to comprehend the relentless determination of a man like Adam as he faced inconceivable challenges in pursuit of racial equality. Adam laid the framework for achievement by contemporary African American political figures including President Obama."
IF YOU GO:
February 9 to March 12, 2017
Castillo Theater, 543 West 42nd Street
Presented by New Federal Theatre, Woodie King, Jr. Producing Director, in association with Castillo Theatre.
Thur, Fri and Sat at 7:30 PM, Sat and Sun at 2:00 PM.
$40 general admission, $30 students and seniors. Groups (10 or more) $25
Box office: www castillo.org, 212-941-1234
Producing company website: www.newfederaltheatre.com
PLEASE LIST: OFF BROADWAY
Running time: 1:15
Critics are invited on or after February 10. Opens February 16.
Playwright Peter Deanda (1938-2016) was an actor and playwright most widely known for his acting roles in "One Life to Live" (1968), "Cutter" (1972) and "Come Back, Charleston Blue" (1972). He is author of eleven plays, the first of which, "Ladies in Waiting" (1973), stands out for its historical significance. It is a drama in which a liberal-mindEd White girl gets an inside view of prison conditions while incarcerated with a black lesbian, a prostitute and a psychotic. The piece was workshopped by the Negro Ensemble Company and presented as an Actors Equity production by Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre at Third Street Theatre, 240 East Third Street, directed by Shauneille Perry. Since then, the piece has now played over 2,000 performances and been published in Woodie King, Jr.'s anthology, "Black Drama." De Anda was a founding member of the Group Repertory Workshop with Robert Hooks, which was forerunner to the Negro Ensemble Company. His other plays include "A Beautiful Cloud, "Giants' Tale," "I D," "Race To Olduvai," "Remembering Blue Velvet," "Sweetbread, "They Were Doin' A Jig But Mr Bones Didn't Feel Like Dancin', "Used" and "Walls." He appeared in the original New York production of Genet's "The Blacks" and played Clay in the original production of "The Dutchman" by LeRoy Jones at the Cherry Lane Theater. He was also a frequent co-star in films and guest star in primetime TV. He may have initially drafted "ADAM" in the '80s as a part for himself.
"ADAM" is a signature role for actor Timothy Simonson, who performed this play in 2012 and 2013 in the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem in 2013. He played W.E.B. Du Bois opposite Kathleen Chalfant as Mary White Ovington in "Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington," a two-character play by Clare Coss about the suppressed relationship between these esteemed founders of the NAACP. It was presented in 2014 at Castillo Theatre by New Federal Theatre in association with Castillo Theater, directed by Gabrielle L. Kurlander. Other theater credits include "Jonin" at The Public Theater."
Director Ajene D. Washington is an award winning director, playwright and set designer. He is a prolific director in New York and regional theaters whose credits include "The Old Settler," "Sty of the Blind Pig," "Pantomime," "Sizwe Bansi is Dead," "Day of Absence" and "Days of a Drunken Crow." He received the BRIO award in playwriting in 2012 for "Flashing Back Before Me." The Arkansas Repertory Theatre selected his "Almost September" for its "Voices at the River" series. He has been published on the Routes.com website. To-date, he has received two AUDELCO Awards (for Best Director, "American Menu," Hadley Players and New Federal Theatre, 2002-3 and Best Set Design for "American King Umps," Hadley Players 2003) and three AUDELCO nominations (for Best Director for "The Old Settler" at Morningside Players, which won that year for Best Revival; for Best Actor in "A Bolt from the Blue" at Hadley Players in 2000 and for Best Director for "American Menu"). He was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for Best Set Design for "American Menu." He is a member of AEA, SAG/AFTRA, SDC and The Dramatists Guild. He is Workshop Coordinator at New Federal Theatre.
Set design is by Chris Cumberbatch. Lighting design is by Antoinette Tynes. Costume design is by Kathy Roberson.
Pictured: Timothy Simonson as Powell in Bimini. Photo by Tony Graves.