La MaMa Presents Nia O. Witherspoon's MESSIAH
La MaMa presents the world premiere of Messiah, a new play written and directed by Nia O. Witherspoon. Messiahis a play about the legacy of the Panthers in the age of crack, where a scratch at a DJ booth incites a replay of the past, an action that interrogates generations of violence on black, queer bodies. The production -which features a ten-member cast and creative team comprised of predominantly queer, trans, and people of color -is scheduled to run at La MaMa's Downstairs Theatre (66 E 4th St) from May 23 through June 2. Messiah is the opening play of the Stonewall 50 at LaMaMa series, a month-long celebration of queer performance.
In the play, a teenager on the trans-spectrum, creates an alter-ego named Messiah, a popular basketball-ball star and aspiring rapper. Set to the sound of hip-hop, the ring shout, and the wailing of ghosts, Messiah embarks on a journey to find a way home.
Messiah ponders how black nationalism, despite its legacies of sexism and homophobia can live on in contemporary black queer and female bodies. The characters in Messiah fight against the injustice of being forgotten like many queer and trans people of color across history. In her play, Witherspoon places women, queer, and trans folks back into the center of the black liberation struggle-where they belong.
Using a traverse stage, Messiah creates an immersive experience that brings ritual into the theater, shifting from the secular to the sacred through rites already present in black life-the frenzy of a nightclub, the libations poured on street corners, and the sonic landscapes of hip-hop. With this access to "the sacred," audiences can engage with the past, present, and future to shift reality towards creativity, justice, and freedom.
Playwright Witherspoon remarks, "Messiah is a ritual that works at healing from inter-generational trauma on multiple levels. I'm excited to present a story that places queer and trans folks of color at the center of our own narratives."
The cast for Messiah includes Rowin Amone, Sol de la Ciudad, Marie-Louise Guiner, Jiggy Jada, Shaa Kettrles, Malik Reed, Rodrikus Damon Springfield, Ianne Fields Stewart, Sharlee Taylor, and Deshawn Wyatte.
The creative team includes Tuce Yasak (lighting design), You-Shin Chen (set design) Sadah Espii Proctor (sound design), Kameron Neal (projection design), Mei Ann Teo (dramaturgy), Ni'Ja Whitson (choreography and movement consultant), and Bryan Joseph Lee (creative producer).
Eight performances of Messiah will take place May 23-June 2 at La MaMa's Downstairs Theatre, located at 66 E 4th Street. General admission tickets, which are priced at $30 ($25 students/seniors) plus $1 facility fee, are available at lamama.org and by calling OvationTix at 212.352.3101. The first ten tickets to every performance are available for $10 each by using the code "10AT10".
Messiah has been supported by The Women's Film, TV and Theatre Fund, an initiative by the City of New York Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME).
Nia O. Witherspoon is a black queer theatre-maker, vocalist/composer, and cultural worker investigating the metaphysics of black liberation, desire, and diaspora.
Witherspoon has been a 2050 Playwriting/Directing Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop, Restorative Justice Director at Boerum Hill School for International Studies, and is currently an AIR at BAX | Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and a HARP artist at HERE Arts Center. She has been the recipient of multiple honors, including awards by the (The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the (Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice), The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, Lambda Literary, and Theatre Bay Area Theatre Bay Area, and her work has been featured by BRIC, The National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts, (BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Movement Research, Dixon Place, Painted Bride Art Center, 651 ARTS, and other fabulous organizations.
As a performer, Witherspoon is co-founder of ceremonial music collective SoliRose, a world-premiere cast member of Sharon Bridgforth's River See (Links Hall), and has been a featured vocalist in the work of Cherríe Moraga in La Semilla Caminante/The Traveling Seed (Intersection for the Arts). Recent publications include "Missy's Trick/(Un)Making Queer" in the Journal of Popular Culture and "SHE" in Imagined Theatres (Routledge).
La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theatre. La MaMa's vision of nurturing new artists and new work remains as strong today as it was when Ellen Stewart first opened the doors in 1961. La MaMa has presented more than 5,000 productions by 150,000 artists of all nations, cultures, races, and identities. Cultural pluralism and ethnic diversity are inherent in the work created on our stages. Here, artists find a supportive environment for artistic exploration, and audiences are part of the development of an artist's work over time.