Negro Ensemble Presents IMMINENTLY YOURS By Karimah
Dorothi Fox and Arthur French will star in the premiere of "Imminently Yours" by Karimah, to be presented by The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) from June 17 to 30 at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place. The play deals with the socio/philosophical issues of expropriation of their land and history by eminent domain in today's politics. A secret mountain enclave has been inhabited for centuries by descendants of slaves. When its tradition of secrecy is breached by a millenial resident, the remote hamlet is discovered by the state's governor, who aims to evict its elderly residents by eminent domain for nonpayment of taxes, but underestimates the savvy community there. The play depicts an antagonistic society pitted against elders who are peacefully reliving their history. Generations ban together as they learn the past, teach the present and fight for their legacy. Count Stovall directs.
The play is set in the South, where a mountaintop settlement has been inhabited by descendants of slaves since emancipation. The settlement is cooperative and its residents are now primarily elderly. A few ramshackle dwellings serve as a facade: behind them is a verdant lakeside settlement with luxurious houses built in various periods. Many of the landowners live elsewhere, but relish returning to their town each year to revive its old traditions. All the families have an oath of silence, fearing that exposure of their mountain paradise could endanger it. A young member of the community innocently reveals it to a member of the staff of the newly-elected Governor. Once the settlement is revealed, it becomes impossible for the residents to retain the land: the unpaid property taxes would be simply too great. Oddly, there are no villains in the play. Everybody is actually well-intended, which shines a revealing light on expropriation of property from Black landowners as fateful, and therefore tragic. Karimah reminds us that Black literature abounds in themes of property (land as property and people as property) and of the unyielding demand for dignity and respect from those who have historically been denied it.
Karimah (playwright) began writing her socially-conscious plays as a member of NEC's Playwriting Unit in 1983. She is author of "Accept 'Except'," a series of plays about juvenile crime prevention based on the 13th Amendment. The play was written to be localized and there have been special versions done for Nashville, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Atlanta, Texas and Boston in addition to an LGBT version. Her other plays include "And the World Laughs With You" (1986, presented by National Black Theatre Festival and Crossroads Theatre, directed by Woodie King, Jr.), about a women incarcerated for murder in the Civil Rights Era; "Headache's Gone," about mental health and "Gay for the Stay," about a transgender prison inmate's experience with conversion therapy. Karimah started writing as an undergraduate student at University of D.C. and her first play was produced while she was getting her MFA at Columbia, in 1986.
She began "Imminently Yours" in a female writers' workshop led by Elizabeth Van Dycke in 2017. It was inspired by a variety of sources, including family stories of friends, talk of eminent domain for federal seizure of land at the Mexican border, and the long-running appropriation of properties in Harlem. Upon finishing the play in 2017, Karimah was astonished to read of events in Virginia that paralleled the story of her play. In Prince William County, VA , there have been community efforts to save a historic African American neighborhood in Haymarket that is made up primarily of elderly residents. At issue is an Amazon data center that requires installation of power lines through their properties. Essentially, Amazon would be forcing Black elderly residents off land that had been owned by freed slaves and passed down through generations of their descendants (https://tinyurl.com/y3jx8ehk).
Karimah's subjects are always heavy but the plays are light and ultimately optimistic in tone. She reflects, "There is a lesson in everything: just as there is dark, there is always light on the other side." In this play, the elderly residents ultimately accept they will lose their land, so their goal shifts from resistance to education: they will ennoble themselves by helping other people prepare for this challenge in the future. The play is at once a family drama, a comedy and a tragedy.
Dorothi Fox is a well-known stage, film and TV actress who began her career with The Negro Ensemble Com[pany in 1966 as head usher but interestingly, has not acted with the company until now. She appeared on Broadway in "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln" by James Prideaux and has acted extensively with Woodie King, Jr.'s New Federal Theatre and with numerous other theatrical troupes. Her recent TV appearances include the series "Lez Bomb," "Wheels," "Random Acts of Flyness" and "Orange is the New Black." She played the recurring character Nancy Fichandler on The Onion News Network. She has appeared in character rolls in such widely popular films as "The Wiz," Three Days of the Condor," "The Happy Hooker," "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" and "Bananas." She appears in the upcoming film "Shaft" with NEC alumni Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Rountree.
Arthur French is a leading figure in Black Theater in NYC. In a career spanning over 50 years, he has worked extensively with the Negro Ensemble Company and has acted a wide variety of roles both on and off Broadway. On Broadway, he most recently appeared opposite Cicely Tyson in "The Trip to Bountiful." His Broadway acting resume also includes "Dividing the Estate" by Horton Foote and August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." He has directed plays at New Federal Theatre, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Africa Arts Theatre Company and The Morningside Players, among others. Between New York engagements and regional theaters, he has directed most of the major plays of August Wilson. He is an original member of NEC and is active in film and TV.
Director Count Stovall's New York directing credits include "Crumbs from the Table of Joy" by Lynn Notage, "No Place to be Somebody" by Charles Gordone (the play in which he first acted professionally in 1970), "Still Life Goes On" by Christine Melton, The DePriest Incident" by Charles White, "When Gold Turns Black" by Ron Wilks and "The Last Pair of Earlies" by Joshua Allen. He has also directed at New Dramatists. His Broadway acting credits include "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Inacent Black" (with Melba Moore) and "A Philadelphia Story" with Blythe Danner. He appears regularly in TV and film. He has received three AUDELCO Awards and a special Recognition Award for Outstanding Achievement from The National Black Theatre Festival. He is a member of EST and the Actor's Studio and an alumnus of NEC.
The cast also includes Ryan Desaulneirs, Edythe Jason, Colette Bryce and Nia Akilah Robinson. Adiagha Faizah understudies all the women's roles.
Executive Producer is Karen Brown. Associate Producer is Jacqueline Jeffries. Set design is by Chris Cumberbatch. Lighting design is by Melody Beal. Sound/Projection Design is by Michele Baldwin. Costume Design is by Katherine Roberson. Technical Director is Norman E. Chuck Lander. Wardrobe Coordinator is Celestine O'Neal. Production Stage Manager is Marcus McKoy. Director's Assistant is Cynthia Kitt. Production Assistant is Savannah S. Stovall.
The production opens on June 19, which is "Juneteenth" -- the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865, a date that became emblematic of emancipation throughout the Confederacy and is now widely celebrated as African-American Independence Day.
This production is one of three in a series of women's plays funded in part through a grant by "Made in NY" Women's Film, TV & Theatre Fund, a program of The City of New York Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment ("MOME"), which provides finishing grants to encourage and support the creation of film, television, digital, and live theater content that reflect the voices and perspectives of women.