Theater for the New City Announces A PUNK OR A GENTLEMAN

Theater for the New City Announces A PUNK OR A GENTLEMANIn her newest play, "A Punk or a Gentleman," playwright Andrea J. Fulton explores the complex psyche of a Black, middle-aged Don Juan who loves to captivate women but falls victim to physical abuse by the women he loves. The ten-character drama will be directed by Kymbali Craig for its world premiere, which will be presented by Theater for the New City from May 3 to 20.

Ms. Fulton was awarded the 2017 Thomas Barbour Award by the Episcopal Actors' Guild for this play.

The play's story is totally imaginary, but it is instructive. It centers on a philandering lady's man named Darren, a spoken word artist and postal worker, who is too sensitive for his own good. He has deep secrets and scars on his face. He is married for the fourth time and exhibits a selflessness, and also a simultaneous selfishness and recklessness, that cause women in his life to lose respect for him. He is meant to exemplify the Black male who surrenders control of his life and makes himself a target for domestic abuse. To his post office co-worker and confidant, Gwen, Darren characterizes himself as a hunter and conqueror. She tells his best friend, Bo, that Darren's philandering comes from a lack of common sense. ("He thinks he can be married, plus have two or three women on the side.") To Bo, Darren is quick to assert, "I'm not a damn punk," referring to the prison term for a man of effeminacy or weakness. Darren's philandering is widely observed in his neighborhood. He even allows himself to be caught groping his young and nubile girlfriend, Sharice, in his own home's surveillance tapes. Darren's acting out for acceptance is part of the reason for his fine poetry, which he amply flaunts in the play. We learn in flashbacks that Darren's mother had physically abused him to toughen him up. Now, his behavior is crafted to evoke the same behavior in the women he loves. As Dezarray, his fourth wife, says, "No one should take me where you take me and no one should let you. But the more I feel you disrespect me, the more I feel justified in knocking the shit out of you. And you must like it." The case of Darren and Dezarray is ultimately resolved through the intervention of an adult protective agent, summoned by a neighbor.

Author Andrea J. Fulton explains that the legacy of maternal abuse in the Black community, as it affects a man, is almost never discussed. It is disturbing, sad and powerful because it is such an anomaly. Men are expected to endure domestic hardships stoically. They generally do not report being the victims of spousal abuse, although an astounding number of them are abused every day. The age of #MeToo has not produced an openness toward this matter. Despite its urgency as a public health issue, there are no websites devoted to domestic abuse of men. She is hopeful that the play may draw attention to these issues during May, which is National Mental Health Month, and hopes to organize post-play talkbacks with authoritative specialists to further engage the audience.

Fulton writes, "Unfortunately, psychological self-care and sought-care are frowned upon in the Black community. It is common in Black culture that men are expected to 'man up,' leaving Little Room for those who, for whatever reason, do not reach an expected or desired pinnacle of machismo. Young Black males are routinely expected to 'suck it up' while dealing with emotional challenges in both childhood and manhood, and those who don't risk being categorized by the community as punks." Fulton hopes this play can help spark a change in attitudes, so that the topic of mental health can be more accepted among Black men. This, she holds, would help to nurture and cultivate healthier individuals for the benefit of the broader community. "I want people to realize the power they have to shape the way in which people grow and share their emotions, and that an open, honest and caring environment is not only helpful but required in a culture of acceptance and mutual respect."

Andrea J. Fulton (playwright), a graduate of Northwestern University, is also a poet and songwriter. Her work has received five AUDELCO Award nominations and one AUDELCO Award. She has received an Emerging Playwrights Award, a Pulitzer Prize nomination and most recently, a 2017 Barbour Playwrights Award. Her work has been performed in numerous settings throughout New York City. She serves on the boards of multiple organizations helping to provide cultural opportunities and enrich neighborhoods. She is founder of the Anderson & Bert Cade Fulton Foundation, also known as the Fulton Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the performing arts aspirations of adults who did not pursue their artistic goals earlier in life. Her musical, "One Drop," was presented by TNC this February. A jazz-infused play based on her own family's Louisiana history, it looked back at an ancestor's dilemma over whether or not to "pass" for white.

Ms. Fulton writes, "Crystal Field and every one of her team members have become members of my family because they are so completely welcoming, nurturing and supportive. It is amazing, generous, humbling and encouraging that they opened the doors to all people in the way they have and have been able to keep them open in the way they have."

Director Kymbali Craig has helmed "Skin Deep Skin Tight" starring Samuel Encarnacion at John Jay University, "Dora's Story" produced by Bailey's Cafe (an intergenerational cultural organization in Bed-Stuy), a staged reading of "Bind" by Mysia Cole at the Black Lady Theater, excerpts from three plays by Andrea J. Fulton for two annual productions of the Stoops Bed-Stuy Community Art Crawl in Brooklyn, and "Ugly is a Hard Pill" by Andrea J. Fulton in the Thespis Theater Festival. She has also directed a number of music videos and commercials.

The actors are: Allen Craig Harris (as Darren), Guy V. Barfield, Kymbali Craig, Illona S. Dixon, M. James Ealy, Casey Gordon, Anthony Graham, Denise Fair-Grant, Alicia Foxworth, Daisy Lee Sprauve and Yvette Wyatt. Stage manager is Melissa Diaz. Set design is by Mark Marcante and Lytza Colon. Lighting and sound design are by Duane Pagano. Costume design is by Kathy Roberson.

Photo: Foreground: Allen Craig Harris. Behind (L-R): Alicia Foxworth, Kymbali Craig, Denise Fair-Grant, Daisy Lee Sprauve, Yvette Wyatt. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

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