Skip to main content Skip to footer site map


Now through Feb. 12th

Arlando Smit, Malcom J. West, and Be
Photo Credit Robert Wade

A new work by ACT Theatre and the Hansberry Project, HISTORY OF THEATRE: ABOUT, BY, FOR, and NEAR will take you on a journey through time and space to meet the people who forged the foundations for Blacks in theater. The show dispels myths about minstrelsy, delves into the hows and whys of black face, and covers key players of early theater in America. Unheard voices are released, forgotten stars are remembered, and a rich legacy is revealed.

The story begins in modern times when Sister Blacknell receives an invitation to create a show about the history of Black people in American theatre. Overwhelmed with this daunting task to cover times and people that were not properly documented and recorded, Blacknell receives the gift of a time machine. Her first stop takes her to 1930s Seattle where she recruits the members of the Negro Repertory Company to help her tell this most important story. There is some push and pull over who to include as the voices of the past rise up insisting that they be remembered. The threads of divergent pasts and experiences began to be woven together into the tapestry of American theatre that is far richer than ever imagined. The stories neither begin nor end where you think they do, and the journey of exploration abounds with surprises, sorrows, and triumphs.

Dedra D. Woods portrays Sister Blacknell, and is the only actor to portray only one character in the show. She is the unifying thread of the show as she steers the project where she thinks it should go. She has brought her own perceptions and misconceptions with her to the project, and I hope future iterations of this work will give us more of a glimpse into her psyche and how it affects her leadership of the project. Tracy Michelle Hughes and Be Russell play two members of the Negro Repertory Company and various stars of early theater. They give a compelling performance as the Hyer sister, Anna and Emma. The sisters had to navigate the perils of theater life along with a controlling father and the constant forces of discrimination. Hughes and Russell bring life, vitality, and vulnerability to their story. Hughes also takes on the role of Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, a powerhouse soprano who became the first Black woman to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1892. Hughes reveals the discontent beneath the success and brings this character into three dimensions. But what a lost opportunity to not have her sing. Russell also makes a splash with her portrayal of Aida Overton Walker. Her demonstration of the Cake Walk was a personal and audience favorite. Although truth be told, I could watch Russell anytime, anywhere, in any role. She has the most radiant smile of anyone currently on the Seattle scene, and you just can't help but smile back.

Arlando Smith plays various characters including Charles Gilpin who has to fight to even be part of his own story. His career was fraught with controversy and conflict, and Smith brings those frustrations to the forefront while still insisting that these elements were not his whole story and shows us that people's lives should not be reduced to a few bullet points. Smith's energy is quick and explosive, jumping at opportunities to flow freely. Malcolm J. West gives the show its depth with his generational knowledge that he drips into every character he plays. His is the slow, quiet wisdom that is dispersed for those who will take the time to listen and really hear. More than any other, West makes you feel the struggle of artists who had so much to share but had to constantly toe the line and stay in their lane. He perfectly demonstrated the art of bowing your head without bowing your spirit. Occasionally his lines were lost in the space, and I hated to lose any of his nuggets of truth. Amy Thone and R. Hamilton Wright are the trusted pair of ACT regulars who play every white villain, producer, and several historical figures throughout the show. Their performance as supporting cast was both well planned and well executed. I especially enjoyed Wright's performance illuminating the evolution of Jump Jim Crow. Thone had several significant moments, but I admit to being wowed by her W.C. Fields impersonation the most.

The artistic team of HISTORY OF THEATRE: ABOUT, BY, FOR, AND NEAR guides the show to a great beginning. Scenic Designer Jennifer Zeyl and Projection Designer Juniper Shuey combine to create a visual space that helps give a framework and clarity to the show. The projections are not only a critical part of the storyline representing the voices in Balcknell's head, but all give us real names and faces of the historical figures as they are uncovered. Costume Designer Cathy Hunt provides definition for each of the historical figures through simple additions of accessories on stage which allows the pacing of the show to not drag. The pieces she selects are rich in detail and have reflected authenticity in the show's projections. Also, check out the footwear. There are some killer shoes in this show. The show is helmed by Valerie Curtis-Newton who steers the show toward success. The blocking of movement and creation of vignettes is visually interesting, and the show has a steady pace, punctuated with moments of excitement that provide needed variety.

The show is a beginning. It is a multi-year project, and they make no attempt to provide all the answers, but rather recount the importance of whether or not we are asking the right questions. The show is also a challenge - for other theaters to take up the cause of telling the untold stories and for the audience to demand that all parts of the past be included. The show leaves you a bit unsettled and unsatisfied, but perhaps in an intentional way. You want to know more, but it is not spoon fed to you, but rather a QR code can lead you into the beginning of more exploration. The show will require you to think, to listen, to questions, and to be patient.

Village Theatre Announces 2023-2024 Season Photo
Under new leadership, Village Theatre has announced their 2023-2024 season, which features a collection of extraordinary musicals and plays that will bring exquisite music, unforgettable stories, and powerful theatricality to Village’s venues in both Issaquah and Everett, Washington.

MEET ME AT DAWN at 18th and Union Photo
Special Offer: West Coast Premiere of Meet Me at Dawn, by Zinnie Harris

SWEENEY TODD & More Lead Seattles April 2023 Top Picks Photo
Seattle is never lacking outstanding theatre, whether epic Broadway shows, engrossing dramas or bold fringe offerings. BroadwayWorld is rounding up our top recommended theatre every month. April 2023's top picks include Sweeney Todd, How I Learned What I Learned, and more.

Seattle Opera Announces Nw CFO and COO Appointments Photo
General Director Christina Scheppelmann has appointed two executive positions, naming Marissa Betz-Zall Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Angela Gist Chief Operations Officer (COO). Betz-Zall and Gist, who start in their roles in March 2023, succeed Jane Repensek, who had served as COO/CFO since 2017.

From This Author - Kelly Rogers Flynt

Born and educated in the South, Kelly Rogers Flynt has happily transitioned to life in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys more rain and fewer mosquitos. She works as a director, choreographer,&... (read more about this author)

Review: SUITE SURRENDER at As If TheatreReview: SUITE SURRENDER at As If Theatre
March 17, 2023

With a parade of mismanaged guests, lurking press, and plucky staff, SUITE SURRENDER at As If Theatre offers us a classic farce for your enjoyment. The show is a treasure trove of classic tropes and exemplary comedy. With the weight of winter receding into memory, this show invites you in for a good laugh as therapeutic as the spring sunshine.What did our critic think of SUITE SURRENDER at As If Theatre?

Interview: Shileah Corey of FUN HOME at Ballyhoo TheatreInterview: Shileah Corey of FUN HOME at Ballyhoo Theatre
March 16, 2023

I recently sat down with Shileah Corey, director of Ballyhoo’s production of Fun Home to talk about the show and its significance in our society today.

Review: BETWEEN TWO KNEES at Seattle Repertory TheatreReview: BETWEEN TWO KNEES at Seattle Repertory Theatre
March 9, 2023

BETWEEN TWO KNEES at Seattle Rep is unlike any other show, mixing shame with amusement into a piece that uses comedy as resistance. The 1491s make the voices of Native Americans heard and choose to do so through comedy. With humor as their weapon, the show takes aim at the violence, abuse, and manipulation that indigenous cultures have suffered and those who perpetrated those crimes. The show will make you laugh and make your seat of privilege so uncomfortable that you want to do something about it.hat did our critic think of BETWEEN TWO KNEES at Seattle Repertory Theatre?

Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Paramount TheaterReview: DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Paramount Theater
March 9, 2023

Powerful, touching, and painfully relevant, DEAR EVAN HANSEN sweeps into Seattle for another run. With haunting melodies, a tight cast, and a modern digital set, the show continues to be the right story at the right time. The messages of love and loss, lies and misunderstanding, and of loneliness and connection are even more poignant for our post-pandemic world. It is a night of theater that reminds us of what really matters and that we are all in this together.What did our critic think of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Paramount Theater?

Previews: LET ME HAMLET at Taproot TheatrePreviews: LET ME HAMLET at Taproot Theatre
March 6, 2023

LET ME HAMLET is a window in the world of artistic struggle and yearning. The show illuminates the highs and lows and in betweens that make up the life of an actor. In this sisyphean journey to play Hamlet, the actor must find the beauty of the pursuit before the task burns away his passion.