Mosaic Theater Company Announces NATIVE SON Rep
Mosaic Theater Company of DC presents an in-depth look at Richard Wright's classic novel Native Son with an adaptation by Nambi E. Kelley, staged by 2018 Helen Hayes Award winning director Psalmayene 24, running in repertory with the world-premiere of Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of A Native Son by Psalmayene 24 and directed by Raymond O. Caldwell, the new artistic director of the Anacostia-based Theatre Alliance.
Mosaic is producing Native Son at The Atlas Performing Arts Center's Lang Theatre from March 27 through April 28, with an Opening Press Night of Sunday, March 31 at 7:30 pm, and Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of A Native Son from April 7 to April 27, on the same Lang Theatre stage, with an Opening Press Night of Monday, April 15 at 7:30 pm.
Adapted with theatrical ingenuity by Nambi E. Kelley, this Native Son captures the power of Richard Wright's novel for a whole new generation. Suffocating in rat-infested poverty on the South Side of Chicago in the 1930s, 20 year old Bigger Thomas struggles to find a place for himself in a world whose prejudice has shut him out. After taking a job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white family in a nearby upscale neighborhood, Bigger unwittingly unleashes a series of events that violently and irrevocably seal his fate.
"What we have with Nambi Kelley's kinetic, compressed, highly theatrical adaptation," notes Mosaic Founding Artistic Director, Ari Roth, "is a novel transformed for 21st Century staging. With full cooperation from the Richard Wright estate, Kelley has taken a menacing element of tenement housing - a black rat that scurries about the Thomas apartment - and expanded that identity into a full-fledged character and expression of Bigger's externalized perception of how white society views him. The Black Rat is an alter ego, a dreamer, an image buster, and a warning. And Bigger becomes both an idealist and a dreamer too, reacting to the racism around him and the lack of avenues available to escape his circumstances."
Roth extolls the team bringing Kelley's theatricalization to life: "In Psalmeyne 24, we're working with a triple threat - director, playwright, and performer - who's staging the work of a triple threat in her own right, Nambi Kelley; Off-Broadway actress, adapter and fast-rising playwright. Together with a stellar design team that collaborated with Psalm on the award-winning "Word Becomes Flesh," you're going to see a new generation of theater makers grapple with an Ur-Text - a literary achievement of monumental dimensions that successive generations of African American artists have wrestled with, beginning with James Baldwin, both coming to terms with Native Son's dreadful power, while continuing to shudder at its terrifying portrait of a man making a set of increasingly troubling, destructive decisions."
Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son, originally part of Mosaic's Season Four Workshop Reading Series, is now a full production and World-Premiere directed by Raymond O. Caldwell. Set in the legendary Parisian café Les Deux Magots in 1953, it reimagines the meeting between Richard Wright and James Baldwin and explores the tension between Baldwin's searing critiques of "Native Son" and Wright's unbridled indignation in response, presented in the context of a modern-day rap battle.
Les Deux Noirs director, Raymond O. Caldwell notes, "Les Deux Noirs brings Baldwin's and Wright's arguments into the 21st century. Using elements of hip-hop culture that are interwoven with known historical facts, this new-work explores the complex relationship of two literary giants who hold divergent opinions around race politics."
Les Deux Noirs playwright and Native Son director, Psalmeyene 24 says, "I'm ultra excited to be directing Nambi Kelley's sizzling adaptation of Richard Wright's towering novel. After pulling inspiration from James Baldwin's now legendary critique for my directorial interpretation of Native Son, I'm doubly thrilled to have the opportunity to explore and imagine the relationship between Baldwin and Wright in Les Deux Noirs. Through both of these productions, I'm hoping audiences at Mosaic will experience anew the beauty and power of these soulful literary icons."
Native Son features Clayton Pelham, Jr. in the role of Bigger (Charm at Mosaic, The Brother's Size at 1st Stage,) with Vaughn Midder flanking him as the Black Rat (Mosaic's Milk Like Sugar and When January Feels Like Summer). Family members in the ensemble include Lolita Horne (as Bigger's mother, Hannah), Tendo Nsuguba (as younger brother, Buddy), and C. Renee Elizabeth Wilson (as the young women in Bigger's life, Bessie and Vera). Melissa Flaim plays the matriarch of the mansion where Bigger works (Mrs. Dalton) alongside Madeline Joey Rose (Mary Dalton) and Drew Kopas (as Jan, Mary's Communist boyfriend). Stephen Schmidt (of Ford's Theatre's Parade) plays a variety of roles including investigator Britten.
Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of A Native Son features Jeremy Hunter as James Baldwin (Mosaic's Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies), James J. Johnson (Theater J's Our Suburb) as Richard Wright, with Musa Gurnis (Ludivina), and RJ Pavel (Jean-Claude) as two Parisian waiters.
Native Son and Les Deux Noirs both boast incredibly talented design teams. Reunited from Psalmayene 24's Helen Hayes Award winning production of Word Becomes Flesh include Set Designer Ethan Sinnott (Native Son and Les Deux Noirs), Lighting Designer William K. D'Eugneio (Native Son and Les Deux Noirs), Sound Designer Nick Hernandez (Native Son), and Movement Specialist/Choreographer Tony Thomas (Native Son). Other designers on the team include Properties Designer Willow Watson (Native Son and Les Deux Noirs), Projections Designer Dylan Uremovich (Native Son), Costume Designer Katie Touart (Native Son), Costume Designer Amy MacDonald (Les Deux Noirs), and Choreographer Tiffany Quinn (Les Deux Noirs).