Director Shirley Jo Finney shares her vision for ‘The Brothers Size’.
The design and production team for our upcoming Los Angeles Premiere of The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraneygathered this week to discuss the many design elements needed for the production. It’s going to be a beautiful and powerful production with a fluid, quick-moving mixture of set, lights, music, movement and sound supporting three talented actors.
Director Shirley Jo Finney spoke to the designers and shared her vision for the play. Producers Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor led the meeting with Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, Associate Producer James Bennett and Technical Director Scott Tuomey. Adding their artistic contributions were set designer Hana S. Kim (via speaker phone!), lighting designer Pablo Santiago, costume designer Naila Aladdin-Sanders, choreographer Ameenah Kaplan, composer/sound designer Peter Bayne, music director Brenda Lee Eager, and production stage manager Terri Roberts.
Award-winning director Shirley Jo Finney returns to direct The Brothers Size, the second play in McCraney’s Trilogy, following our acclaimed and award-winning In the Red and Brown Water. The Brothers Size is a hot-blooded, music-filled drama from one of the country’s most exciting new voices. After a homecoming in the bayous of Louisiana, the Size brothers, Ogun and Oshoosi, try to start fresh. This haunting, funny, and heartbreaking tour de force probes sexuality, coming of age, and the bonds of family as the brothers struggle to discover identity and to unearth a new sense of freedom.
The Los Angeles Premiere at the Fountain theatre stars Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock and Theo Perkins.
In the Red and Brown Water playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney will direct and adapt a new production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra as part of a collaboration among the Public Theater, GableStage in Miami and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Public announced on Monday. The play will have its premiere at the Stratford-Upon-Avon home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Mr. McCraney is an artistic associate, in November 2013, before being staged in Miami in January 2014 and later that month at the Public.
In addition to directing the production, Mr. McCraney edited the text, reordered the scene structure and relocated the play to “the late 1700s against the backdrop of Saint-Domingue, on the eve of the Haitian Revolution against the French,” according to a news release. Casting will take place in London, New York and Miami, Mr. McCraney’s hometown.
Artistic leaders from all three companies say their faith in and admiration for McCraney is what led them to say yes to the collaboration.
“One of the beautiful things about this is that it was driven by Tarell,” says Oskar Eustis, artistic director at the Public, which has presented all three of McCraney’s reputation-making Brother/Sister Plays. “The key to all of this is that we’re unabashed Tarell McCraney fans.”
“Tarell was our playwright in residence, and I wanted to see his take on Antony and Cleopatra,” emailed Michael Boyd, former artistic director of the RSC, who commissioned the script, adding that he was seeking “a bold new take on this difficult play.”
For GableStage’s Joseph Adler, McCraney’s Antony and Cleopatra is an opportunity to build on a relationship that began last season with McCraney’s staging of his The Brothers Size and this season with a January-February production of Hamlet, a 90-minute adaptation McCraney and Bijan Sheibani wrote for the RSC.
The Public’s Eustis explains why a McCraney Antony and Cleopatra set in Haiti is so appealing to him.
“This isn’t an idea you’d lay on top of the play. It’s not a contemporary, lively, anachronistic setting,” he says. “This is something that will allow people to hear this play differently. This brings it closer and makes us understand colonialism.”
“Tarell has a deep sense that his work is in service of something much bigger than himself. He’s trying to answer to an artistic imperative. It makes you want to throw your weight behind him,” Eustis says.
“His life will get more complicated, but one still feels the purity of that vision. Not just for his sake, you want to hold him out as an example that you don’t have to sell out to be a success.”
Tarell Alvin McCraney
A 2007 graduate of Yale, Mr. McCraney is best known for his trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays. His other plays have been produced at major regional theaters throughout the United States and in England. McCraney’s play, Choir Boy, opened at London’s Royal Court Theatre to rave reviews.
Commissioned by New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club, where it will get its U.S. premiere with previews starting June 18 and an opening July 2,Choir Boy is set in a black boys’ prep school celebrating its 50th anniversary. The headmaster’s nephew is at odds with Pharus, a gay student with a glorious tenor voice who is determined to become leader of the school’s famous gospel choir. In her review in The Guardian, critic Lyn Gardner writes: “Threaded with searing gospel songs, McCraney’s play examines the shifting nature of truths, biblical and otherwise, and cleverly manipulates the hot-house setting to consider wider issues of black American history, from the brutal days of slavery to Obama’s cry of ‘yes we can!'”
“We’re thrilled with the overwhelming response to the play,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “And proud to be the theatre that introduced this important new playwright to Los Angeles audiences. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Tarell. The Fountain is his home in Los Angeles.”
In the Red and Brown Water is now playing to December 16th, call (323) 663-1525 or buy tickets.
RAVE! CRITIC’S CHOICE! “Beyond the fact that it is sensational, the Fountain Theatre’s production of “In the Red and Brown Water” by Tarell Alvin McCraney is important for two reasons: It introduces Los Angeles audiences to a dramatic poet in the process of discovering his singular voice and it shows how magnificently one of L.A.’s better small theaters can serve bold new talent.” – Los Angeles Times
Peggy Blow, Diarra Kilpatrick and company.
RAVE! “Every player scores a memorable impression, above all the luminous lead Diarra Kilpatrick, who can inhabit a simple soul yet express her intensely complicated inner torment … [Director Shirley Jo Finney] indisputably remains at the top of her game.” – Hollywood Reporter
RAVE! “A production that explodes in sounds, images, and extraordinary performances.” – Backstage
RAVE!“An astonishing accomplishment! Skilfully aided by director Shirley Jo Finney, the superb cast works poetry, myth, dance, chanting and music into the mix.” – Total Theater
RAVE! “Electrifying! … A unique piece full of dancing, singing, haunting story telling and enchanting characters … It is like nothing you have ever seen before and something that is utterly fascinating and highly entertaining.” – ALittleNightMusing
RAVE!GO! “Compelling! A visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America.” – LA Weekly
Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn Brown
RAVE! “Perfection! Finney’s excellent directorial work … The casting is flawless.” – LA Beat
RAVE!“Unforgettable! An excellent cast!” – ArtsinLA
RAVE! “A new, important, and original voice in American theatre … a talented cast … Especially moving … heart-wrenching” – BlogCritics
Diarra Kilpatrick and company.
RAVE! “Diarra Kilpatrick is a breath of fresh air in her daring performance … Gilbert Glenn Brown nearly steals this show (at least as far as the women are concerned) with an explosive and arousing performance … terrific … hilarious … a steady cast anchored by theater veterans Iona Morris and Peggy A. Blow.” – Donloe’s Lowdown
Theater should remind us of our own lives. Remember the story that we see is how we can transform, change, and evolve. ~Shirley Jo Finney
Shirley Jo Finney
Promoting In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain Theatre, the riveting play written by award-winning African American playwright, Tarell Alvin Mc Craney would be simple enough. Well known for his acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, the first play of this set In the Red and Brown Water has already been well received in each of it’s venues since the first premiere. Further, Tarell’s talents are highly sought as he is considered by many theatrical leaders as the best young writer around.
However, once combining the desired works of this proven playwright with the style and perspective of director, the eloquent, Shirley Jo Finney, anticipation and excitement of experiencing this enticing play reaches boiling point!
Less than two weeks before the Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain Theatre, in an exclusive interview I had the unique opportunity to experience first hand the reasons Shirley Jo is an award winning actress and director. Within less than an hour, I was virtually moved through the history of theater, Africans in America, church, and the modern day classroom. Her passion and expertise is palpable in conversation as she effortlessly creates visions of slaves on the plantation, Sunday afternoons singing and dancing for their masters. As the folk watched from their porches, thoroughly absorbed and entertained, they were often oblivious to the sarcasm that shadowed the mimicry of their chattel’s exceptional performances.
Fast forwarding some years, I virtually viewed the descendants of the old masters in black face erroneously mimicking Black people. I traveled under her spell to the Black community of theater where portrayals in the history of African American churches were common. Shirley Jo instantly broke into character invoking the “Call and Response” style of the good reverend after which she explained:
That’s the call and response. It’s what I like to call “edu-ma-tainment,” creating ritual, engaging in the stories of, like the bible. Living, laughing, and dying – as a ritual.
I asked Shirley Jo some specific questions about Tarell’s style of writing, here are some of those questions and answers:
Me: Is Tarell’s style like Tyler Perry’s?
Shirley Jo: No. Two different styles. If you want to co-explore, go see the works of August Wilson and Suzy-Lori Parks that show African Americans incarcerated by the institution of slavery. He (Tarell) incorporates those elements which makes the difference.
Me: Okay. Spike Lee said some negative things to say about Tyler Perry’s portrayal of African Americans. What is your opinion on this subject?
Shirley Jo: The beauty is the diversity! Everybody has a market and a point of view. Tyler makes what’s called “cottage films.” No judgement. I love that about where we are. We are no longer stuck in Blaxploitation, allow everyone their voice regardless if you like that person or not, we have a choice.
Me: Shirley Jo, what do you believe the theater’s job is?
Shirley Jo: Theater should remind us of our own lives. Remember the story that we see is how we can transform, change, and evolve.
Tarell Alvin McCraney does just that in In the Red and Brown Water. The main character Oya, struggles to maintain her dreams. She runs track and sees it as her way of breaking free from the impoverished community she grew up in. After losing her mother she encounters a number of obstacles and sacrifices her dream. Oya means goddess of wind. Red represents our life blood, life force or passion. Brown represents the environment as the plays setting is in Louisiana. Water represents cleansing or new beginnings.
Entering adulthood just after the Civil Rights Movement shifted in to high gear, Shirley Jo had already experienced a lifetime of firsts. First integrated neighborhood, first Black student in the school, and she was the first African American student in the MFA program for Theater at UCLA. Shirley Jo was in the midst of an amazing acting career when she first delved into the role of director. Best known for her portrayal of Wilma in “Wilma” the true story of one of America’s greatest Olympic athletes; her resume includes many well known works including several episodes of “Moesha” and “Remember Me?”
Just prior to preparation for In the Red and Brown Water, Shirley Jo returned from Africa where she’d just completed “Winne The Opera,” the operatic story of Winnie Mandela.
Video: Winnie – The Opera
In The Red and Brown Water Oct 20 – Dec 16 (323) 663-1525More
Sharing some early rehearsal photos from our upcoming LA Premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s In the Red and Brown Water, the struggle of a young female athlete’s need to rise above the stagnation of her Louisiana housing project, directed by Shirley Jo Finney. Enjoy!
In the Red and Brown Water Oct 20 – Dec 16 (323) 663-1525
Oya can run faster than anyone—but not fast enough to escape her destiny. Shirley Jo Finney directs the long-awaited Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water. Lyrically weaving together elements of urban contemporary realism with West African mysticism, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s lusciously theatrical and boldly original new play opens at The Fountain Theatre on October 20.
How far will fast, beautiful Oya go to make a mark in the world? The first of McCraney’s acclaimed “The Brother/Sister Plays,” In the Red and Brown Water is an intoxicating story that charts a young girl’s thrust into womanhood, her family struggle, the two men vying for her heart, and her subsequent fall into the murky waters of life. McCraney mixes the mundane with the mythic, drawing on Yoruban influences while setting the play in a modern urban context—a housing project in the fictional Bayou city of San Pere, Louisiana.
“This production was three years in the making,” says Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “When ‘The Brother/Sister Plays’ exploded onto the theatrical scene in 2009, it was clear that Tarell was an important and rising new voice. We immediately began our fight for the rights to do this play and refused to give up. The Fountain Theatre is a theater of the heart—and this is where we want the play to live in Los Angeles.”
“I began to investigate how to use ancient myths, stories, to tell urban ones,” McCraney wrote. “I began taking old stories from the canon of the Yoruba and splicing them, placing them down in a mythological housing project in the south. This made the stories feel both old and new, as if they stood on an ancient history but were exploring the here and now.”
Tarrell Alvin McCraney
Lauded by The New York Times as “something rare in the theater, a new, authentically original voice,” and by the Chicago Tribune as “without question, the hottest young playwright in America,” 32-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney has won numerous awards, including the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Whiting Writing Award, London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright and the National Endowment for the Arts Outstanding New American Play Selection. His plays include Wig Out! (developed at Sundance Theatre Lab, produced in New York by the Vineyard Theatre and in London by the Royal Court) and the trilogy entitled The Brother/Sister Plays, including: The Brothers Size (simultaneously premiered in New York at the Public Theater, in association with the Foundry Theatre, and in London at the Young Vic, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award); In the Red and Brown Water; and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet. His other plays include Without/Sin and Run, Mourner, Run (adapted from Randall Kenan’s short story), both of which premiered at Yale Cabaret. He holds a B.F.A. in acting from DePaul University, and he graduated from the playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama. He is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s international writer in residence and is currently under commission at Manhattan Theatre Club and Berkeley Rep. His new play, Head of Passes, will have its world premiere in April at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, directed by Tina Landau.
In the Red and Brown Water stars Dorian Christian Baucum, Peggy A. Blow, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary, Diarra Kilpatrick, Stephen Marshall, Simone Missick, Iona Morris, Theodore Perkins and Maya Lynne Robinson. Set design is by Frederica Nascimento; lighting design is byJosé Lopez; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; choreography is by Ameenah Kaplan; vocal coach is Brenda Lee Eager; dialect coach is JB Blanc; assistant director is Erinn Anova; production stage manager is Shawna Voragen; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce.
Shirley Jo Finney with NAACP Theater Award
Shirley Jo Finney previously directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Fountain Theatre. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and, most recently, the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Ms. Finney has been honored with Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha,and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me. In 2007 she received the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.
Don’t miss this extraordinary new play at the Fountain. From the director of our unforgettable smash hit The Ballad of Emmett Till.
In the Red and Brown Water Oct 20 – Dec 16 (323) 663-1525 More