CLASSIX Reading Series Featuring Plays by Alice Childress, Kathleen Collins, Bill Gunn, and Ron Milner at Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, May 22-23

CLASSIX, a reading series of plays curated by director Awoye Timpo, features plays by Alice Childress, Kathleen Collins, Bill Gunn, and Ron Milner, just four out of a long line of writers whose extraordinary plays were produced in the 20th century, on Monday, May 22 and Tuesday, May 23 at 4:30pm + 6:30pm at The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, located at The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 5th Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets), NYC. All tickets are FREE. First come, first served. Please arrive early.

Wine in the Wilderness by Alice Childress (1969)
Directed by Jade King Carroll
Featuring Miriam Hyman, Ruffin Prentiss, Jillian Walker, Charles Weldon, Zenzi Williams

In the midst of a Harlem riot is Wine in the Wilderness, a relentlessly truthful play about a black woman factory worker named Tommy and her new artist friend, Bill. When Bill invites Tommy into his home to become the newest subject of his triptych on black womanhood, race, sex, and class tensions arise. Childress paints a courageous portrait of black life, love, and longing through the voice of a woman misunderstood not only by white society, but by her own people.

What the Wine-Sellers Buy by Ron Milner (1974)
Directed by Nicole A. Watson
Featuring MaameYaa Boafo, Chakeefe Gordon, Brian D. Coats, Medina Senghore Collie, Suzzanne Douglas, Trey Santiago, Adam McNulty, Melanie Nichols-King, Keith Randolph Smith, Count Stovall

Written in 1974, What the Wine-Sellers Buy was originally produced by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival at Lincoln Center. Poverty, crime, and corruption run rampant in Detroit’s inner city during the 1950s and 1960s. The play centers around Steve Carlton, a carefree high school student, who wrestles between his dream to become a professional basketball player and the other possibilities in his life. In Ron Milner’s moral and musical play, Steve must figure out if he will follow his sly neighbor, Rico, down a path of drug-dealing, exploitation, and pimping, or forge his own way through the world.

Followed by a brief discussion with Woodie King, Jr., Artistic Director of the New Federal Theater.

The Forbidden City by Bill Gunn
Directed by Awoye Timpo
Featuring Guy Davis, Marchant Davis, Bjorn DuPaty, Rachel Leslie, Doron Mitchell, Lee Aaron Rosen, Allie Woods

Bill Gunn’s final play, The Forbidden City, premiered at New York’s Public Theater in 1989. The bonds of a middle class Black family in Philadelphia circa 1936 are tested by the specter of a tragedy that occurred years ago in the Jim Crow south. Poetic, yet haunting “The Forbidden City” is a timely depiction a family struggling to emerge from the psychological trauma and violence inflicted on African Americans in the early 20th century that continues to the present.

The Brothers by Kathleen Collins (1982)
Directed by Seret Scott
Featuring Crystal Dickinson, Chalia La Tour, Margaret Odette, Carra Patterson, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, Lizan Mitchell, Elizabeth Van Dyke

In this memory-drama Collins weaves together a series of scenes and monologues about black men who “should have been born white’’ because they “spent their entire lives trying to jump out of their skins.’’ The Brothers (1982) was originally produced by the Women’s Project at the American Place Theater.

Followed by a brief discussion with Seret Scott, original cast member, moderated by Crystal A. Dickinson.

Taylor Barfield, Zoey Martinson, A.J. Muhammad and Jillian Walker serve as dramaturgs for the series.

Playwright, novelist, actor, and screenwriter Alice Childress was a visionary artist. Born was in Charleston, South Carolina in 1916 she later moved to Harlem where she began writing and immersing herself in the vibrant arts scene. Ms. Childress wrote over a dozen plays over the course of her career including Florence, Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White, Trouble in MindMojo: A Black Love Story, and Wine in the Wilderness. She also wrote the novels Like One of the Family and A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich which was later turned into a film. A Tony Award nominee for her performance in Anna Lucasta, Ms. Childress was also a tireless advocate for actor union rights.

Photo by Mark Reid
Photo by Mark Reid

Born in 1942, raised in Jersey City, and educated at Skidmore and the Sorbonne, Kathy Collins was an activist with SNCC during the Civil Rights Movement who went on to carve out a career for herself as a playwright and filmmaker during a time when black women were rarely seen in those roles. She was married twice, and had two children who she raised in Piermont, New York. She died young, at age 46, from breast cancer. Her most known work is the film Losing Ground, followed perhaps by two plays, In the Midnight Hour, and The Brothers. A never-before released collection of short fiction, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, was published by Ecco Press in Fall 2016.

Bill Gunn was an extraordinary artistic force with an exceptional body of work across various mediums. He began his career as an actor and appeared on Broadway in The Immoralist and off-Broadway in the classic play Take A Giant Step by Louis Peterson. Several of his plays were produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival under the leadership of Joseph Papp and include masterpieces such as Black Picture Show, Johnnas, and The Forbidden City. In addition to his extensive work in the theater, Mr. Gunn wrote and directed films including his best-known work Ganja and Hess as well as the film Stop. He is also the author of two novels, All the Rest Have Died and Rhinestone Sharecropping. Bold, inventive, and surprising the work of Bill Gunn is impressively resonant and dynamic as ever.

Ron Milner was a legendary playwright with an extraordinary body of work including the plays Who’s Got His Own, Season’s ReasonsThe Warning—A Theme for LindaJazz Set, and Roads to the Mountaintop which was a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Born and raised in Detroit, his work is infused with a rhythmic and regional authenticity and an uncompromising depth of character. His play Checkmates appeared on Broadway in a production directed by Woodie King Jr. and featuring extraordinary an exceptional cast including Denzel Washington, Ruby Dee, Paul Winfield and Marsha Jackson. Mr. Milner is also the author of the book for the musical Don’t Get God Started, written in collaboration with the Winans family.

Awoye Timpo is a New York-based director. Credits include Sister Son/ji (Billie Holiday Theater), Carnaval (National Black Theatre), Ndebele Funeral (59E59; South African tour; Edinburgh Festival), The Libation Bearers (Shakespeare Theatre NJ), Chasing the Bird (Joyce Theater), Children of the Road (NYU Grad Acting), In the Continuum(Juilliard), Tears of Anatolia (Columbia), Araby (La Mama), Clybourne Park (Farmers Alley), Ruined (WMU), The Vanished (Novisi, site-specific), Rhinoceros (Novisi). Broadway: Assistant Director, Shuffle Along; Associate Director, Jitney. Segal Center: PEN World Voices, Feast (Fall 2016), Other: Page 73, TerraNOVA, Ma-Yi, Royal Shakespeare Company, WNYC, ABC/Disney, Soho Rep Writer/ Director Lab, Cherry Lane Mentor Project, Lincoln Center Directors Lab.

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