Brandon J. Dirden to Helm August Wilson’s KING HEDLEY II Featuring Brittany Bellizeare, Harvy Blanks, Brian D. Coats, Elain Graham, Charlie Hudson III and Blake Morris at Two River Theater, November 10 -December 16 

Brandon J. Dirden. Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden
Photo by Lia Chang

Marking the halfway point in its commitment to present all 10 plays of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle, Two River Theater is presenting Wilson’s “exhilarating” (The New York Times) and incendiary drama King Hedley II, directed by Brandon J. Dirden. For the first time, the theater will be presenting one of Wilson’s plays in its intimate 110-seat Marion Huber Theater, with performances beginning on November 10 and continuing for an extended five-week run through Sunday, December 16. The opening night performance is Friday, November 16 at 7pm. Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or tworivertheater.org. The production sponsors are Monmouth University and Collex Collision Experts.

August Wilson is the 10th most produced playwright of the current season in the United States, according to American Theater magazine. Two River’s staging of King Hedley II is currently the only production of this rarely seen play happening anywhere in the world.

The year is 1985 and Pittsburgh’s Hill District has been ravaged by violence, unemployment, and Urban Blight. King Hedley II returns to his home after a seven-year prison term looking to re-build his life, save some money, and start a family. However, both he and those around him quickly find that in 1980s America, the rules have changed.

Brandon J. Dirden-the award-winning actor/director who has appeared in five Two River productions, including, most recently, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and A Raisin in the Sun-directs this sequel to Seven Guitars, which was produced under his direction at Two River in 2015. King Hedley II picks up the stories of Ruby and Canewell (known here as Stool Pigeon) from the earlier drama, which is set in the 1940s.

The cast of King Hedley II includes Brittany Bellizeare (Tonya), Harvy Blanks (Elmore), Brian D. Coats (Stool Pigeon), Elain Graham (Ruby), Charlie Hudson III (Mister), and Blake Morris (King Hedley II).

The creative team includes scenic designer Michael Carnahan, costume designer Karen Perry, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, sound designer Kay Richardson, and wigs designer Erin Hicks. The fight direction is by UnkleDave’s Fight-House, the casting is by Heidi Griffiths & Kate Murray, and the stage manager is Laura Wilson.

Says Artistic Director John Dias, “Over the past decade, Two River Theater has made a commitment to producing plays that deal with issues of race, social justice, and our shared history. These include four plays from August Wilson’s majestic American Century Cycle: Jitney, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. With each production, the artists who work here-and the audiences who are coming here to see these plays-are engaged in emotional and complex conversations about race. We believe that, as a theater, we have a unique opportunity to contribute to this evolving civic discourse.”

Ticket prices range from $40 to $80, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from tworivertheater.org or 732.345.1400.

Inside Two River is a series of events specially curated for each Two River Theater production. For more information or to reserve a free spot, patrons should visit tworivertheater.org or call 732.345.1400.

Book Club: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Monday, November 26 at 6:30pm in the Victoria Mastrobuono Library
Ta-Nehisi Coates pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son in this Pulitzer Prize finalist and #1 New York Times bestseller from 2015. The journalist, thinker, and writer offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crises all the while trying to convey and interrogate what it is like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it. Coates works to untangle these difficult questions by writing a letter to his adolescent son. In connection with King Hedley II, Literary Manager Taylor Barfield will discuss how a broader socio-political history can be explored through the lens of familial bonds and personal stories.

First Monday Masters is series of master classes led by artists affiliated with Two River Theater’s recent productions and current season. Classes take place in locations throughout the Two River Theater arts complex, on Monday evenings from 6pm-8pm. To reserve a spot, patrons should visit tworivertheater.org or call 732.345.1400.

November 5: Costume Design with Karen Perry

For adults and high school students, limited to 16 participants, 6-8:00pm, $40 per person

King Hedley II costume designer Karen Perry previously designed August Wilson’s Jitney, Two Trains Running and Seven Guitars at Two River Theater, as well as Lives of Reason, Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, Guadalupe in the Guest Room, Third and Trouble in Mind. This season, she will also design Oo-Bla-Dee. She has also designed costumes for Encores!, Dallas Theater Center, Second Stage, Signature Theatre, Goodman, and The Public Theater, among others. Karen will walk the class through the costume design process from the page to the stage by discussing her work on new musicals and classic plays. This workshop will take place in Two River Theater’s Costume Shop.

Before Play and Lobby Display

Audiences will learn about August Wilson and King Hedley II in Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes prior to every performance, and Lobby Display.

Post-Play Conversations

Discussions with the cast and a member of Two River’s Artistic staff will take place on Wednesday, November 21 at 1pm; Sunday, November 25 at 3pm; and Wednesday, November 28 at 7pm.

Working with Google, Two River has created and launched a virtual tour of its facility, which lives on Google Maps and tworivertheater.org. This virtual tour provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to virtually come through the theater’s front doors and view the space in detail in advance of their visit.

An audio-described performance is scheduled for Wednesday, December 5 at 1pm, and an open-captioned performance is scheduled for Saturday, December 8 at 3pm. Tickets are available at a discounted rate of $25 for patrons using these services. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating or tickets to a performance listed above, patrons should call 732.345.1400 or e-mail boxoffice@trtc.org.

Artists

BRITTANY BELLIZEARE
BRITTANY BELLIZEARE

Brittany Bellizeare (Tonya) previously appeared at Two River Theater as Ruby in Seven Guitars and is happy to return to work on yet another August Wilson masterpiece. New York credits include an interactive play, In the Blue Hour (Emily) at La Maison d’Art Gallery in Harlem, and A Raisin in the Sun (Beneatha) at The Gallery Players. Regional: Portland Center Stage (Oregon) JAW Festival: three girls never learnt the way home (Edith); Baltimore Center Stage: Skeleton Crew (Shanita); The Guthrie: The Bluest Eye (Pecola); TheaterWorks Hartford: Sunset Baby (Nina); La Jolla/Berkeley Rep: The Last Tiger in Haiti (Rose); Northern Stage: The Mountaintop(Camae); the Yard: Archy & Mehitabel (Ensemble) Educational Tour: McCarter: Sunjata Kamalenya (Player 3). Film/TV: The BlacklistEye CandyThe Knick. Education: MFA: The New School for Drama; BS: Spelman College. NAACP Theatre for Best Ensemble nomination for The Last Tiger in Haiti(2017/18). brittanybellizeare.com

HARVY BLANKS
HARVY BLANKS

Harvy Blanks (Elmore) appeared on Broadway as Shealy in the Tony-winning production of Jitney. Off-Broadway, he received the Drama Desk Award for his performance in Tabletop. Other Off-Broadway credits include First Breeze of Summerand The Guest at Central Park West. His regional appearances include Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow (Williamstown), Familiar (Yale Rep, The Guthrie and Seattle Rep) and Fire on the Mountain _(TheatreWorks Palo Alto). At the Denver Center he starred in _RuinedFencesJoe Turner’s Come and GoneGem of the OceanSeven Guitars _and _Radio Golf, among others. Harvy can be seen this season in Terrence Nance’s Random Acts of Flyness (HBO). His other television appearances include Preacher _and _Crime Story. He is very happy to return to Two River where he appeared in JitneyTwo Trains Running and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

BRIAN D. COATS
BRIAN D. COATS

Brian D. Coats (Stool Pigeon) Broadway: Jitney. He was previously seen at Two River Theater in Seven Guitars and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Off-Broadway includes: Travisville (Ensemble Studio Theatre), La Ruta (Working Theater), The First Noel (Classical Theatre of Harlem/The Apollo), On the Levee (Lincoln Center), The Merry Wives of WindsorTwo Gentlemen of Verona (Public/ NYSF). Regional: The Royale (Cleveland Play House), The Nest (Denver Center Theatre), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (Huntington Theatre, Studio Theatre DC), FencesA Raisin in the Sun(Geva Theatre), Distant Fires (People’s Light and Theatre), Clybourne Park (Caldwell Theatre), The Wedding Giftpen/man/ship (Contemporary American Theatre Fest), Count (PlayMakers Rep). TV includes: Law & OrderLaw & Order: SVUJAGBlue BloodsThe SopranosBoardwalk EmpireLuke Cage, and The Blacklist.

CHARLIE HUDSON III
CHARLIE HUDSON III

Charlie Hudson III (Mister) is thrilled to be appearing again at Two River, where he was previously seen in A Raisin in the Sun and Seven Guitars . Previous shows include Detroit ’67 (Playmakers Rep); The Mountaintop (Northern Stage); Father Comes Home from the Wars (American Repertory Theatre); A Raisin in the Sun(Barrymore Theatre, Broadway);The Raisin Cycle: Clybourne Park & Beneatha’s Place (Baltimore Centerstage);Hurt Village (Signature); Fences (Virginia Stage); The Piano Lesson (Yale Rep); Bike Wreck (Ensemble Studio Theatre); White Women Street (Irish Rep); “Master Harold”…and the boys (Portland Stage); Fly (Crossroads and Vineyard Playhouse); ARaisin in the Sun,Richard IIIA Christmas Carol* , All the King’s Men *,*  Cyrano de Bergerac (Trinity Rep); Hillary (New Georges); Old Comedy (Classic Stage); Mother Courage (Public Theater/NYSF); Sweet Bird of Youth (Williamstown); Romeo and Juliet (Bread Loaf Acting Ensemble); Julius Caesar* , Topdog/Underdog(Brown/ Trinity Consortium). TV includes: ManifestThe Night OfShades of BluesThe Good FightUnforgettableForever,The Rosa Parks Story, and A Raisin in the Sun “Revisited.” Film credits include Roxanne RoxanneComplete UnknownTwelveNewlyweedsLillian; and his voice is featured in the McGraw-Hill’s PodClass GRE Vocabulary Study Guide. Mr. Hudson is the 2003 KC/ACTF Irene Ryan Best Actor Award winner (Region IV) and is a graduate of Alabama State University and the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium. Charlie would like to thank God for this opportunity and his loving family for their support.

BLAKE MORRIS
BLAKE MORRIS

Blake Morris (King Hedley II) Off-Broadway: Ain’t No Mo’ (The Public Studio), Kings of Harlem (New Horizon Theater). Festivals: New Black Fest, 48 Hrs. in Harlem, NYSAF Reading Series. TV: Pose (FX), Jessica Jones (Netflix).

ELAIN GRAHAM
ELAIN GRAHAM

Elain Graham (Ruby) i s pleased to be back at Two River Theater, where she was seen as Mrs. Dickson in the critically acclaimed production of Intimate Apparel. Other stage credits include: Intimate Apparel, Dorset Theatre Festival; Dolores, While I Yet Live, Primary Stages; The Picture Box, Negro Ensemble Company; Mum in SoHo Rep’s critically acclaimed Born Bad; The Woman in Lynn Nottage’s Banana Beer Bath, Going to the River Festival/EST; Lena Younger, A Raisin in the Sun, Virginia Stage Company; Permanent Collection, Baltimore Center Stage; Mama Benin, Playboy of the West Indies, Lincoln Center. Film/Television: The Last O.G.The BreaksThe DetourLaw & Order: SVULaw & Order666 Park AvenueSmashUnforgettableAcross the UniverseCity TeacherArthur!: A Celebration of LifeThe JuryMessengers100 Centre StreetOzThird WatchTurn It Up. She was also Etta Mae Burrell on the daytime soap opera, Another World.

August Wilson (April 27, 1945-October 2, 2005) authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II,and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of the descendants of Africans in North America, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century, forming the complication entitled The American Century Cycle. His plays have been produced on Broadway, at regional theaters across the country and all over the world. In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned, _currently touring and featuring Eugene Lee reprising Mr. Wilson’s role. Mr. Wilson’s works garnered many awards including Pulitzer Prizes for _Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson _(1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for _Jitney; as well as seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Jitney. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson. Mr. Wilson’s early works included the one-act plays The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming, and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills. Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award, and the 2003 Heinz Award. He was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton, and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005, Broadway renamed the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street—The August Wilson Theatre. Today, his plays continue to be produced, and his place in the American Theater continues to grow. New York Public Radio recorded all ten plays in The American Century Cycle at the Greene Space, casting many of the actors that worked on the original productions. PBS aired a documentary on Mr. Wilson entitled, The Ground on Which I Stand, as part of the American Masters series. Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived in Seattle, Washington at the time of his death. He is immediately survived by his two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero, who is the executor of his estate.

Brandon J. Dirden (Director) made his directing debut at Two River Theater with August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. He has appeared at Two River in A Raisin in the Sun; August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Jitney; the world premiere of Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine; and Topdog/Underdog, in which he starred opposite his brother Jason Dirden under the direction of the play’s author, Suzan-Lori Parks. An award-winning actor/director, he is best known for portraying Agent Dennis Aderholt in the acclaimed FX series The Americans. ?A Morehouse College and University of Illinois graduate, he is also known for appearing on Broadway as Martin Luther King Jr. in the successful Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way opposite Bryan Cranston’s Lyndon B. Johnson. Other Broadway credits include August Wilson’s Jitney (2017 Tony Award for Best Revival), Prelude to a Kiss, Enron and Clybourne Park. In 2012 he was awarded an Obie and a Theatre World Award and was nominated for Drama League and Lucille Lortel Awards for his portrayal of Boy Willie in the Signature Theatre Company revival of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. ?He has guest starred in TV series such as The Good WifeThe Big CBlue BloodsPublic MoralsBraindead andBaz Luhrmann’s The Get Down on Netflix. Brandon is married to actress Crystal Dickinson and currently lives in West Orange, NJ with their four-year-old son, Chase.

Michael Carnahan (Scenic Designer) previously designed The Ballad of Little JoYour Blues Ain’t Sweet Like MineThirdOn Borrowed Time, and August Wilson’s Seven Guitars _and _Two Trains Running at Two River. Off-Broadway—Atlantic Theater Company: Skeleton Crew; 59E59: I and You; Second Stage: The Happiest Song Plays Last; Signature Theatre: The Piano LessonThe First Breeze of Summer; Life Could Be A DreamThe Marvelous WonderettesThree Mo’ TenorsPygmalionHowie the RookieBrando.  Tours— Cheers, Live On StageA Christmas Story The Musical, Peter & The Starcatcher. Regional credits include Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage, American Conservatory Theater, The Kennedy Center, McCarter Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Baltimore Center Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Pasadena Playhouse, Two River Theatre, Chautauqua Theater Company, Cleveland Play House, Detroit Public Theater, Laguna Playhouse, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Northlight Theatre, Signature Theatre, Bucks County Playhouse, Ogunquit Playhouse, Arsht Center, Musical Theatre West, San Jose Repertory, Center Repertory. michaelcarnahandesign.com Instagram: Carnypics Twitter: @mike_carnahan

Karen Perry (Costume Designer) previously designed Lives of ReasonYour Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, Guadalupe in the Guest RoomThirdTrouble in Mind, and August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black BottomJitneyTwo Trains Running and Seven Guitars at Two River. Recent credits include Cabin in the Sky (Encores!); The Happiest Song Plays Last (Second Stage); DreamgirlsClybourne ParkA Raisin in the Sun (Dallas Theater Center); stop. reset. and The Piano Lesson (Signature); Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (dir. Phylicia Rashad, Mark Taper); the 10th Anniversary production of Crowns, written and dir. by Regina Taylor (Goodman); Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, dir. Sheldon Epps (Pasadena Playhouse); John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, dir. Ethan McSweeny (Arena); Regina Taylor’s Trinity River Plays, dir. McSweeny (Dallas Theater Center, Goodman); The Trip to Bountiful, Walter Mosley’s The Fall of Heaven, dir. Marion McClinton (Cincinnati Playhouse); The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell McCraney, dir. Tina Landau (The Public) and Landau and Robert O’Hara (McCarter); Things of Dry Hours by Naomi Wallace (NYTW); Having Our Say, written and dir. by Emily Mann (McCarter); and Resurrection by Daniel Beaty (Arena). She has designed eight of the 10 August Wilson plays including: Gem of the OceanThe Piano LessonKing Hedley IIRadio GolfTwo Trains Running, and Seven Guitars. Select film/TV credits include: Gregory Hines ShowSaturday Night Live, and The Brother from Another Planet by director John Sayles.

Kathy A. Perkins (Lighting Designer) made her Two River debut with Seven Guitars. She has designed both nationally and internationally including Switzerland and South Africa. In New York, she has designed for New Federal Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club. and in such venues as Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Academy of Music. Regionally, Kathy has designed for Goodman Theatre, Arena Stage, Steppenwolf, Alliance Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, Berkeley Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, St. Louis Black Repertory, American Conservatory Theater, Indiana Repertory, Seattle Repertory, Congo Square, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Writers Theatre and Playmakers Repertory Company. She is the editor/co-editor of six anthologies focusing on African/African Diaspora women. A graduate of Howard University and the Univ. of Michigan, Kathy is Professor Emerita of Theatre at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kay Richardson (Sound Designer) is a two-time Suzi Bass nominated Sound Designer and Audio Engineer. This production marks her Two River Theater debut. Regional theater designs include: Eclipsed at Synchronicity Theatre; Thurgood at Theatrical Outfit; Smart People; Fetch Clay, Make Man; and Gut Bucket Blues for Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta, GA; Sister Act in Whitefish, MT; the Medora Musical in Medora, North Dakota; and Crowns in Savannah, GA. Other designs include A Man of No ImportanceSpring AwakeningThe Colored MuseumA Song for CorettaHoodoo Love, and Seven Guitars. As an Audio Engineer she’s toured with Jekyll & HydeRing of FireChurch Basement Ladies and The Honky Tonk Angels. At the Alpine Theatre Project in Whitefish, MT she’s mixed Matilda the MusicalSmokey Joe’s CafeSingin’ in the RainThe Addams FamilySister ActBig RiverThe Who’s TommyLittle Shop of Horrors and Master Class. She has also toured in over 45 countries around the world mixing live for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines International. Kay is currently the Resident Sound Engineer at the Lewis Center for the Arts in Princeton, NJ.

Erin Hicks (Wig Designer) grew up in Harlem, NY. She began styling hair as an assistant on The Winter’s Tale _at the New York Shakespeare Festival, starring Alfre Woodard, Mandy Patinkin, and Diane Venora. Over the last 20 years she has worked on various Broadway, film and TV shows. This is Erin’s fourth show at Two River, following _Guadalupe in the Guest Room and August Wilson’s Seven Guitars and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

Unkle Dave’s Fight-House (Fight Direction) UnkleDave’s Fight-House is a company of fight-directors founded by Dave Anzuelo. The core members of the team are Jesse Geguzis, Gerry Rodriguez, and Sean Griffin. Two River Theater credits: Be More Chill, SevenGuitars, A Raisin in the Sun, El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom. Broadway credits: Tuck Everlasting (Broadhurst); An American in Paris (Palace); Disgraced (Lyceum). Off-Broadway: Oedipus El Rey, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Public Theater); Downtown Race RiotSticks and Bones (New Group); Alligator (New Georges/Sol Project); And I And Silence (Signature); The Hill Town Plays (Rattlestick; Axis; Cherry Lane); To the Bone (Cherry Lane); Adoration of the Old Woman (Intar). National Tour: An American in Paris. Regional: Macbeth (Northern Stage); Oklahoma (Goodspeed); Disgraced(Goodman, Mark Taper Forum, Seattle Rep).

Heidi Griffiths (Casting) has worked for more than 25 years at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in NYC, where she has cast over 200 productions Off-Broadway and at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, including Shakespeare, new plays, and musicals. On Broadway: Sweat; Shuffle Along; The Crucible, Eclipsed; A Delicate BalanceA Raisin in the SunLucky GuyChinglishThe Motherf*ker with the HatThe Merchant of VeniceHairPassing StrangeCaroline, or ChangeTake Me Out (Tony Award, Best Play 2003); Topdog/Underdog (Pulitzer Prize, 2002); The Wild Party;Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da FunkOn the Town; and The Tempest. She also cast the films The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, MURDER and murderSaving Face and Ladybird. King Hedley II is her 10th collaboration with Two River Theater.

Kate Murray (Casting) Two River Theater: The Importance of Being EarnestThe Women of Padilla, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Ma Rainey’s Black BottomSeven GuitarsYour Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, and The School for Wives. Broadway (as Casting Associate): The CrucibleA View from the Bridge, A Delicate Balance, A Raisin in the SunLucky Guy _(Casting Assistant). Additional casting credits include work with Center Theater Group, The Cherry Lane, Bedlam, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, LAByrinth, New Georges, TheaterWorks Hartford, The Studio Theatre, and Throughline Artists._ Kate is a Casting Director at The Public Theater.

Laura Wilson (Production Stage Manager) Previously at TRT: Ma Rainey’s Black BottomSeven GuitarsYour Blues Ain’t Sweet Like MineThird, No Place to Go._ Broadway: _Roman Holiday (OOT Tryout), JitneyAll The WayFirst DateA Free Man of ColorThe People in the Picture. Off-Broadway: Paradise Blue (Signature Theatre); School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (MCC); Skeleton Crew (Atlantic Theater Company); Exit Strategy (Primary Stages); The Really Big OnceA Family of Perhaps Three (Target Margin Theater). Regional: Bull Durham (Alliance Theatre); Guys and Dolls (Riverside Theatre); The Three Sisters, The Boys from Syracuse, and Things of Dry Hours(Centerstage, Baltimore); Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle (Clarence Brown Theatre).

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Multimedia: Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brenda Pressley, Willie Dirden and More at Two River Theater’s Opening Night Party for A RAISIN IN THE SUN

Willie Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, Andrew Binger, David Joel Rivera, Brenda Pressley, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III, Crystal A. Dickinson, York Walker, Owen Tabaka, and Nat DeWolf during the opening night curtain call for Two River Theater's A RAISIN IN THE SUN on September 15, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, Andrew Binger, David Joel Rivera, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III, Crystal A. Dickinson, York Walker, Owen Tabaka, Brenda Pressley and Nat DeWolf during the opening night curtain call for Two River Theater's A RAISIN IN THE SUN. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, Andrew Binger, David Joel Rivera, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III, Crystal A. Dickinson, York Walker, Owen Tabaka, Brenda Pressley and Nat DeWolf during the opening night curtain call for Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN on September 15, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Two River Theater has another splendid hit in the Rechnitz Theater with the opening of the searing and powerful production of Lorraine Hansberry’s American classic A Raisin in the Sun, brilliantly helmed by Carl Cofield.

Willie Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, Andrew Binger, David Joel Rivera, Brenda Pressley, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III, Crystal A. Dickinson, York Walker, Owen Tabaka, and Nat DeWolf during the opening night curtain call for Two River Theater's A RAISIN IN THE SUN on September 15, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, Andrew Binger, David Joel Rivera, Brenda Pressley, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III, Crystal A. Dickinson, York Walker, Owen Tabaka, and Nat DeWolf during the opening night curtain call for Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN on September 15, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Brandon J. Dirden stars as Walter Lee Younger, his wife Crystal A. Dickinson as Ruth Younger, his father Willie Dirden as Bobo, Brenda Pressley as Lena Younger, Jasmine Batchelor as Beneatha Younger, Nat DeWolf as Karl Lindner, Charlie Hudson III as Joseph Asagai, Owen Tabaka as Travis Younger, York Walker as George Murchison, with Andrew Binger and David Joel Rivera as the Moving Men.

Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Andrew Binger, Brenda Pressley, Director Carl Cofield, Nat DeWolf, York Walker, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III (not pictured: Owen Tabaka and David Joel Rivera. Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Andrew Binger, Brenda Pressley, Director Carl Cofield, Nat DeWolf, York Walker, Jasmine Batchelor, Charlie Hudson III (not pictured: Owen Tabaka and David Joel Rivera) Photo by Lia Chang

A Raisin in the Sun marks the first time that Brandon and his father Willie have shared the same stage.

Willie and Deborah Dirden with their daughter, Maria, granddaughter, Emerson, and their sons, James Dirden, Jason Dirden and Brandon Dirden. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie and Deborah Dirden with their daughter, Maria, granddaughter, Emerson, and their sons, James Dirden, Jason Dirden and Brandon Dirden. Photo by Lia Chang

There were more than 50 family members in attendance including Two River alum and brother Jason Dirden (Topdog/Underdog, Seven GuitarsMa Rainey’s Black Bottom) who currently appears as Basie Skanks on “Greenleaf” on the OWN Network.

Jason Dirden Discusses ‘Greenleaf’ and the Family Business

The Dirden-Dickinson clan came out to celebrate opening night and Willie Dirden's 72nd birthday. Photo by Lia Chang
The Dirden-Dickinson clan came out to celebrate opening night and Willie Dirden’s 72nd birthday. Photo by Lia Chang

The double celebration included a cake for Willie Dirden who turned 72 and became a member of Actors Equity Association.

Video produced by Garth Kravits.

The creative team includes scenic designers Christopher Swader & Justin Swader, costume designer Elivia Bovenzi, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, sound designer Karin Graybash, wig designer Valerie Gladstone and stage manager Lloyd Davis, Jr.

Scenic Designers Justin Swader, Christopher Swader, Brandon J. Dirden, Willie Dirden, Andrew Binger, Owen Tabaka, Director Carl Cofield, Constume Designer Elivia Bovenzi, Nat DeWolf, York Walker, Jasmine Batchelor, Crystal A. Dickinson and Charlie Hudson III. Photo by Lia Chang
Scenic Designers Justin Swader, Christopher Swader, Brandon J. Dirden, Willie Dirden, Andrew Binger, Owen Tabaka, Director Carl Cofield, Constume Designer Elivia Bovenzi, Nat DeWolf, York Walker, Jasmine Batchelor, Crystal A. Dickinson and Charlie Hudson III. Photo by Lia Chang

Don’t miss the masterful work being done by these artists. Performances continue through Sunday, October 8 in Two River’s Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ.  Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or tworivertheater.org

Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Brenda Pressley and More in Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN, Opens September 15 

In the Rehearsal Room with Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Brenda Pressley and More in Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN 

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Brandon J. Dirden, Willie Dirden, Deborah Dirden, Lia Chang, Jason Dirden. Photo by Garth Kravits
Brandon J. Dirden, Willie Dirden, Deborah Dirden, Lia Chang, Jason Dirden. Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in  Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2017 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachang.com

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Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Brenda Pressley and More in Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN, Opens September 15

Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Two River Theater (Artistic Director John Dias, Managing Director Michael Hurst) presents A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Carl Cofield. The press opening is Friday, September 15 at 7pm and performances will continue through Sunday, October 8 in Two River’s Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ.  Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or tworivertheater.org

Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger) and Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger) and Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The cast includes Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Nat DeWolf (Karl Lindner), Crystal A. Dickinson(Ruth Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Willie Dirden (Bobo), Charlie Hudson III (Joseph Asagai), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), and York Walker (George Murchison). Andrew Binger and David Joel Rivera play the Moving Men.

Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) and Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) in in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) and Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) in in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The creative team includes scenic designers Christopher Swader & Justin Swader, costume designer Elivia Bovenzi, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, sound designer Karin Graybash, and wigs designer Valerie Gladstone. The casting is by Jack Doulin + Sharky, and the stage manager is Lloyd Davis, Jr.

Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger) and Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger) and Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Nat DeWolf (Karl Lindner) and Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Nat DeWolf (Karl Lindner) and Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Charlie Hudson III (Joseph Asagai) and Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Charlie Hudson III (Joseph Asagai) and Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger) and York Walker (George Murchison) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger) and York Walker (George Murchison) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Willie Dirden (Bobo) and Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Willie Dirden (Bobo) and Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in A Raisin in the Sun at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

In the Rehearsal Room with Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Brenda Pressley and More in Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN 

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In the Rehearsal Room with Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Brenda Pressley and More in Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN

Owen Tabaka, Jasmine Batchelor, Brenda Pressley, Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson Photo by Lia Chang
Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ.
Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ.

Two River Theater’s much anticipated production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is deep in rehearsal and I was invited to document a run thru on Saturday afternoon by director Carl Cofield.

Director Carl Cofield Photo by Lia Chang
Director Carl Cofield
Photo by Lia Chang

Performances will begin in Two River’s Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, on Saturday, September 9 and continue for an extended four-week run, through Sunday, October 8. The opening night performance is Friday, September 15 at 7pm. Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or tworivertheater.org. The lead production sponsor is Riverview Medical Center and the media partner is WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM.

(Standing) Willie Dirden, York Walker, Charlie Hudson III, director Carl Cofield, Nat DeWolf, David Joel Rivera, Andrew Binger. (Seated) Owen Tabaka, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brenda Pressley, Jasmine Batchelor and Brandon J. Dirden Photo by Lia Chang
(Standing) Willie Dirden, York Walker, Charlie Hudson III, director Carl Cofield, Nat DeWolf, David Joel Rivera, Andrew Binger. (Seated) Owen Tabaka, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brenda Pressley, Jasmine Batchelor and Brandon J. Dirden. Photo by Lia Chang

The cast of A Raisin in the Sun includes Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Nat DeWolf (Karl Lindner), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Willie Dirden (Bobo), Charlie Hudson III (Joseph Asagai), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), and York Walker (George Murchison). Andrew Binger and David Joel Rivera play the Moving Men.

The cast and creative team of A RAISIN IN THE SUN Photo by Lia Chang
The cast and creative team of A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Photo by Lia Chang

The creative team includes scenic designers Christopher & Justin Swader, costume designer Elivia Bovenzi, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, Sound Designer Karin Graybash, and wigs designer Valerie Gladstone. The casting is by Jack Doulin + Sharky, and the stage manager is Lloyd Davis, Jr.

In this landmark drama, Hansberry-drawing on her own family’s experience with housing discrimination-dramatizes the story of the Younger family, headed by matriarch Lena Younger, her son Walter Lee, and his wife, Ruth, who live (with other family members) in poverty on Chicago’s south side. As the play begins, we see that Walter Lee, a chauffeur, dreams of what he might do with a long-promised life-insurance check, a legacy left to them to them by Lena’s late husband.

Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden Photo by Lia Chang
Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden
Photo by Lia Chang

We meet the Younger family on the day that their lives could change forever. Taking its title from a poem by Langston Hughes-“What happens to a dream deferred/Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”-Hansberry’s play explores the different hopes and aspirations of each member of the Younger family as they fight for their piece of the American Dream.

Owen Tabaka, Jasmine Batchelor, Brenda Pressley, Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson Photo by Lia Chang
Owen Tabaka, Jasmine Batchelor, Brenda Pressley, Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson
Photo by Lia Chang

A Raisin in the Sun debuted in 1959 and was the first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. Produced at Two River for the first time in the theater’s 24-year history, the play is Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal masterpiece about race, social justice, and history-American history in the largest sense, and the personal histories of ordinary African-Americans.

A Raisin in the Sun is not only one of America’s greatest plays,” says Artistic Director John Dias, “it is in fact one of the greatest works of art ever created. Lorraine Hansberry uses the metaphor of the family to illuminate something profound about who we are as Americans.

Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson
Photo by Lia Chang

We have built this production around the talents of an extraordinary family of Two River actors: Brenda Pressley as Lena Younger; Brandon J. Dirden as Walter Lee Younger; and Brandon’s wife, Crystal A. Dickinson, as Ruth Younger.

Willie Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden
Photo by Lia Chang

Joining them will be Brandon’s father, Willie Dirden, as Bobo, making this the first time that father and son have acted together. Carl Cofield’s production will resonate today as a story of how courage, hope and love trump our ongoing history of inequity and injustice.”

Ticket prices range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from tworivertheater.org or 732.345.1400.

Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brenda Pressley and Owen Tabaka Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brenda Pressley and Owen Tabaka
Photo by Lia Chang

INSIDE TWO RIVER:
Inside Two River is a series of events specially curated for each Two River Theater production. For more information or to reserve seats, patrons should visit tworivertheater.org or call 732.345.1400.

Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Jasmine Batchelor and Nat DeWolf Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Jasmine Batchelor and Nat DeWolf Photo by Lia Chang

AUDIENCE EXTRAS:
Before Play and Lobby Display
Audiences will learn about Lorraine Hansberry and A Raisin in the Sun in Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes prior to every performance, and Lobby Display.

Post-Play Conversations
Discussions with the cast and a member of Two River’s Artistic staff will take place on Sunday, September 24 at 3pm; Wednesday, September 27 at 1pm; and Wednesday, October 4 at 7pm.

Crystal A. Dickinson, Brandon J. Dirden and Jasmine Batchelor Photo by Lia Chang
Crystal A. Dickinson, Brandon J. Dirden and Jasmine Batchelor
Photo by Lia Chang

ACCESSIBILITY:
Working with Google, Two River has created and launched a virtual tour of its facility, which lives on Google Maps and tworivertheater.org. This virtual tour provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to virtually come through the theater’s front doors and view the space in detail in advance of their visit.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN costumes by Elivia Bovenzi Photo by Lia Chang
A RAISIN IN THE SUN costumes by Elivia Bovenzi
Photo by Lia Chang

An audio-described performance is scheduled for Wednesday, September 27 at 1pm, and an open-captioned performance is scheduled for Saturday, September 30 at 3pm. Tickets are available at a discounted rate of $25 for patrons using these services. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating or tickets to a performance listed above, patrons should call 732.345.1400 or e-mail boxoffice@trtc.org.

The world of A RAISIN IN THE SUN Photo by Lia Chang
The world of A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Photo by Lia Chang

Since its founding in 1994, Two River Theater has been committed to creating great American theater by developing and producing work by some of the country’s leading artists. We are proud to be viewed as a vital cultural resource in the community of Red Bank, New Jersey. Through 10 theatrical productions each year (including world premieres, musicals, classics and theater for young audiences) and 50+ annual events happening around Monmouth County, we produce exceptional theater and cultivate engaged audiences. Two River celebrates and honors our core values of Artistic Excellence; Education and Community Engagement; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Operational Excellence. Two River Theater is under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst.

Charlie Hudson III and Nat DeWolf Photo by Lia Chang
Charlie Hudson III and Nat DeWolf
Photo by Lia Chang
Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Lia Chang and Brandon J. Dirden Photo by Carl Cofield
Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Lia Chang and Brandon J. Dirden
Photo by Carl Cofield
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2017 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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Negro Ensemble Company Gala Benefit on September 11; A SOLDIER’S PLAY Revival Set for 50th Season, September 27 – October 8

Original cast of "A Soldier's Play" by Charles Fuller, presented by Negro Ensemble Company at Theatre Four, 1981. Brent Jennings, Steven Jones, Eugene Lee, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jame Pickens and Reyno Shine. Photo by Bert Andrews

For its 50th season, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC) has been presenting a retrospective of some of the troupe’s signature works.

The culminating event of this landmark season will be NEC’s most famous and successful production, “A Soldier’s Play” by Charles Fuller, which NEC first presented in 1981 at Theatre Four. That production ran for two years, earned unanimous praise and launched the careers of many current stars, but has never again had a major production in New York.

Original cast of "A Soldier's Play" by Charles Fuller, presented by Negro Ensemble Company at Theatre Four, 1981. Brent Jennings, Steven Jones, Eugene Lee, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jame Pickens and Reyno Shine. Photo by Bert Andrews
Original cast of “A Soldier’s Play” by Charles Fuller, presented by Negro Ensemble Company at Theatre Four, 1981. Brent Jennings, Steven Jones, Eugene Lee, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Jame Pickens and Reyno Shine. Photo by Bert Andrews

NEC will revive the play September 27 to October 8 at Theatre 80 St. Marks, directed by Charles Weldon, the troupe’s current Artistic Director.

The play uses a murder mystery in a segregated U.S. Army base during World War II to expose angers and resentments among African Americans that curiously mimic white racist attitudes. A black Captain is sent to investigate the murder of a black Sergeant. The setting is a segregated Army base in Louisiana where a black officer wielding authority is unprecedented and bitterly resented. The Sargent is revealed as tyrannical in nature and disgusted with his fellow black soldiers, particularly those from the rural South. The unit is comprised of former Negro Leagues players who were grouped as a unit in order to provide entertainment. Their success playing against white soldiers makes them so popular that it generates talk of them playing against the Yankees in an exhibition game. Nevertheless, they are assigned to menial jobs. The Sargent’s murder at first seems attributable to the local KKK. But when the true murderers are found, surprising and unsettling divisions among the black troops will be revealed. Social forces that might be unveiled, however, will be swept under the rug of history, since the platoon is about to deploy to Europe for the honor of participating in the great Allied invasion. The play won the Pulitzer Prize, an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play, a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play and three Obie Awards.

“A Soldier’s Play” ran for two years Off-Broadway and became the most acclaimed production in NEC’s body of work. It gave birth, so to speak, to the careers of Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Adolph Caesar and James Pickens, Jr. NEC’s co-founder Douglas Turner Ward, who was the play’s original director, has written that he was certain of the play’s success from the very beginning, not least because he was so certain of its casting, most of the actors having already appeared at the NEC.

In 1984, a faithful adaptation of the play was filmed Columbia Pictures as “A Soldier’s Story,” directed by Norman Jewison, adapted by Fuller from his Pulitzer Prize-winning script. It won prestigious festival prizes and was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Adolph Caesar), and Screenplay Adaptation (Fuller).

This 50th Season production will be directed by Charles Weldon, who acted in “A Soldier’s Story” in 1983 at the Mark Taper Forum. His cast-mates also included Robert Hooks, Denny Holiday, Earl Billings, Adolph Caesar, Denzel Washington and Larry Riley. In revisiting the play, Weldon has cast actors who are similar in their effect to those who played the original characters in 1981. The 2017 cast is: Gilbert Tucker, Layon Gray, P.J. Max, Horace Glasper, Buck Hinkle, Derek Dean, Jay Ward, Arron Lloyd, Adrain Washington, Fulton Hodges, Aaron Sparks and Jimmy Gary, Jr. Their 1981 counterparts were: Adolph Caesar, CharLes Brown, Brent Jennings, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Friedman, Cotter Smith, Eugene Lee, James Pickens, Jr., Denzel Washington, Steven A. Jones, Stephen Zettler and Larry Riley.

Set design is by Chris Cumberbatch. Lighting Design is by Melody A. Beal. Costume Design is by Ali Turns. Sound Design is by Jacqui Anscombe.

Presented by Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (www.necinc.org)
Performance Schedule: Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:00 PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Tickets: $25 General Admission; $20 Students, Seniors and Groups of 10 or more. Previews September 27 & 28, opens September 29. Opening night celebration $20 additional.
Box office: 866-811-4111, www.necinc.org. Group sales 212-582-5860.

NEC GALA SEPTEMBER 11

Director/actor Michelle Shay and actor Brandon Dirden, joined by comedian Rhonda Hansome and jazz musicians Pam Hamilton/Rob Dors Duo, will host Negro Ensemble Company’s Golden Celebration September 11 from 6:00 to 10:00 PM at Dwyer Cultural Center: 258 St Nicholas Avenue (enter 123rd Street between St. Nicholas Ave & Fredrick Douglas Blvd.). There will be a photo exhibit by Carmen de Jesus curated by Debra Vanderberg Spencer and a screening of “A Soldier’s Play and Beyond,” produced and directed by Susan Watson-Turner. Lighting designer Shirley Prendergast will be honored. Tickets are $150 – $50 and can be purchased on the NEC website, necinc.org, or by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111.

Playwright Charles Fuller has been a prominent contributor to the repertory of the NEC, beginning with “In the Deepest Part of Sleep,” a four-character domestic drama, and a succession of larger, more historical plays with themes of justice, including “The Brownsville Raid” and “Zooman and the Sign.” Other productions with NEC include two epic cycles, “In My Many Names and Days” and “We.” He has written about twenty major theatrical works. Although in recent years, he has concentrated mostly on writing for the screen, he tackled the searing subject of sexual assault in the armed forces with a new play, “One Night …,” which was produced at the Cherry Lane Theater in 2013. He was born and raised in Philadelphia and served in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1962, after which he studied at La Salle University (1965-1967), earning a DFA. He has received a Guggenheim Award and NEA fellowship for playwriting, taught playwriting at Temple University and co-founded the Afro-American Arts Theatre Philadelphia.

Director Charles Weldon has been Artistic Director of Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. for twelve years. He has directed the company’s productions of “Colored People Time” by Leslie Lee, “The Waiting Room” by Samm-Art Williams, “Savanna Black and Blue” by Raymond Jones, “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” by Lonnie Elder and “Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water” by Michael A. Jones. He has also directed and acted prolifically in regional theaters. Weldon began his performance career in 1960 as lead singer with The Paradons, a Doo-Wop group from Bakersfield, CA, and co-wrote and recorded the smash hit “Diamonds and Pearls.” He performed in the original San Francisco production of “Hair” and the Broadway musical “Buck Time Buck White” with Mohammed Ali. He joined the Negro Ensemble Company in 1970 and acted in many of its classic plays including “A Soldier’s Play,” “The Great McDaddy,” “The Offering,” “The Brownsville Raid” and the Company’s Broadway production of “The River Niger.” His films include “Stir Crazy,” “Serpico,” “The River Niger,” “Malcolm X” and Showtime’s “The Wishing Tree.” He has won a “HENRY” (Excellence inRegional Theater) for Best Supporting Actor in “Gem of the Ocean” by August Wilson and an Audelco Award for Best Supporting Actor in “Seven Guitars” by August Wilson at Signature Theater. His TV credits include “Roots: The Next Generation” and many NYC-based police dramas. He co-founded the Alumni of the Negro Ensemble Company.

Theater 80 St. Marks became the home theater of The Negro Ensemble, Inc. (NEC) in 2016 and all of the company’s 50th Anniversary mainstage productions are being presented there. The season began December 4-11, 2016 with a revival of NEC’s very first production, “Day of Absence” (1966) by Douglas Turner Ward. The company returned May 24 to June 10 with “Daughters of the Mock” by Judi Ann Mason (original production March 3, 1976), directed by Denise Dowse.

NEC’s first plays were produced at St. Mark’s Playhouse, which was one flight up over a the old movie house at Second Avenue and St. Marks Place, a stone’s throw from Theatre 80 St. Marks. Today the old St. Marks Playhouse building at 133 Second Avenue has shops and restaurants on the ground floor and condominiums on the upper levels. Lorcan Otway, owner of Theater 80, beams that he is “proud and honored to host and welcome back the The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. to the street upon which they changed the face of New York Theater.”

NEC’s awards include a Pulitzer Prize (1982, “A Soldier’s Play”), two Tony Awards, eleven Obies and many more. Its legacy reads like a Who’s Who of America’s Black theater artists. In 2009, Signature Theatre presented a season of readings of various plays from the NEC canon, with Douglas Turner Ward as curator and Ruben Santiago-Hudson as associated artist.

Prior to the 1960s, there were virtually no outlets for the wealth of black theatrical talent in America. In 1965, Playwright Douglas Turner Ward, producer/actor Robert Hooks, and theater manager Gerald Krone founded The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc. (NEC). The River Niger by Joe Walker, originally produced at, St. Marks Playhouse (NEC’s home theatre), moved to Broadway and was awarded 1973 Obie Awards for Distinguished Performance by Douglas Turner Ward; Best American Play, Joseph A. Walker, and Distinguished Performance by Roxie Roker. Other works include Peter Weiss’ “Song of the Lucitanian Bogey” (1967), Lonnie Elder’s “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” (1969) and Charles Fuller’s “Zooman and the Sign” (1980). In 1981, NEC mounted “A Soldier’s Play” by Charles Fuller, which won the Pulitzer Prize. A film version, “A Soldier’s Story,” was released in 1984 and nominated for three Academy Awards. NEC has produced more than two hundred new plays and provided a theatrical home for more than four thousand cast and crew members. Among its ranks have been some of the best black actors in television and film, including Louis Gossett Jr., Sherman Hemsley, Denise Nichols, Esther Rolle, Adolph Caesar, Laurence Fishburne, Glynn Turman, Reuben Santiago-Hudson, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Phylicia Rashad; playwrights include Steve Carter (intentionally lower case), Samm-Art Williams, Leslie Lee. NEC continues to be a constant source and sustenance for black actors, directors, and writers as they have worked to break down walls of racial prejudice.

In July, the company presented the 2017 edition of its NEC Alumni Summer Showcase, “The Cost” by Aquaila Shene Barnes, directed by Barbara Montgomery, in Summer Shares at La MaMa. On July 31, the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC conferred an award on The Negro Ensemble Inc. for 50 years of excellence in theater. The honor was accepted for the company by its current Artistic Director, Charles Weldon.

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Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Willie Dirden, Brenda Pressley and More Set for Two River Theater’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN, September 9 – October 8

Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Deborah Dirden, Jason Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of Broadway's JITNEY on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Deborah Dirden, Jason Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of Broadway’s JITNEY on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, launches its 2017/18 Season with Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Carl Cofield.

Performances will begin in Two River’s Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, on Saturday, September 9 and continue for an extended four-week run, through Sunday, October 8. The opening night performance is Friday, September 15 at 7pm. Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or tworivertheater.org. The lead production sponsor is Riverview Medical Center and the media partner is WBGO Jazz 88.3 FM.

Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

The cast of A Raisin in the Sun includes Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Nat DeWolf (Karl Lindner), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Willie Dirden (Bobo), Charlie Hudson III (Joseph Asagai), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), and York Walker (George Murchison). Andrew Binger and David Joel Rivera play the Moving Men.

The creative team includes scenic designers Christopher & Justin Swader, costume designer Elivia Bovenzi, lighting designer Kathy A. Perkins, Sound Designer Karin Graybash, and wigs designer Valerie Gladstone. The casting is by Jack Doulin + Sharky, and the stage manager is Lloyd Davis, Jr.

In this landmark drama, Hansberry-drawing on her own family’s experience with housing discrimination-dramatizes the story of the Younger family, headed by matriarch Lena Younger, her son Walter Lee, and his wife, Ruth, who live (with other family members) in poverty on Chicago’s south side. As the play begins, we see that Walter Lee, a chauffeur, dreams of what he might do with a long-promised life-insurance check, a legacy left to them to them by Lena’s late husband. We meet the Younger family on the day that their lives could change forever. Taking its title from a poem by Langston Hughes-“What happens to a dream deferred/Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”-Hansberry’s play explores the different hopes and aspirations of each member of the Younger family as they fight for their piece of the American Dream.

A Raisin in the Sun debuted in 1959 and was the first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. Produced at Two River for the first time in the theater’s 24-year history, the play is Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal masterpiece about race, social justice, and history-American history in the largest sense, and the personal histories of ordinary African-Americans.

A Raisin in the Sun is not only one of America’s greatest plays,” says Artistic Director John Dias, “it is in fact one of the greatest works of art ever created. Lorraine Hansberry uses the metaphor of the family to illuminate something profound about who we are as Americans. We have built this production around the talents of an extraordinary family of Two River actors: Brenda Pressley as Lena Younger; Brandon J. Dirden as Walter Lee Younger; and Brandon’s wife, Crystal A. Dickinson, as Ruth Younger. Joining them will be Brandon’s father, Willie Dirden, as Bobo, making this the first time that father and son have acted together. Carl Cofield’s production will resonate today as a story of how courage, hope and love trump our ongoing history of inequity and injustice.”

Ticket prices range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from tworivertheater.org or 732.345.1400.

INSIDE TWO RIVER:

Inside Two River is a series of events specially curated for each Two River Theater production. For more information or to reserve seats, patrons should visit tworivertheater.org or call 732.345.1400.

Raisin’ the Roof Block Party: Thursday, August 31 at 6pm on the Two River Theater Plaza (rain location: Theater Lobby)

In this free community event, Two River will host an outdoor block party featuring live music by Gary Wright Roots & Blues, dancing on the plaza, and a sampling of food from local restaurants including M+J Texas BBQ. Participants will have the opportunity to meet the company of A Raisin in the Sun and enter a raffle to win free tickets. Reservations are strongly recommended; call 732.345.1400.

AUDIENCE EXTRAS:

Before Play and Lobby Display

Audiences will learn about Lorraine Hansberry and A Raisin in the Sun in Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes prior to every performance, and Lobby Display.

Post-Play Conversations

Discussions with the cast and a member of Two River’s Artistic staff will take place on Sunday, September 24 at 3pm; Wednesday, September 27 at 1pm; and Wednesday, October 4 at 7pm.

ACCESSIBILITY:

Working with Google, Two River has created and launched a virtual tour of its facility, which lives on Google Maps and tworivertheater.org. This virtual tour provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to virtually come through the theater’s front doors and view the space in detail in advance of their visit.

An audio-described performance is scheduled for Wednesday, September 27 at 1pm, and an open-captioned performance is scheduled for Saturday, September 30 at 3pm. Tickets are available at a discounted rate of $25 for patrons using these services. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating or tickets to a performance listed above, patrons should call 732.345.1400 or e-mail boxoffice@trtc.org.

Since its founding in 1994, Two River Theater has been committed to creating great American theater by developing and producing work by some of the country’s leading artists. We are proud to be viewed as a vital cultural resource in the community of Red Bank, New Jersey. Through 10 theatrical productions each year (including world premieres, musicals, classics and theater for young audiences) and 50+ annual events happening around Monmouth County, we produce exceptional theater and cultivate engaged audiences. Two River celebrates and honors our core values of Artistic Excellence; Education and Community Engagement; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Operational Excellence. Two River Theater is under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in  Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2017 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachang.com

Broadway’s JITNEY Cast Members Jerome Preston Bates, Brian D. Coats, Brandon J. Dirden, and Ray Anthony Thomas to Perform Readings at Queens Library on August 7

Ray Anthony Thomas, Brandon J. Dirden, Brian D. Coats and Jerome Preston Bates. Photos by Lia Chang

Cast members from August Wilson’s Jitney (the 2017 Tony Winner for Best Revival of a Play) will perform select readings from the show, followed by a Q&A with the audience, at Queens Library on Monday, August 7, at 6:30 p.m.

The four very capable Wilsonians from the Broadway premiere of Jitney are: Jerome Preston Bates, Brian D. Coats, Brandon J. Dirden, and Ray Anthony Thomas.

Get a special autographed copy of August Wilson’s Jitney. In order to receive this autographed copy, you must attend the event – select the “Autographed Copy of Jitney & General Admission” ticket option when registering. Please be sure to print your ticket and bring it to the event in order to claim your copy. Limited quantities available.

For more information, visit www.queenslibrary.org, or call 718 990 0728 for more details. Free tickets are available through here.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Jerome Preston Bates is an American actor known for his role in Broadway’s Seven Guitars and Stickfly. His Off-Broadway credits includes The Public Theatre,The Abingdon, Circle Rep, NEC and New Federal Theatre. Jerome has made TV appearances on the HBO series OZ, All My Children, Law & Order, and more.

Brian D. Coats is known for his role in Broadway in Jitney and for some Off-Broadway shows including The First Noel (CTH/ The Apollo), On the Levee (Lincoln Center), The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Two Gentlemen of Verona (Public). Some of Coats’ TV appearances include “Law & Order,” “Blue Bloods,” “The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Luke Cage,” and more.

Brandon J. Dirden made his professional acting debut at the age of 12 in a production of August Wilson’s play Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Alley Theatre in his hometown of Houston, TX. On Broadway, his credits include the 2014 Tony award winning play All the Way, in which he starred as Martin Luther King Jr. Off-Broadway credits include The First Breeze of Summer and Day of Absence (Signature Theatre); Detroit ’67 (Public Theater and Classical Theatre of Harlem); and Peter and the Starcatcher (New York Theatre Workshop). Television audiences may recognize Dirden as Agent Aderholt on FX’s critically acclaimed drama, “The Americans”. Other television appearances include guest starring turns on “The Good Wife,” “The Big C,” “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” “Public Morals” and “Brain Dead.” View some of Brandon’s videos here.

As a member of the Atlantic Theater Company, Ray Anthony Thomas has appeared in such productions as Human Error, The Beginning of August, The Lights, Edmond, and Distant Fires. Thomas was on Broadway in David Mamet’s Race, and his off-Broadway credits include: The Most Deserving (The Women’s Project), Volunteer Man, Kindness (Playwrights Horizons), The Exonerated, Saved or Destroyed, Black Eagles (at MTC), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (at NY Shakespeare Festival/Public). TV and Film appearances include: Their Eyes Were Watching God, “The Sopranos,” “Oz,” “Law and Order,” Sleepwalk with Me, Manchurian Candidate, Changing Lanes, among others.

Note: Queens Library programs are a free to the public. In order to make the programs available to the most number of people we are limiting general admission free tickets to two per individual. Multiple orders per individual are not allowed and will be cancelled. This policy ensures that no-shows are reduced and tickets are available to the most number of people.

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang, Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in  Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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Getting to Know Jason Dirden – Pastor Basie Skanks on OWN’s ‘Greenleaf’

Jason Dirden as Pastor Basie Skanks in "Greenleaf."
Jason Dirden. Photo by Lia Chang
Jason Dirden. Photo by Lia Chang

Jason Dirden is back as Pastor Basie Skanks for season 2 of OWN’s “Greenleaf,” created and executive produced by Emmy-nominated Craig Wright and executive producers Clement Virgo and Oprah Winfrey.

“Greenleaf” is set against the backdrop of a sprawling Memphis megachurch, the journey of estranged daughter and disillusioned preacher Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge), who has returned home after 20 years after the mysterious death of her sister, Faith. As she re-enters the world of Calvary Fellowship World Ministries, the Memphis megachurch run by her powerful parents Bishop James Greenleaf (Keith David) and Lady Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield), it becomes evident that things are not as virtuous as they seem and that the family’s outward display of faith hides sin and misdeeds.

ATLANTA, GA – MARCH 13: (L-R) Julian Brittano, Parnell Damone Marcanom, T.C. Carson, Jason Dirden, Clement Virgo, Gregory Alan Williams, Merle Dandridge, Desiree Ross, Keith David, Lovie Simone, Lynn Whitfield, Deborah Joy Winans, Kim Hawthorne, and Lamman Rucker attend “Greenleaf” Season 2 Premiere Party at W Atlanta Midtown on March 13, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)
ATLANTA, GA – MARCH 13: (L-R) Julian Brittano, Parnell Damone Marcanom, T.C. Carson, Jason Dirden, Clement Virgo, Gregory Alan Williams, Merle Dandridge, Desiree Ross, Keith David, Lovie Simone, Lynn Whitfield, Deborah Joy Winans, Kim Hawthorne, and Lamman Rucker attend “Greenleaf” Season 2 Premiere Party at W Atlanta Midtown on March 13, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network)

Craig Wright, creator and executive producer said “Basie is one of our favorite characters on the show because he’s right about almost everything. He’s just wrong about himself. And that to me makes a great, great character.”

Jason Dirden as Pastor Basie Skanks in "Greenleaf."
Jason Dirden as Pastor Basie Skanks in “Greenleaf.”

“Greenleaf” writer Erica Anderson shared, “Basie has an ax to grind with the Bishop. He’s a hustler. He will hustle to gospel. He will do whatever he needs to do to exact his revenge. Even though he almost feels like a big brother or father figure to Jacob, he has his own motives for doing what he’s doing.”

Jason Dirden, Lamman Rucker and Keith David on "Greenleaf."
Jason Dirden, Lamman Rucker and Keith David on “Greenleaf.”

Tune into OWN on Wednesdays at 10/9c or set your DVR to watch “Greenleaf”. After the episode, Dirden will be interviewed on OWN Tonight.

I caught up with Dirden in January at the opening of August Wilson’s JITNEY when he flew in from Atlanta (where “Greenleaf” shoots) to celebrate his brother Brandon J. Dirden’s return to Broadway. Below is my interview with Jason.

Willie Dirden, Deborah Dirden, Jason Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of Broadway's JITNEY on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Deborah Dirden, Jason Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of Broadway’s JITNEY on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Inside the Opening Night Party with JITNEY Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Company

Born and raised in Houston, TX, Jason Dirden has been in or around the arts his whole life. Although he attended many plays his father and older brother were in, it wasn’t until he became an active participant of theater in high school that his love for storytelling would manifest itself.

Brandon and Jason Dirden in Signature Theatre’s 2010 revival of Leslie Lee’s “The First Breeze of Summer.” Photo by Richard Termine.
Brandon and Jason Dirden in Signature Theatre’s 2010 revival of Leslie Lee’s “The First Breeze of Summer.” Photo by Richard Termine.

He attended Morehouse College, graduating with a B.A. in Theater. Following undergrad, Jason attained an M.F.A in Acting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied under Tony Award director Daniel Sullivan.

Brandon J. Dirden, Jason Dirden and Ruben Santiago-Hudson at the opening night party of Broadway's JITNEY on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Brandon J. Dirden, Jason Dirden and Ruben Santiago-Hudson at the opening night party of Broadway’s JITNEY on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Dirden moved to New York and through work, dedication, a love for the craft, and of course, a little bit of luck, he found himself working side by side with many of the artists he admired: Tony Award winners Kenny Leon and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Glynn Turman and Viola Davis to name a few. He appeared on Broadway in the Tony award winning revivals of Fences and A Raisin In The Sun, opposite Denzel Washington. Most recently he starred in the award winning West Coast revival of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom directed by Phylicia Rashad at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. In addition to “Greenleaf,” Dirden has been seen on Tyler Perry’s “House Of Payne,” and “Elementary.” Dirden is also an active volunteer of the August Wilson Monologue Competition in Los Angeles.

L-R: Jason Dirden, Damon Gupton, Glynn Turman and Keith David in August Wilson’s "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom," at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Photo by Craig Schwartz.
L-R: Jason Dirden, Damon Gupton, Glynn Turman and Keith David in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Lia: How were you cast for “Greenleaf”?
Jason: Well, I wish I could tell you that I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard… I had $27.32 in my bank account, and was contemplating giving up acting as a career… and then it happened… An all black Cadillac Escalade pulls up beside me, tinted window glides down and Oprah Winfrey pokes her head out and screams “You’re exactly what I’m looking for!”

But that wasn’t the case. My story is far less interesting. It was a one scene self-tape audition that I sent in. Two weeks later, I was informed that I’d gotten the role.

Lia: Who is Basie Skanks?

Lia: What do you like the most working on “Greenleaf”?
Jason: It’s the people! The Greenleaf family is wonderful… It’s such a generous, respectful and immensely talented group of artists, led by Merle Dandridge, Keith David, Lynn Whitfield.

Lia: Had you worked with Keith David before “Greenleaf” or Ma Rainey
Jason: Yes, it wasn’t a full stage production, but it was another August Wilson project. We were both a part of the Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Stephen McKinley Henderson led August Wilson Century Cycle archived readings in 2013. In that project we were a part of the Joe Tuner’s Come and Gone cast, along with S. Epatha Merkerson, Roger Robinson and Taraji P. Henson.

Cast member Keith David, director Phylicia Rashad and cast members Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Jason Dirden and Damon Gupton from August Wilson’'s “"Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom," at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center. Photo by Luke Fontana.
Cast member Keith David, director Phylicia Rashad and cast members Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Jason Dirden and Damon Gupton from August Wilson’’s “”Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center. Photo by Luke Fontana.

Zon D’Amour of the Los Angeles Sentinel writes, “Rounding out the quartet in a remarkable, breakout performance is Jason Dirden (“Greenleaf”) who revels in the role of the smooth talking, overly confident, trumpeter, Levee. Dirden’s monologues and the dire decision that he makes in the final scene left the audience captivated and at the edge of their seats.”

Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times writes, “Dirden’s performance rises in power as Levee’s anger becomes unhinged. But what’s most admirable about the production is that even when Levee is challenging God in a furious monologue, the other sidemen are right beside him absorbing and reacting as though this theatrical moment belonged equally to them, which it does.”

L-R: Glynn Turman, Damon Gupton, Keith David and Jason Dirden in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Photo by Craig Schwartz.
L-R: Glynn Turman, Damon Gupton, Keith David and Jason Dirden in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Tony Award-Winner Lillias White, Keith David, Jason Dirden, Glynn Turman and More in MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, Directed by Phylicia Rashad at the Mark Taper Forum

Signature’s Revival of The Piano Lesson Sweeps AUDELCO’s with 8 Wins including Best Revival, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Roslyn Ruff, Chuck Cooper and Brandon J. Dirden; Also Among 2013 “VIV” Winners – Wild with Happy’s Colman Domingo and Sharon Washington, and Storyville’s Mercedes Ellington

Lia: You have acted opposite your brother in many productions over the years. What have been your favorites? 

Jason Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, James A. Williams in Signature's revival of August Wilson's “The Piano Lesson,” directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson in 2012. Photo by Joan Marcus
Jason Dirden, Brandon J. Dirden, James A. Williams in Signature’s revival of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson in 2012. Photo by Joan Marcus

Jason: Without a doubt TOPDOG/UNDERDOG directed by Suzan-Lori Parks. First of all it’s a wonderful play, with two incredible roles.

To be in that process with my brother, while playing brothers was a dream. Brandon is becoming a master of the craft, so to be able to play with him and learn from him was, and always is, a blessing. And I know it made our parents’ hearts smile.

Stage Magazine: A Powerful TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at Two River Theater Company

Brandon J. Dirden (left, as Lincoln) and Jason Dirden (as Booth) in TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ. (Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)
Brandon J. Dirden (left, as Lincoln) and Jason Dirden (as Booth) in TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ. (Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Lia: What was it like to be directed by Brandon and act opposite Crystal on Seven Guitars at Two River Theater?
Jason: 
Crystal Dickinson is one of the best stage actors I’ve ever worked with. Period. Very few actors are as bold, free and vulnerable as she is. Her Louise stole every freaking scene! She’s an amazing artist.

As for Brandon as a director, well he got lucky. He assembled an incredible cast so all he really had to do was get the hell out of the way and let us do our thing. No seriously, he surprised me. I knew he could give notes to make the acting better, but that’s such a small part of directing. As a first time director, he brought this production together like someone who had been doing it for years. By the way he attacked the work and the way he communicated with all involved, he created and maintained an environment for success on all levels.

Jason Dirden, Charlie Hudson III, Christina Acosta Robinson, director Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brittany Bellizeare in rehearsal for Two River Theater’s production of August Wilson’s SEVEN GUITARS. Photo by Lia Chang
Jason Dirden, Charlie Hudson III, Christina Acosta Robinson, director Brandon J. Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brittany Bellizeare in rehearsal for Two River Theater’s production of August Wilson’s SEVEN GUITARS. Photo by Lia Chang

Patrick Maley of NJ.com writes, “Jason Dirden’s Canewell captures the breath of emotion that gives this play life. He is jovial when relaxing in the yard, assertive when rebuffing Floyd’s pleas for a return to Chicago, warm and vulnerable in his signature “I always did believe in love” speech.”

Jason Dirden, Charlie Hudson III, Brittany Bellizeare and Crystal Dickinson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Jason Dirden, Charlie Hudson III, Brittany Bellizeare and Crystal Dickinson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Opening Night Photos: Brandon J. Dirden helmed SEVEN GUITARS at Two River Theater featuring Jason Dirden, Crystal A. Dickinson, Kevin Mambo, Christina Acosta Robinson, Brian D. Coats, Charlie Hudson III and Brittany Bellizeare 
Photos: In Rehearsal with Seven Guitars’ Director Brandon J. Dirden at Two River Theater

Charlie Hudson III, Jason Dirden, Kevin Mambo, Crystal Dickinson, Brandon J. Dirden, Christina Acosta Robinson, Brittany Bellizeare, Brian D. Coats at the opening night of Two River Theater’s “Seven Guitars,” directed by Brandon J. Dirden on September 18, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang
Charlie Hudson III, Jason Dirden, Kevin Mambo, Crystal Dickinson, Brandon J. Dirden, Christina Acosta Robinson, Brittany Bellizeare, Brian D. Coats at the opening night of Two River Theater’s “Seven Guitars,” directed by Brandon J. Dirden on September 18, 2015. Photo by Lia Chang

Lia: Both of you appeared as Levee in productions of Ma Rainey at the same time on opposite coasts. Is this the first time that you have played the same character?
Jason: It’s not the first time we’ve played the same character, but it is the first time we’ve done it simultaneously. I mean the universe was just on our side in that moment.

Brandon J. Dirden plays Levee in the Two River production of August Wilson's “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” at Two River in Red Bank, N.J. © T. Charles Erickson. Jason Dirden as Levee in the Center Theater Group production in Los Angeles. © Craig Schwartz.
Brandon J. Dirden plays Levee in the Two River production of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Two River in Red Bank, N.J. © T. Charles Erickson. Jason Dirden as Levee in the Center Theater Group production in Los Angeles. © Craig Schwartz.

Lia: What was your experience on Broadway with Fences and A Raisin in the Sun?
Jason: Let’s see. The opportunity to work with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Anika Noni Rose, Sophie Okonedo and LaTanya Richardson Jackson… are you kidding me, it was amazing! I’m very thankful that the director, Kenny Leon, trusted me to be a part of both historic moments in American Theater.

In 2016, Dirden appeared Off-Broadway in Atlantic Theater Company’s critically acclaimed, sold out world premiere production of Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, directed by Ruben Santiago Hudson at Atlantic Theater Company.

Jason Dirden and Nikiya Mathis in Atlantic Theater Company’s "Skeleton Crew." Photo by Ahron R. Foster
Jason Dirden and Nikiya Mathis in Atlantic Theater Company’s “Skeleton Crew.” Photo by Ahron R. Foster

Ben Brantley of The New York Times writes, “As Dez, the compelling Mr. Dirden is prickly, randy, dangerous and a born gentleman. And he and Ms. Mathis, who endows her character with a sensual spontaneity that keeps undercutting her justifiable wariness, render Dez and Shanita’s hesitant courtship as a poignant melding of affinity and necessity.”

MAURICE HINES TAPPIN’ THRU LIFE, Dominique Morriseau’s SKELETON CREW, Marjorie Johnson, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tina Fabrique, Joe Morton and Debra Ann Byrd Among 2016 AUDELCO Winners 
Dominique Morisseau’s SKELETON CREW starring Jason Dirden, Wendell B. Franklin, Lynda Gravatt, Nikiya Mathis and Adesola Osakalumi at Atlantic’s Linda Gross Theater 
Photos: Jason Dirden, Wendell B. Franklin, Lynda Gravatt, Nikiya Mathis and Adesola Osakalumi in Dominique Morisseau’s SKELETON CREW at Atlantic Theater Company 
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Dominique Morisseau receive 2015 Steinberg Awards at the 8th Annual ‘Mimi’ Awards

Lia: Any dream roles in mind?
Jason: Well, at the moment, I have my eye on the film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom that Denzel Washington is doing in conjunction with HBO. I would absolutely love to reprise Levee in this adaptation.

Lia: Any directors or shows you would like to work on?
Jason: Film. I really want to do film. Of course there are many great directors, but I think I would love to work with Ryan Coogler.  I really dig his passion and his desire to put the heart of humanity at the forefront of storytelling.

Lia: What’s next for you?
Jason: Well, immediately, hopefully a third season of “Greenleaf.” I’ve also been writing a film for the past 3 years (you can never have too many re-writes, ha), and I’m in the beginning stages of finding producing partners and funding. I have a dream cast in mind that I won’t reveal at this time, but the core cast would consist of myself, Brandon, Crystal, Brian D. Coats and my father Willie Dirden.

“Greenleaf” also stars Lamman Rucker, Deborah Joy Winans, Kim Hawthorne, Tye White, GregAlan Williams, Desiree Ross, Lovie Simone. “Greenleaf” is produced for OWN by Lionsgate in association with Harpo Films and Pine City.

The first of eight episodes of the new season debuted on March 15th. The remaining eight episodes of the series’ second season will air in summer 2017. “Greenleaf” premiered last June as the #1 series debut in OWN history and was 2016’s #1 new cable series for women, averaging over three million viewers in Live+3 in its first season. http://www.greenleafown.tv/.

Follow Jason on Instagram and Twitter at @jasondirden.

Denise Burse Guest Stars on “Greenleaf”

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.

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Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson Set to Star in A RAISIN IN THE SUN at Two River Theater, September 9 – October 8

Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Crystal A. Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, will launch the 2017/18 Season in September with theater power couple Brandon J. Dirden (Jitney, All the Way, Two River’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and his wife Crystal A. Dickinson (Clybourne Park, You Can’t Take it with You, Two River’s Seven Guitars) starring as Walter Lee Younger and Ruth Younger in one of the greatest family dramas ever written, Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun—the play that “changed American theater forever” (Frank Rich, The New York Times).

Willie Dirden, Debbie Dirden, Jason Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang
Willie Dirden, Debbie Dirden, Jason Dirden, Crystal Dickinson and Brandon J. Dirden at the opening night party of JITNEY at the Copacabana on January 19, 2017. Photo by Lia Chang

Dirden will share the stage for the first time with his father, Willie Dirden, who will be playing Bobo. Carl Cofield directs the production which will have performances September 9 – October 8, 2017. The press opening is September 15, 2017. Additional cast to be announced at a later date.

Full-season 6-play subscriptions are on sale now; prices range from $180 to $315. Subscribers save 25% on tickets, receive prime seating and a number of additional benefits. Visit tworivertheater.org for more details.

Individual show tickets will go on sale August 2017.

Ticket prices for subscription shows range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance.

August Wilson’s JITNEY Starring Harvy Blanks, Anthony Chisholm, Brandon Dirden, André Holland, Carra Patterson, Michael Potts, Keith Randolph Smith, Ray Anthony Thomas and John Douglas Thompson, Ends Run on Broadway

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits
Lia Chang_photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers,  musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com