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

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

MONDAY, MAY 22
4:30pm
Wine in the Wilderness by Alice Childress (1969)
Directed by Jade King Carroll
Featuring Miriam Hyman, Ruffin Prentiss, Jillian Walker, Charles Weldon, Zenzi Williams

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

6:30pm
What the Wine-Sellers Buy by Ron Milner (1974)
Directed by Nicole A. Watson
Featuring MaameYaa Boafo, Chakeefe Gordon, Brian D. Coats, Medina Senghore Collie, Suzzanne Douglas, Trey Santiago, Adam McNulty, Melanie Nichols-King, Keith Randolph Smith, Count Stovall

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

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

TUESDAY, MAY 23
4:30pm
The Forbidden City by Bill Gunn
Directed by Awoye Timpo
Featuring Guy Davis, Marchant Davis, Bjorn DuPaty, Rachel Leslie, Doron Mitchell, Lee Aaron Rosen, Allie Woods

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

6:30pm
The Brothers by Kathleen Collins (1982)
Directed by Seret Scott
Featuring Crystal Dickinson, Chalia La Tour, Margaret Odette, Carra Patterson, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, Lizan Mitchell, Elizabeth Van Dyke

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

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

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

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

Photo by Mark Reid
Photo by Mark Reid

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

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

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

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