Court Theatre Kicks of 2012/13 Season Launches With Wilson’s ‘Jitney’

 Court Theatre kicks off its 2012-13 season with August Wilson’s Jitney directed by Resident Artist Ron OJ ParsonJitney is the fourth play in Wilson’s Century Cycle to be produced at Court Theatre under Parson’s direction. The production will run September 6 – October 14, 2012 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue. 

 

Court Theatre Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson (The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences) returns to directJitney, Court’s latest installment of August Wilson’s Century Cycle. Described by Wilson as the play in which he discovered his voice, Jitney weaves themes of tragedy and transcendence into a rich tapestry of stories about a community struggling to get by and longing to flourish. Fraught relationships, violent tensions, and unfulfilled desires ebb and flow inside Becker’s car service, an unlicensed jitney station that serves the black community of Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1977. This powerful and timely piece explores the desperate need to connect when everything seems to be falling apart.

 

“I had the honor of being an understudy in the Goodman’s production of Jitney back in 1999 and with that came the joyous opportunity to sit next to August and see him at work on one of his most beloved plays,” says Ron OJ Parson. “He forever continued to perfect and revise the lyricism, music and energy of his work, and it’s with that same spirit that I revisit Jitneyat my artistic home, Court Theatre. Throughout my career, I’ve either directed or acted in twenty productions of August Wilson’s work and I can honestly say that directing this magnificent play, with this exceptional Chicago cast, is truly a special moment for me.”

 

The cast of Jitney’s includes Caren Blackmore (Rena), Kamal Angelo Bolden (Youngblood), AC Smith (Becker),Anthony Fleming III (Booster), Allen Gilmore (Turnbo), Andre Teamer (Philmore), Brian Weddington (Shealy), Alfred Wilson (Fielding), Cedric Young (Doub).

 

Jack Magaw (scenic design), Joshua Horvath (sound design), Marc Stubblefield (lighting design), and Melissa Torchia(costume design). Sara Gammage is the production stage manager and Amber Johnson is the assistant stage manager.Drew Dir is the Dramaturg.

August Wilson (Playwright, 1945-2005) authored Gem of the OceanJoe Turner’s Come and GoneMa Rainey’s Black BottomThe Piano LessonSeven GuitarsFencesTwo Trains RunningJitneyKing Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African-Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century.  His plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country and all over the world, as well as on Broadway. In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned.  Mr. Wilson’s works garnered many awards including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987); and for The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as eight New York Drama Critics Circle Awards forMa Rainey’s Black BottomFencesJoe Turner’s Come and GoneThe Piano LessonTwo Trains RunningSeven Guitars,Jitney, and Radio Golf.  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 JanitorRecycleThe Coldest Day of the YearMalcolm XThe Homecomingand the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills.

Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award, 2003 Heinz Award, was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States, 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.  Additionally, Mr. Wilson was posthumously inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2007.

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.

Ron OJ Parson (Director) is a native of Buffalo, New York and a graduate of the University of Michigan’s professional theatre program. He is a co-founder and former artistic director of The Onyx Theatre Ensemble of Chicago. Mr. Parson is a resident artist at Court Theatre where he has directed acclaimed productions including HomeSizwe Banzi is DeadThe First Breeze of SummerThe Piano LessonMa Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fences, among others. He has worked as an actor and director. Chicago directing credits include Chicago Theatre Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, Black Ensemble Theatre, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, City Lit Theater, Writers’ Theatre, Urban Theater Company, and Congo Square Theatre Company. Regional credits include Virginia Stage Company, Portland Stage Company, Studio Arena Theatre, Roundabout Theatre, Wilshire Theatre, The Mechanic Theatre, CenterStage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Repertory, St. Louis Black Repertory, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, Geva Theatre, Signature Theatre and Alliance Theatre. In Canada, he directed the world premiere of Palmer Park by Joanna McClelland Glass at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. He is a proud member of AEA, SAG, AFTRA, and SDC.

 

Caren Blackmore (Rena) Chicago credits include goodness (Clockwise Theatre), This (Theatre Wit), The Gimmick and 24th and 25th Annual Young Playwright’s Festivals (Pegasus Players), I Gotcha!: The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clanand I Am Who I Am: The Teddy Pendergrass Story (Black Ensemble Theatre), Checkmates (eta Creative Arts), Bodies andMiLK (MPAACT), where she received a BTAA nomination and Jeff nomination for Best Actress in a Play. Caren has attended Freedom Theatre and the Eugene O’Neill National Theatre Institute and is a graduate of Oberlin College.

 

Kamal Angelo Bolden (Youngblood) returns to Court Theatre where he was last seen in Ron OJ Parson’s critically-acclaimed production of  Home.  Just recently, he was seen at Goodman Theatre in Immediate Family, and in the world premiere of We Are Proud to Present… at Victory Gardens Theater.  Kamal originated the roles of Jackie Robinson in the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s world premiere of Jackie and Me and Chad Deity in Victory Gardens Theatre’s world premiere of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. He has also worked at Actors Theatre of Louisville (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity) and won a BTAA for Best Leading Actor for his work in Athol Fugard’s The Island at Remy Bumppo Theatre.  Kamal has appeared in many independent films and national commercials, and has made guest appearances on BOSS, Lights Out, and The Row.  He holds a B.S. in Business Administration-Entrepreneurship from Bradley University and is a proud Artistic Associate of Erasing the Distance.

 

Anthony Fleming III (Booster) is a proud member of Actors Equity and is very
pleased to return Court Theater where he first appeared in Ron OJ Parson’s 2006 Jeff Award-winning production of Fences. He was last seen onstage earlier this year in Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting at Lookingglass Theater, where he is an Artistic Associate.  Other Lookingglass credits include The Arabian NightsFedra1984RaceIcarus, and Lookingglass Alice. A native Chicagoan, other local credits Camino Real (Goodman Theatre), Division St: America and The Glass Menagerie(Steppenwolf Theatre), HamboneFree Man Of Color, and Denmark (Victory Gardens Theatre), Journal of Ordinary Thoughtand Cut Flowers (Chicago Theatre Company), Orlando (Piven Theatre), and The Cider House Rules (Famous Door Theatre.) Regional credits include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre), McCarter Theatre in NJ, New Victory Theatre in NY, Arden Theatre in Philadelphia, Syracuse Stage, and Alliance Theatre in Atlanta (Lookingglass Alice.) When not onstage Mr. Fleming works as a voiceover artist with Naked Voices and also, usually on beautiful Chicago summer days, as a bike messenger. This fall he will be in an independent film titled Mother of War.

 

Allen Gilmore (Turnbo) was last seen in Chicago at Court Theater as Sizwe Banzi in Sizwe Banzi is Dead, directed by Ron OJ Parson. He has more recently performed at Yale Repertory Theatre and Berkeley Repertory Theatre in A Doctor In Spite of Himself. He just completed the run of A Servant of Two Masters at The Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C., and following Jitney, he will perform A Servant of Two Masters at Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Allen returns to Court in the spring for the Moliere comedies The Misanthrope and Tartuffe. He is a proud artistic associate of Next Theater and a proud ensemble member of Congo Square Theater Company.

 

A. C. Smith (Becker) This production marks his sixth show at Court Theatre. Past productions include, the world premiere of Invisible ManFences (Jeff Award – Actor in a Principal Role – Play), The First Breeze of SummerThe Piano Lesson, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.  Smith, a Chicago native, has performed in many theaters here, including Victory Gardens Theatre, Timeline Theatre Company, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, Illinois Theatre Center, Second City, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Smith has also performed in many regional theatres all across the country. When not in Chicago, he can often be seen performing at the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, where he has been a member for over seventeen years, and is a nine time Woody King Jr. Award winner.

 

Andre Teamer (Philmore) returns to Court where he was last seen in Ron OJ Parson’s production of Wait Until Dark. He is a company member of MPAACT (Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre.) Chicago credits include: Wait Until Dark (Court Theatre; BodiesSpeaking in TonguesTad in Fifth CityFirst Words (BTAA nomination), Ten Square,Trouble the WaterKosi-DasaKiwi BlackFascia, and Notes from the Bottletree (MPAACT); WELL (Next Theatre);Weekend and Martin Fuery’s Shot (Timeline Theatre); Hope VI (Chicago Dramatists); The Upper Room (BTAA nomination),Two Trains RunningPantomime (Jeff nomination), and Black Caesar (Pegasus Players.) Andre’ is a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University with a B.F.A in Speech and Performing Arts.

 

Brian Weddington (Shealy) returns to Court where he was last seen in The Piano Lesson and The First Breeze of Summer. Some of his other creative works include the film Barbershop 2, ABC’s One Life to LiveThe People Who Could Fly (National Black Arts Theater Festival), The Darker Face of the Earth (Kennedy Center), and Thieves Carnival (Theatre of Southwest Moscow.) He has several national and regional television commercials to his credit including All State Insurance, McDonald’s, and Century 21. He is the Director of Theatre Arts and Co-Founder of the HHW School for the Performing Arts, Director of Programming at Lifevine Works, and has presently completed a book of scenes and monologues from the Christian experience entitled LIFTED. He holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago and M.F.A. from Rutgers University.

 

Alfred Wilson (Fielding) Recent credits: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (University of Wisconsin-Madison), The Exonerated(Next Act Theatre), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre), The Etiquette of Vigilance (Steppenwolf Theatre), Two Trains Running (Geva Theatre), Master Harold and the Boys (Timeline Theatre), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson (Court Theatre), Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf (Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati), Radio Golf (Pittsburgh Public Theatre). Other Chicago credits include:  Bourbon at the Border(Eclipse Theatre), Jitney and Two Trains Running (Jeff Citation-Best Actor) (Pegasus Players), Panther Burn (MMPAACT), and productions at Goodman Theatre and Victory Gardens Theatre. He was also a co-founder of Onyx Theatre Ensemble.

Cedric Young (Doub) has worked at most of Chicago’s theatres, as well as many regional houses for nearly thirty years.Jitney is his second appearance on Court’s Theatre’s stage—the first being Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Cedric has performed in numerous August Wilson plays and Jitney is his favorite. Some previous roles include Troy in Fences (also directed by Ron OJ Parson), Walter Lee in A Raisin In the Sun, Crixus in Coming of the Hurricane and Sam in Master Harold and the Boys. He has also appeared in numerous films and television series.

 

Previews are September 6 – September 14, 2012.  The opening press performance is on Saturday, September 15, 2012, at 8:00 p.m. Curtain times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

 

Ticket prices are $35 to $45 for preview performances; $45 to $65 for regular run performances. Tickets are available at the Box Office, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago; (773) 753-4472 or online at www.CourtTheatre.org. Student and senior discounts available. Groups of 10 or more may purchase discounted tickets by calling Kate Vangeloff at 773-834-3243.

 

Exclusive Corporate Sponsor of Jitney is Hyde Park Bank.

Now in its 58th season, Court Theatre is guided by its mission to discover the power of classic theatre. Court endeavors to make a lasting contribution to American theatre by expanding the canon of translations, adaptations, and classic texts. Court revives lost masterpieces, illuminates familiar texts, and distinguishes fresh, modern classics. Court engages and inspires its audience by providing artistically distinguished productions, audience enrichment activities, and student educational experiences.

Court Theatre is the professional theatre in residence at the University of Chicago continuing to discover the power of classic theatre. Court Theatre operates under an agreement between the League of Resident Theatres and Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Productions are made possible in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and by a City Arts grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Court Theatre is a constituent of Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the American Theatre; the League of Resident Theatres; the Illinois Humanities Council; the Arts Alliance Illinois; the League of Chicago Theatres; and Hyde Park Cultural Alliance.

 

SYNOPSIS: Court Theatre returns to August Wilson’s Century Cycle, with the 1970s entry, which he wrote before he had any idea it would become part of his greatest achievement—his landmark “Pittsburgh Cycle” (or “Century Cycle”) of ten plays chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century. Eager to gentrify the neighborhood, the city threatens to level a makeshift taxi dispatch office that has served as a community gathering place for years.  As he tries to stave off the city, the owner of the cab company faces his own inner struggle. Jitney tells the story of a generation recognizing its mortality while the next must face its responsibility.

 

Title:                Jitney

Directed by:      Ron OJ Parson

Written by:        August Wilson

Featuring:         Caren Blackmore (Rena), Kamal Angelo Bolden (Youngblood), AC Smith (Becker), Anthony Fleming III (Booster), Allen Gilmore (Turnbo), Andre Teamer(Philmore), Brian Weddington (Shealy), Alfred Wilson (Fielding), Cedric Young (Doub).

Dates:              Previews:                    September 6 – September 14 2012

Regular run:                September 19 – October 14, 2012

Schedule:         Wed & Thurs:              7:30 PM

Fridays:                       8:00 PM

Saturdays:                   3:00 PM & 8:00 PM

Sundays:                     2:30 PM & 7:30 PM

Location:          Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave.

Tickets:            $35-$45 previews

                        $45-$65 regular run

Box Office:       Located at 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago; (773) 753-4472 or online  www.CourtTheatre.org 

NOTES OF INTEREST:

  • Playwright August Wilson’s best known literary legacy is the ten play series, The Pittsburgh Cycle, also known as the Century Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Each of the Cycle’s works is set in a different decade, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the African American experience in the twentieth century.

 

  • Court Theatre Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson has directed or played in over 20 August Wilson productions.  Court Theatre productions of Wilson’s works include FencesThe Piano Lesson, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, all directed by Parson.  Parson’s 2012 production of Jitney at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California, garnered rave reviews and moved to the Pasadena Playhouse in June.  Parson also directed The Piano Lesson at Congo Square Theatre marking the Company’s inaugural production, which August Wilson himself attended.

 

  • Jitney was written in 1979 and first produced at the small Allegheny Repertory Theatre, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1982.  Jitney is the only one of the 10 Pittsburgh Cycle plays not to have appeared on Broadway.  However, it was produced in London at the National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre in the fall of 2001, where it won the Olivier Award for best play of the year.

 

  • In Pittsburgh, “jitney” refers to an unlicensed taxi. They were plentiful in low-income communities where regular taxi service was scarce, in particular the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where August Wilson set the majority of the plays of his Century Cycle.  Since taxis often wouldn’t service low-income neighborhoods, jitney drivers even created cooperatives to support each other and to establish jitney stands.