By Kwame Kwei-Armah
Directed by Derrick Sanders
Originally produced at CENTERSTAGE, Baltimore, MD.
April 10, 2013 through June 16, 2013
About the Premiere Production
CENTERSTAGE’s Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award supports the ambitious capstone event of our 50th Anniversary Season, The Raisin Cycle. This hybrid project includes a full production of Bruce Norris’s 2011 Pulitzer-winning drama Clybourne Park, presented in rotating repertory with the World Premiere of Beneatha’s Place, the latest work of our Artistic Director, celebrated playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah. Conceived and penned in conversation with Norris’s heralded script, Kwei-Armah’s new play extends and further shapes the challenging discussions Clybourne Park has initiated among audiences globally. As a response to Lorraine Hansberry's landmark masterpiece A Raisin in the Sun, Clybourne Park raises questions about urban gentrification; Beneatha's Place follows a woman's journey to academia, where questions and expectations of affirmative action, identity, and identity politics manifest.
As a playwright of color, even in Britain, the legacy of Lorraine Hansberry and A Raisin in the Sun looms large for me. I may have seen that play more often than any other. So the notion of beginning my time in America, and my tenure at the helm of CENTERSTAGE, by writing my own encounter with her seminal saga is both fitting, and—frankly—terrifying.
And when I add the prospect of including in the conversation one of the most acclaimed, talked-about plays now occupying national (even international) attention—the Pulitzer-winning Clybourne Park—my trepidation only grows. But as an artist, these frissons of fear and trembling tend to be the signals that I’m on the right path. To sit down at the table with what troubles me most, to open the hardest conversation and do it through theater, is what most drives me as a writer.
I’ve felt for some time—since seeing the play in England, in fact—that some of the assumptions and implications of Clybourne Park, and audiences’ reactions to them, called for some sort of response. Whether in the manner of imagining an aftermath for Raisin specifically, or as a way of talking about class and communities, or as an examination of race and identity today, I struggled with the play and the way that audiences responded to it. I applaud it as a piece of writing and a successful provocation, but found myself politically and theatrically bursting with strong reactions. At the same time, I found I had more and more that I wanted to say about these and related issues from my own perspective. Here’s my chance.
I’m also quite stimulated by the idea of working within these fixed parameters; to put my play in dialogue with both Hansberry and Norris, to use the cast and casting breakdown set up in Clybourne Park, to find a way to work in a common scenic framework, with a singular directorial vision and design team, actually provides a liberating set of constraints. I couldn’t do it, however, without a certain measure of foundational confidence.
First, it’s crucial that I’ll be writing the play for and premiering it here at CENTERSTAGE, where I have such a meaningful history of presenting my work already; where as a writer I already have a stimulating, ongoing conversation with our audiences; and where I can speak within a twenty-year context of commitment to stories of the African American community.
Second, it’s vital that my partner on this project will be director Derrick Sanders—founder of Chicago’s Congo Square, protégé of August Wilson, and director of two of my previous plays. From the initial conceptual stages of my own play in this saga, through the articulation of the project as a Cycle, Derrick has been a crucial sounding-board for me, a trusted dramaturg and even a mentor. As director to my playwright self, and as artistic companion to my producer self, there’s nobody else with whom I’d rather embark on this challenge.
—Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE, CENTERSTAGE Artistic Director
Given this project’s ambitious scope, the opportunity to collaborate actively and extensively with the artistic team live in the rehearsal hall as I finalize the script itself will be invaluable. An extended, additional two weeks of rehearsal time will also help us to address the special challenges of presenting Beneatha’s Place in context of The Raisin Cycle’s rotating repertory concept. An Edgerton New American Play Award provides the critical support necessary to make this resource-intensive work possible, ensuring a fully polished premiere production, and laying the groundwork for future success beyond the initial Baltimore run.
—Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE, CENTERSTAGE Artistic Director
Director: Derrick Sanders
Set Design: Jack Magaw
Lighting Design: Thom Weaver
Sound Design: Elisheba Ittoop
Costume Design: Reggie Ray
Cast: Jonathan Crombie, Jessica Frances Dukes, Beth Hylton, Jacob Knoll, James Ludwig, and Jenna Sokolowski.
Additional Funders: New play development at CENTERSTAGE is made possible in part by The Sylvia and Eddie Brown Family Foundation, the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, and the Nathan and Suzanne Cohen Foundation Fund for Commissioning and Developing New Plays.