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In Time for Black History Month, Rep Stage Continues 19th Season with Dael Orlandersmith’s Pulitzer Nominated “Yellowman”

January 18, 2012

Helen Hayes Award winner Kasi Campbell directs this poetic and compellingly tragic love story set in the South Carolina Lowcountry

(Columbia, MD) – Rep Stage, the professional Equity theatre in residence at Howard Community College (HCC), continues its 19th season with “Yellowman,” Dael Orlandersmith’s tragic, beautifully drawn love story about two childhood friends who struggle with issues of race, class and family loyalties in the complex and idiosyncratic Gullah community in the South Carolina Lowcountry. class="Heading1Char" Helen Hayes Award winner Kasi Campbell directs Rep newcomers Kelly Renee Armstrong (Alma) and Jon Odom (Eugene) in this class="contentblack"compelling and poetic story, which was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Alma and Eugene have known each other since they were young children. As their friendship blossoms into love, Alma struggles to free herself from her mother's poverty and alcoholism, while Eugene must contend with the legacy of being "yellow" — lighter-skinned than Alma — and his brutal and unforgiving father. Alternately joyous and harrowing, the play emerges as a powerful examination of the racial tensions that fracture communities and individual lives. “Yellowman” opens February 8 with a limited run through February 26, 2012, in the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center (HVPA) on the campus of HCC.

“’Yellowman’ tackles the subject of received intra-racial prejudices not through the lens of social/political agenda, but through the lens of the heart,” says director Kasi Campbell. “And it is all the more powerful in its exploration of the painful legacy of ‘colorism’ because the young people in the love story burst with passion, baring their souls so directly to the audience.”

“My mother was from South Carolina, and ‘Yellowman’ is very, very, loosely based on a family down there,” said Orlandersmith in an interview with Kentucky Public Television’s “American Life.” “When I was a kid my mother would send me down in the summer. And there was this family that used to interbreed to keep the light skin going. Yellow — ‘high yellow’ — was a nasty term for lighter-skinned black people. When the '60s rolled around, the Black Power movement started in this particular region in the South and in other places as well. I remember people who were extremely dark and extremely light getting together simply because it was a taboo, and you could not do it before. ‘Yellowman’ is loosely based on this community, on this family, when the '60s rolled around. There was a bust-out of stuff. It became a catalyst for me to look at internal racism — the rift between light-skinned people and dark-skinned people, which has its roots in slavery.”

In his review of “Yellowman,” New York Times writer Ben Brantley called the play a “hard and piercing drama” with “a poet's gift for building imagery by stealthy repetition. Her use of sensory detail  —  in describing the swing of a walk, the lilt of a laugh, the shimmer of sweat on flesh — is especially incisive, befitting a play in which the term 'skin deep’ takes on new resonance.”

Press performance is Saturday, February 11 at 8 p.m. For photos and reservations, contact Mike Scrivener in the HCC Office of Public Relations and Marketing at 443-518-3133 or mscrivener@howardcc.edu.

A post-show reception follows the Saturday, February 11 evening performance and free post-show discussions follow the Friday, February 17 and 24 performances. A pre-show lecture entitled "The Gullah People of South Carolina" will precede the February 25 matinee performance beginning at 12:30 p.m. in Monteabaro Hall. Show dramaturg Alan Balch will discuss the history, language, and legacy of the Gullah of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The lecture is free and open to the public. For tickets and additional information, visit www.repstage.org or call 443-518-1500.

Meet the Playwright:

Dael Orlandersmith won an Obie Award for “Beauty’s Daughter,” which she wrote and starred in at American Place Theatre. Film and television credits include Hal Hartley's "Amateur," an episode of "Spin City," and "Get Well Soon" with Courtney Cox. Orlandersmith has toured extensively with the Nuyorican Poets Café (now known as Real Live Poetry) throughout the U.S., Europe, and Australia. In November 1996 she premiered “Monster” at New York Theatre Workshop and appeared in “Romeo and Juliet” at Williamstown. She has attended Sundance Theatre Festival Lab four times developing new plays. “The Gimmick,” commissioned by the McCarter Theatre, premiered on their Second Stage on Stage and went on to great acclaim at the Long Wharf Theatre and New York Theatre Workshop. Vintage Books published “Yellowman” and a collec­tion of her earlier work. She was a Pulitzer Prize Award finalist and Drama Desk Award nominee for “Yellowman,” which premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2002. Orlandersmith was a Susan Smith Blackburn Award finalist in 1999 and is the recipient of a NYFA Grant and The Helen Merrill Emerging Playwrights Award. She is currently finishing her first novel, a new play commissioned by the Wilma, and the screenplay version of “Yellowman” at Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

Meet the Director:

Kasi Campbell  has mounted 25 productions for Rep Stage since its inception, including “The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?,” “God’s Ear,” “In the Heart of America,” “Bach at Leipzig,” “Arcadia,” “The Violet Hour,” “Translations,” “Faith Healer,” “The Judas Kiss,” “Da,” and last season’s critically acclaimed season opener, “Travels With My Aunt,” which enjoyed numerous Helen Hayes Award nominations. She has also directed productions and readings for The Kennedy Center, Theatre J, Theatre Alliance, Washington Stage Guild, Source Theatre, Spooky Action Theatre, WSC Avant Bard, the former National Puppetry Center, Groton Center for the Arts, University of Connecticut, Catholic University  and Indiana University. She received a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Director in 2004 for Rep Stage’s production of “The Dazzle.” She is an Associate Professor of Theatre at HCC serving as the coordinator of theatre performance, and recipient of the Howie Award.  

Meet the Cast:

Kelly Renee Armstrong (Alma) is making her Rep Stage debut. Most recently she appeared in “Wit” at the Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis. Other stage appearances have included roles in “Doubt,” “Marvin’s Room,” “Permanent Collection,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Piano Lesson,” and “The River Niger.” Armstrong is a native Marylander and is currently a 2012 candidate for an MFA in Theatre (Acting) at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Jon Hudson Odom (Eugene) makes his Rep Stage debut. He returns to the DC area from the Chicago production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. Other Chicago credits include the 50th anniversary production of “West Side Story” at Ravinia Festival. In the DC region he has appeared in “The Ramayana” at Constellation Theatre Company; “Who Killed Captain Kirk?” at the Capital Fringe Festival; the New Playwrights Festival at Young Playwrights Theatre; and “For Black Boys Who Have Committed Homicide When the Streets Were Too Much” at Spooky Action Theater. Other regional credits include “Peril on the Red Planet” with Open Dream Ensemble; “Take Me Out” at Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance; and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Schoolhouse Rock” at Roanoke Festival. Odom is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Meet the Design Team:

The “Yellowman” design team includes Jessica Welch (costume designer), Terry Cobb (set designer), Dan Covey (lighting designer), Natalia Leimkuhler (properties designer), and Neil McFadden (sound designer).

About Rep Stage

Rep Stage, a professional Equity theatre in residence at Howard Community College, is in its 19th season. The company is a member of the League of Washington Theatres, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and Theatre Communications Group. Rep Stage is recognized by Theatre Washington as a professional DC Metro area theater company. Performances are made possible by Howard County Arts Council, Howard County Government, and the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and National Endowment for the Arts, as well as through generous individual contributions. Howard Bank is the Rep Stage 2011-12 season partner.