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All Over the Map

Angry Black White Boy in San Francisco, Becky's New Car in Seattle, The Communist Dracula Pageant in Boston, and Psalms of a Questionable Nature in Philadelphia. logo
Dan Wolf and Tommy Shepherd
in Angry Black White Boy
(© Jeff Fohl)
"In a hundred years, we'll be in a lot of trouble if people think that Eminem was the king of Hip Hop," says Dan Wolf, who not only adapted Adam Mansbach's satirical novel Angry Black White Boy for the stage, but also stars in the production at San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts. Both novel and play revolve around Macon, a young white man who sets out to rob his white taxi passengers in an effort to somehow balance the scales for the injustices African-Americans have suffered over the centuries.

Like the character he portrays, Wolf is a white Jewish man who is actively involved in the Hip Hop scene. "I think there's a responsibility to be educated about the history of Hip Hop, to know where it came from and that battle that everyone is fighting," he states. "It's a freedom art form, about the voiceless finding a voice."

The writer/performer belongs to the band Felonious, and two of his bandmates -- Tommy Shepard and Keith Pinto -- are his major collaborators for the production. "There's something about the writing in the book that I saw dramatically in my head and I was just turned on from there to figure out a way for it to happen," says Wolf. "What we're doing is using the words of the book like a producer would use a sample, infusing it with the movements, soundscapes, rhythms, beats, and energy of a Hip Hop song."

Wolf says that Macon "puts himself square in the middle of a culture that he has no right to be in the middle of, and actually emerges -- battle-worn -- on the other side. I hope this show will really start to ask the hard questions of how we look at what Hip Hop culture is, the commodification of it, and who's gaining and losing by it being bought and sold in the way that it is."

-- Dan Bacalzo

Kimberly King and Michael Winters in Becky's New Car
(© Chris Bennion)

Becky's New Car marks playwright Steven Dietz's ninth production at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), and his fifth world premiere with the company. "Much of the story of my career in the last 20 years started right here," says Dietz. "This theater has launched many of the plays I'm known for, so it's a great honor and challenge to write for this theater and this audience, which is demanding and hungry for new work. What could be better than that?"

This latest work -- which is the inaugural play in ACT's "New Works for the American Stage" program -- centers on a woman named Becky Foster (played by Kimberly King), who has a job at an auto dealership, a husband, and a freeloading son, but can't stop the nagging suspicion that she's missed out on something. "I was interested in exploring the corners of our life that we sometimes don't walk into," says Dietz. "In some ways this is a road-not-taken play -- a woman in midlife has an opportunity to make a turn and live a different life. In other plays, I've been intrigued by the question: what secrets about ourselves are we keeping, that we talk ourselves out of or rationalize away? There's something bittersweet in the play; this woman has to make choices to have new and different things in her life, and we're counting on that to produce the comedy."

While this is the first time Dietz has worked with King, he's had longstanding professional relationships with several of the other cast members -- including Charles Leggett, R. Hamilton Wright, Michael Winters, and Suzanne Bouchard. "I would never have done this had I not known this group of Seattle actors," he says. "I've written very dark political plays, but people who write plays understand that one of the tricky things to pull off and aspire to is to put a group of terrific actors on stage and put forth a comedy that matches their skills."

-- Miryam Gordon

A scene from The Communist Dracula Pageant
(© Michael J. Lutch)

Anne Washburn's world premiere play The Communist Dracula Pageant, at Boston's American Repertory Theatre, is about the Romanian Revolution of 1989, but carries the curious subtitle "By Americans, For Americans." While the story follows the last days of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, the husband and wife communist dictators who ruled Romania from 1965 to 1989, director Anne Kauffman explains the subtitle. "It's very important that an audience understands that we weren't there; this is an interpretation of the story through our eyes," she notes.

Kauffman's concern stems from the fact that the 1989 revolution remains hugely controversial in the eyes of many Romanians. "This play is really about a stolen revolution. The people thought that it was started by them. It is believed, although not proven these 20 years later, that the revolution was usurped by Ion Illiescu (the president of Romania until 2004) and the 'rejected' old guard." Interspersed with the story of the Ceausescus is a pageant-style telling of the story of Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula, which the playwright is using "to show how we harness a national myth to justify policy or a cult following," adds Kauffman.

The production incorporates moving walls, projections, blue screens, 101 costumes on 16 actors, and 1980s era film equipment. "We're mixing theater with television, because this was the first televised revolution; it was able to incite the whole country to action," she says. While Kauffman declares that her production has not been influenced by current events in America, she admits, "We timed this play for the election to speak about the pageant-making that is politics. It seems even more relevant in this particular election. There's so much theater going on."

-- Zachary Stewart


A scene from
Psalms of a Questionable Nature

In Psalms of a Questionable Nature, the latest work from Nice People Theatre Company now at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, playwright Marisa Wegrzyn dives head first back into the sea of ambiguity and fear surrounding the possibility of a biological attack, which came into our nation's forefront in the days after September 11, while also exploring the delicate issues of family.

Psalms tells the story of two estranged stepsisters -- Greta and Moo -- trying to figure out what to do with their deceased parents' house -- and the chemical secrets that fill its basement. The parents were scientists who created an arsenal of known diseases as well as a newly designed virus. "They loved each other very much, and it's this love that happened in the basement lab," says Wegrzyn. "The girls are strangers, but the situation they have to deal with ties them together."

Wegryzn, who began writing the piece in 2002, says the work was a real challenge for her. "It's the only play I've written with two characters in real time, and there's a lot of family exposition that has to come out because this is the first time these sisters ever meet," she says. "It's a puzzle to fit it all together."

-- Tristan Fuge


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