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‘Yellowman’ Explores the Complicated Dimensions of Racial Distinction and Prejudice

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 4:56:00 PM

(Jan. 1, 2012 – Akron, Ohio – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE) Weathervane Playhouse ushers in 2012 with the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Yellowman – a thought-provoking drama that explores the complicated dimensions of racial distinction.

Yellowman is presented live on stage in Weathervane Playhouse’s intimate Dietz Theater from Jan. 12 to 28, 2012.

Dael Orlandersmith’s play features one man and one woman, each of whom plays multiple characters. From black to white and to all shades in between, Yellowman delves into the persistence of both racial prejudice and the impact of internalized racism. The play also explores the negative associations surrounding male blackness as well as the effect these racial stereotypes have on black women.

Yellowman is directed by Jennifer Kay Jeter. The production is underwritten by Margaret J. Dietz.

Ticket and Performance Information

Yellowman plays in Weathervane Playhouse’s John L. Dietz Theater between Jan. 12 and 28, 2012. (The Dietz Theater is Weathervane Playhouse’s intimate, 50-seat “second stage” within its Weathervane Lane facility.)

The preview performance is Thursday, Jan. 12 at 7:30 p.m.; the official opening-night performance is Friday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m.

Between Jan. 12 and 28, 2012, performance days and times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at both 2:30 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets for all performances of the play are $18 each. The 50-seat Dietz Theater features general-admission seating only.

Due to language and themes, Yellowman is recommended for ages 13 and older. For tickets, call the Weathervane Box Office at (330) 836-2626 or connect online to www.weathervaneplayhouse.com.

The Yellowman Cast and their Ohio Residences

NICHOLE STRONG of Akron plays the role of Alma

MARC JACKSON of Bedford Heights plays the role of Eugene

The Yellowman Creative Team

DANIELLE M. TERLONGE of Wooster serves as the stage manager.

RYAN DURFEE of Cuyahoga Falls serves as the lighting designer.

TODD DIERINGER of Wadsworth serves as the properties designer.

JASEN J. SMITH of Akron serves as the costume designer.

ALAN SCOTT FERRALL of Cuyahoga Falls serves as the scenic designer and technical director.

About the Play’s Director and Sound Designer

JENNIFER KAY JETER – Trained as a performance artist, Jeter will often collaborate with traditional artists or with non-traditional partners including social-service organizations to create curriculum, programming and theatrical works in order to spotlight societal concerns such as homelessness, addiction and sexual abuse. This Ohio native is an advocate of the arts. Jeter works in educational, community and professional theatre. Her thesis, entitled "The Rites of Being: An Analytical Review of Performance Art," was an attempt to legitimize the abstract art form of performance art. As a social artist, she continues to develop art constructions that address the changing needs of the community. Jeter creates commentary through her photography, writing, directing, painting and/or a combination of select media. Jeter previously directed Fifteen-Minute Hamlet for Weathervane's First Night contribution several years ago. Yellowman marks her first full-length production for Weathervane in the Dietz Theater. Concentrating primarily on African-American theatre, Jeter's past directing credits include Black GirlThe Amen CornerFor Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is EnufOn Striver's RowCrowns and The Piano Lesson.

About the Play, its Production History and Awards

Yellowman is a multi-character “memory play” about an African-American woman who dreams of life beyond the confines of her small-town Southern upbringing and the light-skinned man whose fate is tragically intertwined with hers.

In his 2002 review of the original off-Broadway production, Ben Brantley of The New York Times described the basic story line of Yellowman: “In its baldest terms, its plot suggests a brutal variation on Romeo and Juliet, recast according to the arcane sociology of Gullah society in the South: light-skinned boy and dark-skinned girl fall in love and are torn asunder by their squabbling families.

“But the divisions in Yellowman, presented as a narrative counterpoint delivered by [the play’s two actors] are as much within families as between them, and even more so within the individuals who make up families. The play's central characters and storytellers, Eugene and Alma, are determined not to turn into their parents. The odds, needless to say, are ominously against them.”

Yellowman was first commissioned and developed by three regional theater companies – McCarter Theatre Center (in Princeton, New Jersey), Wilma Theater (in Philadelphia) and Long Wharf Theatre (in New Haven, Connecticut) – and it was developed in part with the support of the The Sundance Institute Theatre Program (of Park City, Utah). This three-way co-production of the play opened on Jan. 10, 2002, at McCarter Theatre Center. Thereafter, Manhattan Theatre Club produced the first New York production of the play; it opened on Oct. 22, 2002, at New York City Center’s Stage I, where it played for a limited two-month engagement. Playwright Dael Orlandersmith played the role of Alma in both of these first two productions of her play.

Yellowman received three 2003 Drama Desk Award nominations, two 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award nominations and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (which that year was awarded to another African-American female playwright, Suzan Lori-Parks, for Topdog/Underdog).

About the Playwright

DAEL ORLANDERSMITH was born in New York City in 1959 as Donna Dael Theresa Orlander Smith Brown. As a child, she grew up in public housing in New York's rough-and-tumble East Harlem neighborhood and her parents sent her to Catholic schools. When she was still a child, her father died and her mother struggled to afford the tuition for her daughter’s parochial-school education. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Orlandersmith’s neighborhood was a dangerous place, and so was the South Bronx neighborhood her best friend lived. Several decades later, in an interview with American Theatre magazine, Orlandersmith recalled that “Heroin was at its height then. I remember people would carry an extra $5, in case a junkie came up to them, so they wouldn't lose their life."

Outside of her schooling, she began writing a journal at the age of 10, in which she wrote of her budding interests in reading and music – both of which she devoured voraciously. A teacher suggested that she sign up for an acting class, which she did, and during her teens she performed with The Nuyorican Poets Cafe on New York’s Lower East Side. After high school, she enrolled at Hunter College for a while but then returned to perform with the Nuyorican group as a poet/performer and even toured to Europe and Australia with the troupe. She soon began to get small acting jobs here and there (such as a bit part on one episode of the ABC-TV situation comedy, Spin City).

Eventually, however, Orlandersmith turned her artistic energies toward writing. She traveled west to Park City, Utah to hone her writing skills at the famed Sundance Institute Theatre Program (established by actor/director Robert Redford). Following her stint at Sundance, she returned to New York to star in her new play, Beauty’s Daughter. For this tale of a young woman in Harlem growing up under the wings of an alcoholic mother, Orlandersmith won a 1994-1995 OBIE Award (the Village Voice honor for the best in the off-Broadway season).

Her next play, The Gimmick, played at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1998 and at the New York Theater Workshop the following year. This one-woman play – starring the playwright herself – confronts the consistent temptation of sex, drugs and money that can surround and drown a creative, artistic person.

Her next solo play, Monster, was staged at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) in Seattle. Another story of a young woman growing up in Harlem, Orlandersmith played nine different characters. The play deals with the cycles of family violence that can occur over several generations. When The New York Times asked her to write an article about her plays, she admitted that she often went back to the same subjects. “There is a theme throughout the work that I write," Orlandersmith wrote, "about childhood and the sins of the father, the sins of the mother, and how people take on the very thing they don't like about their parents and they become them."

Yellowman, Orlandersmith’s next play, marked the first time she wrote a play for more than one actor. She set her play in the coastal South Carolina area that is home to the distinctive Gullah culture, and here she was able to expose the issue of black-on-black racism through a star-crossed love story between two characters, Alma and Eugene. As a child, Orlandersmith had spent summers with relatives in this rural South Carolina area. In an interview with The New York Times, she remembered a light-skinned black family who "for generations...had interbred to keep the light-skinned color line going. And they would condemn people who were darker. So you had people who hated this family and whom this family hated."

Orlandersmith continues to live, write, and perform in New York City.

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