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|Pearl Cleage explores a Southern tradition in ‘Nacirema Society’|
|Written by Jim Farmer|
|Friday, 15 October 2010 00:00|
Atlanta native Pearl Cleage’s work has always been embraced and supported by the LGBT community. Now she hopes her new production — “The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years,” bowing next week at the Alliance — is met with the same level of enthusiasm.
Described by Cleage as a romantic comedy, “Nacirema” deals with the beloved tradition known as the cotillion, especially popular in the South. As a new group of African-American debutantes gets ready to meet society circa 1964 in Alabama, their strong-willed grandmothers try to take care of their romantic lives. Trouble comes, however, when one debutante decides she wants to forego the life and move to New York to be a writer, and the racial issues of the day stir up.
The cast includes Jasmine Guy and Tony winner Trezana Beverly. Cleage and Guy worked together recently on an Atlanta remount of “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” first presented at the Alliance.
The play may have a light touch but it does deal with some weightier issues, such as the generational differences between the grandmothers and the granddaughters and the racial conflict that was present in the day.
“It’s really about a family holding on to their history and a time in Alabama where there were racial implications to the cotillions,” Cleage says.
Cleage got her feet water at the Alliance in the days of Kenny Leon and is happy to return with her first new play in a decade, co-presented by Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
“It’s a happy homecoming,” she says. “Working with the Alliance is a wonderful. It’s where I had my first professional experience.”
She is grateful of the fact that gays and lesbians know and love her work.
“I know so many people who are gay and lesbian and I think they show up in my work,” she says. “I think people can see themselves in what I write. The people who are homophobic are always villains in my work.”
‘Albatross’ takes on secrets
Actor’s Express also opens the world premiere drama “Albatross” next week, directed by openly gay Freddie Ashley.
“Albatross” revolves around a married couple, Jim and Alice, who are returning home after the funeral of a friend.
“It turns out there was more to this friend than met the eye and her death serves as a catalyst for Jim and Alice to make some pretty startling confessions to each other about things they’ve done in their past,” says Ashley. “To give any more away would be to give away some fun plot twists.”
Ashley has been familiar with Nowell’s work as an actor and as a director for a while now, he says, and this play took him somewhere he wasn’t expecting.
“I’m rarely surprised when I read a play and ‘Albatross’ surprised me,” he says. “Just when you think you know where it’s going, bam — it’s going somewhere completely unexpected. The characters in this play have some pretty dramatic arcs and she has developed those arcs very carefully.”
He thinks LGBTQ audiences know what it is to live with a secret.
“Those who’ve come out know how liberating it is to shed the secrecy and shame that come from living with secrets. Since the play is about getting past secrecy to live a more authentic life, I think LGBTQ audiences will find that to be a very resonant story,” Ashley says.
“Plus, it’s just a good, juicy drama. It takes the audience on a fun roller coaster ride.”
Top photo: Marie Dunbar (Chinai Hardy) helps her daughter Gracie (Naima Carter Russell) rehearse the waltz in the new play by Atlanta native and LGBT favorite Pearl Cleage. (by Greg Mooney)
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