Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hannah Elias NYC casting complete!

AAPEX has put together a stellar cast of Broadway veterans for

The Players Club reading of

Nathan Ross Freeman's

Hannah Elias.

Because of limited seating at the legendary Players Club, seating is going fast.

RSVP now to

*Indicates member of Actors Equity

Leilani Bryant
as Hannah Elias

She has performed on Broadway in the musical The Color Purple. She has also performed in the Broadway musical Show Boat, a benefit concert for Carnegie Hall. Other accomplishments include featured vocalist for Music Under the Stars with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, as well as featured vocalist for the Florida Jasper Awards. Leliani is a native of Jacksonville, FL. *

Tobi Kanter
as Belle Marshall

After a spate of playing under-five and principal roles as Irish-heritage police officers on all the New York soaps, Tobi Kanter has graduated to the role of Irish maid. (Her Lithuanian and Hungarian grandparents are rolling in their graves, but Tobi’s having the time of her life!) She was last seen as Tanta Rose in the WorkShop Theater Company’s full production of Martin Sherman’s Messiah and the Polish Snuff Film Victim in Loren Marsh’s black comedy movie, Invitation to a Suicide, as well as roles in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, The Jane Pauley Show, HBO’s Earthly Possessions and Saturday Night Live. SAG, AFTRA, AEA. *

Jerome P. Bates

as Cornelius Williams

Jerome Preston Bates created the role of Floyd Barton in the world premiere of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. He has appeared in King Lear at Classical Theatre of Harlem and at the Folgers in Washington, DC. His television credits include NYPD Blue, All My Children, One Life to Live, as well as numerous appearances on NBC’s Third Watch and Law & Order. He appeared in the remake of the 1970’s classic Shaft, starring Samuel L. Jackson and HBO’s original series Oz. He directed Eddy P, from the Oedipus Project as seen through the eyes of the Black Panthers Party. His play Electric Lady is about Jimi Hendrix. *

Stu Richel
as Andrew H. Green & John R. Platt

NYC theatre: Merry Wives of Windsor (Lion), Autoeroticism in Detroit (Blue Heron), The Lower Depths (Manhattan Ensemble Theatre), Slaughter City (WOW Café), The Philanderer (Jan Hus), East Village Chronicles (Metropolitan Playhouse), and Bag Fulla Money (Clurman). Principle roles in 22 indie films, including Death in Love (Sundance 2008; Jacqueline Bisset’s husband), Sexland (with Dan Fogler) and Hiding Divya (Madhur Jaffrey’s companion). TV: 30 Rock (Alex Baldwin’s boss), As the World Turns and One Life To Live. In earlier lives...a corporate attorney...and combat photographer with the 1st Infantry Division.*

Liliane Klein
as Red Head Maid & Brunette Maid

NYC: Me and My Girl (McGinn/Cazale Theatre, Musicals Tonight!), I Wanna Be Rosie (La Mama, E.T.C.), The Greeks (MET, IMUA!), Narative Intervention (Here, IMUA!), Do I Hear $5? (St. Clements). National Tours: Titanic(Candlewood), Scrooge (NYSO), Cyrano De Bergerac (NTAE), The Little Prince (NTPA), Tikki Tikki Tembo & Friends (StorySalad). Liliane plays Terry the Turtle on Kid Fitness (PBS). Recording: Stage Stars Gypsy (Mama Rose). Training: Boston University (BFA). Member: AEA, SAG, CFS, NJ Rep, The Players.*

Jessica Fontaine

as Clara Elias-Hudson
Jessica Fontaine is blessed to be back on stage for her fifth production this year. After earning a BFA at Howard University, Jessica moved back to New York with one thing on her mind: becoming a working actress. Theatre credits include The Sanctuary, an Off-Broadway production at The American Theatre for Actors. She stunned people as little old Birdie Lee in Tambourines To Glory. Her debut lead role was in Antigone Assata Shakur. Jessica’s consistency and determination for acting stems from her belief that “with God all things are possible” and gives thanks to her family for their unconditional support.

Jonathan Marbelli

as Detective 1

Past theatre work includes: Mr. Bumble in Berkeley Repertory’s Oliver Twist (understudy), Benjamin Cohen in the Contemporary American Theatre Co’s production of The Underpants, Walter in Keely & Du,Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross, Roderigo in Othello, and Yovan in Division Street. Television: Made-for-TV movie Skin Complex. You may also see Jon in the upcoming web-series pilot Penelope’s Playland. Jon would like to thank his loving, devoted, and supportive family and friends. Above all he thanks God for-- well-- everything.

Nick Raio

as Detective 2

Nick Raio is a Bronx born New York based actor/writer and member of SAG, AEA, AFTRA and the Dramatists Guild. Nick will be on the season premiere of Rescue Me as the AA group leader. Other TV credits include The Sopranos, Law & Order: CI, America’s Most Wanted, numerous soap operas and commercials. Films presently available on DVD include One-Third, Invitation to a Suicide, Mob Queen and Unsavory Characters. He is Nick of Nick’s Commercials and Guile in Street Fighter: The Later Years on the College Humor website. For links to Nick’s work go to: Nick can be contacted at *

Eric Bondoc

as Kato

Broadway: Pacific Overtures. Favorites: Rizal, a one-person play about the Philippine National Hero; Where Elephants Weep, the first known Cambodian rock opera; Road Dreams, a cabaret about his 800-mile solo bicycle trip from Arizona to California; Ariel in The Tempest; title roles in M. Butterfly and Peter Pan. Regional Theatres include: The Guthrie; Actors Theatre of Louisville; The Alliance, The O’Neill; North Shore Music Theatre, Bay Street Theatre; Flat Rock Playhouse, George Street Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse; Triad Stage, Sacramento Music Circus. *



Passion has directed more than 30 productions and has been critically acclaimed as “creative” and “stunning.” As Artistic Director of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Young Writers’ Workshop, she recently directed Just Imagine at NJPAC’s Victoria Theater. She directed Tony Award winner Melba Moore in Sweet Songs of the Soul at the Bermuda Festival and directed the cast of Real Black Men Don’t Sit Cross-Legged On The Floor to rave reviews and standing ovations. Under her guidance both productions received AUDELCO Awards. She is a private coach, educator and new filmmaker. Passion is the producer and director of DramaMamas! The Film, Black Women Theatre Directors in the Spotlight and Remembered. She welcomes your support of her feature-length documentary at

Nathan Ross Freeman


Author, Director, Producer of the Independent Feature Film, Mr. Bones, the Official Selection of the following festivals: San Francisco Black, National Black Theatre, Indie Memphis, Southern Appalachian International Film (Best Drama/Edit), Black Disapora (Durham, NC), Cackalacky (Charlotte, NC), Sweet Auburn International Film Festival (Best Feature), and NYC Festivals. Francine, Official Selection of the New York Short Film Festival. Hannah Elias screenplay runner up at the 2005 San Francisco Black Film Festival Screenplay Contest. Awarded the 1997 North Carolina Arts Council Playwrights Fellowship for Hannah Elias. Founder of Montage Showcase Ensemble and Assegai Film Group. Mr. Freeman also teaches professional acting. He was awarded B.E.S.T. Outstanding Faculty as a member of the Intensive Writing Faculty teaching screenwriting/playwriting at the University of North Carolina. Currently Mr. Freeman is a member of the NC Humanities Speakers Bureau and Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Winston-Salem Youth Arts Institute.

Frenchie La’Vern

(Costume Designer & Cutter/Draper)

Frenchie graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts with a degree in Design and Production. During the last 10 years, Frenchie has worked in theater and film. She has enjoyed an ongoing professional affiliation with Nathan Ross Freeman since signing on as the Designer of costumes, hair and make up for Mr. Bones. Her most recent film credits are Lost Stallion: The Journey Home and Westerly, both do for release in 2008. Her most recent professional credits include Ethel Waters: His Eye Is On The Sparrow, starring Broadway veteran Jannie Jones, directed by Broadway veteran Mable Robinson and produced by the North Carolina Black Repertory Theatre. Regarding the NCBR, Frenchie has mounted the Black Nativity for seven seasons. Her work was also seen on productions by the Community Theater of Greensboro, Duke University, North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, and The Barn Dinner Theatre of Greensboro, the oldest continuously operating dinner theatre in America.

Thierry Saintine

(Stage Manager)

Thierry Saintine is a graduate of City College Theatre and Speech Program. He has made appearances on several New York City stages and screens and is determined to keep the arts and performing arts alive within and around him.

Friday, May 30, 2008

AAPEX Mixer at Playwright Tavern 6/12 (NYC)

Thursday, June 12
7 - 10 pm
The Playwright Tavern
202 W. 49th Street
New York City

There is more than one Playwright Tavern, so don't get confused!

Looking forward to meeting everyone. If you have a show going on, please bring your cast so that we can meet and know them. We can't do what we do without actors!

Also, Film Makers - I will have information on the Nashville International Black Film Festival and am honored to be on the staff of IBFF 2008.

I won't be checking emails while I am in New York, so if you can't make June 12, please be sure and email me your phone number so that I can contact you while I am there.



Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Henry Meyerson's JUMP JIM CROW opens 6/17 (NYC)



Henry Meyerson

Directed by

Tom Thornton

Will Be Produced at this Year’s

Midtown International Theatre Festival

Lawrence Floyd
Michael Gnat
Tom Thornton

The following dates are currently available.

July 17th, 6:15
July 20th, 7:00
July 25th, 8:30

Jump Jim Crow tells the story of Tom Rice, a white performer in black face, and his black friend and writer, Jack Washington, who develop a successful blackface act in the mid-19th Century. Strom Thurmond joins Tom’s act and encourages Tom to develop material that become the springboard, and justification, for Jim Crow laws.
Tix purchased at the box office are $18/per.Tix purchased through the playwright are $15/per. For the discount, contact:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

James Gary, Jr. stars in FORGIVE ME? 6/6 (NYC)

Click Image to Enlarge.
Mr. Jimmy Gary, who did a stellar job for AAPEX in the reading of BILLIE'S BLUES, is doing a reading of what sounds like a really interesting new play on June 6th. If you can make it, I highly recommend you check it out.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


The Georgia Theatre Conference, the official theatre organization for the state of Georgia, is now taking submissions for its annual One Act Play Competition. Plays may be submitted in two categories: Secondary and Post-Secondary. There is a $150.00 prize for the winner in the Secondary category. The winner in the Post-Secondary play category will receive a $250.00 prize and will also be performed as a staged reading at the Georgia Theatre Conference convention held in Albany, GA, October 16-19, 2008. Guidelines are listed below:
  • Plays submitted in the Secondary category must have been written before the playwright graduated from High School or while they were younger than 19 years of age. All other plays submitted must be entered in the Post-Secondary category.
  • Play submissions must be one act only. Full length scripts and musicals are not acceptable. Multiple submissions are allowed.
  • One act submissions must not have been previously performed or have received formal readings or staging.
  • Plays should be typed in size 12 font, approximately 50 pages in length, running-time no longer than one hour, and limited to 10 or fewer characters.
  • All entries must be postmarked by August 30, 2008.
  • Three non-returnable copies of each submission must be included for consideration. Please be sure to include current address, telephone, and email address.

    Please send all entries to:
    Dr. Jimmy Bickerstaff
    Assistant Professor of Theatre
    Department of Communication Arts
    Valdosta State University
    1500 North Patterson Street
    Valdosta, GA 31698
    (229) 333-7330

Friday, May 16, 2008

Nathan Ross Freeman's MR. BONES wins Best Drama at Sweet Auburn Film Fest!

Nathan Ross Freeman, author of HANNAH ELIAS, won Best Drama for MR. BONES at the Sweet Auburn Film Festival in downtown Atlanta. Congratulations, Nat!

Seats are going fast for AAPEX's Hannah Elias reading at the legendary Players Club in NYC June 17th. Leilani N. Bryant, direct from Broadway's The Color Purple, is starring in the titular role. RSVP ASAP to

Thursday, May 15, 2008

AAPEX Writers Open And Close Downtown Urban Theater Fest 6/18-29 (NYC)

Click Images to Enlarge.
Jamal Williams' OSAGE AVENUE and Hershell Norwood's BILLIE'S BLUES open and close the Downtown Urban Theater Festival June 18-29th at the Cherry Lane Theater in NYC. Congratulations, Jamal and Hershell! For more information, click here.

Von Washington's CONSPIRACY Premieres 5/23 (Kalamazoo)

Click image to enlarge.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stranger In My Body 5/20 (NYC)

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008


Brecht Forum

451 West Street, NY, NY 10031

(off the West Side Highway, between Bank and Bethune)

Stranger in My Body

A young black woman struggling with her own religion and sexuality must negotiate her love relationship with a female-to-male transgender person.

Written by

Garlia Cornelia Jones

Directed by

Ira Sharay-Kip


Chaelon Costello, Melissa Joyner and Tai Verley

Admission is FREE

A brief talk-back will follow the reading.Donations will be accepted for the wine and cheese reception followingthe talk-back. It is being sponsored by the Brecht Forum. Brecht Forum is located on the West Side Highway between Bank and Bethune (right behind the New School for Drama!) For more information on the Brecht Forum, visit them on the web:

THANK YOU!!! We look forward to your attendance! Contact: Garlia C. Jones 586-747-2108

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stella Adler and AAPEX Present Mike Oatman's THE CHITLIN THIEF 5/15 (NYC)

Click picture to enlarge.

will present a reading of Mike Oatman's stunning new comedy


on Thursday, May 15, at 7pm.

The reading will be directed by AAPEX artist

Benard Cummings,

who is an instructor at the Conservatory.

It stars:

Duane A. Robinson

Mr. Robinson's stage credits include Classical Theater of Harlem's Ain’t Supposed to Die A Natural Death (Sweet Daddy), Romeo and Juliet (Romeo), Folger Theater's (Washington D.C.) King Lear (Edmund),

Turtle Shell Prods' (NYC) Five Guns, Four Bullets (Joshua), Heads-Up (Grey), LifeDome Theater's (NYC) Christmas at The Murphy’s (Jim), Stella Adler Studio's (NYC) Angels In America (Belize/Mr. Lies), The Dybbuk (Man), Tartuffe (Tartuffe), Marat/Sade (Marat), A Gaggle of Saints (John), The Philadelphia (Marcus), La Ronde (Husband), The Producers Club Open Admissions (Calvin). Television credits include: As The World Turns (CBS) (Officer Williams). Film credits include: Inside Joke Productions' How to Make it in N.Y. for Only $15 a Day (Chris). Vocie Over: UNICEF: PAHA (Narrator #1)
(Principled Approach to Humanitarian Action)

Jeremy Stuart

Stage credits include leading roles in Rinne Groff's LIFT-OFF at Provincetown Playhouse, ASCENSION DAY with Ving Rhames, Arthur French, and Andre DeShields at Hudson Guild, FLATBUSH FAITHFUL with Chazz Palminteri at Judith Anderson Theater, HARVEST at AlchemyTheatre/Theater Row, EDWARD 2 at NY Fringe Festival, Gary Richards' STAG at Studio 3. As a member of Circle Rep Lab, RIVERS AND RAVINES and HIRE THE MAN. Founding member of Gary Garrison's FIRST LOOK THEATER COMPANY. Extensive work with Tony Randall at NATIONALACTORS THEATER for Young Audience Outreach program. Television, recurring roles on ALL MY CHILDREN and GUIDING LIGHT. Longtime and devoted student of Michael Howard and Uta Hagen.

Michelle Baldwin

Michele Baldwin has currently completed the feature film, Betrayal: Sins in High Places, presently being pitched to HBO, where she portrays the lead character, Doris. Michele has also completed the TV pilot, Paris Nevada, as the principal character, Lorette, which is being shopped around for pick up. In addition, Michele portrays a supporting character and a principal character on two web series. Michele presently studies at Black Nexxus and also via private coaching. Some credits: Visions Tour Group; Visions, Southern Belles, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, Venus the Mystic Psychic, Girlfriends… Film: Push, The Blood and the Body, Pitter Patter, A Veteran’s Life… TV: One Life to Live, All My Children, Law and Order SUV… and several commercials. With a purposeful focus and steadfast drive, Michele will not be stopped, surely a “Star Rising” to lookout for!

Constance Parng

Constance Parng will be appearing in the upcoming Inwood Shakespeare Festival this summer and will also be joining the Between the Lines production of From Auction Block to Hip Hop. She has performed with Second Generation at the Public Theater, Turtle Shell Productions, Theatre Nebula, and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's apprentice company. As a playwright, her work has been produced in the 8 Minute Madness Festival and staged by Core Theatre. She is a recipient of the National Foundation for Advancement of the Arts Gold Award in Writing, and a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. BFA: NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Dramatic Writing.

Chantal Thuy

Chantal Thuy stage credits include Teesri Duniya Theatre's Untold Stories (Montreal), Lysistrata (Montreal, Concordia University), Stella Adler Studio's (NYC) Angels In America (Harper), Children's Hour (Karen/Martha), Dolores (Dolores), Danny and The Deep Blue Sea (Roberta), This is Our Youth (Jessica). Film and Shorts include The Fuzz (Hawaii, Short Indie), The Bump (San Francisco State University), Alex, Vampire Slayer (High Resolution Production), and Between the Folds (Concordia University). Chantal Thuy is currently completing a 2.5 year Conservatory program at Stella Adler Studio of Acting (NYC)and has graduated from San Francisco State University (San Francisco) and Concordia University (Montreal) with a BA in TV, Film Studies and Theatre.

Fredric Michaels

Acting career started in 1997 when he became a member of The American Theatre of Harlem (ATH). Since then Michaels has worked as actor and technician on such productions as A Street Car Named Desire, The Colored Museum, Bus Stop and Work Day. Michaels is also currently featured in the soon-to-be-released independent film Betrayal and webisodes of Live Mansion (to be released in conjunction with the film) and True Love.

Mr. Oatman is playwright in residence at KARAMU HOUSE in Cleveland. In addition to his position as resident playwright, Mike is also creative director of Karamu's Gaslight series, which mounts workshop productions, and is the interim director of Karamu's TOPS educational program, which sends shows out to the schools.

THE CHITTLIN THIEF received it's premiere reading at Mocha Hut in Washington, DC in October 2007.

Inquiries should be directed to Jaz Dorsey, Dramaturg, The African American Playwrights' Exchange (AAPEX) at or by calling 615-837-8777


The Essential Theatre’s New Play Reading Series will present the final public reading of, King Willie, by Jamal Williams, on Saturday, May 31st at 3:00 P.M. The reading will be held at the historic H Street Playhouse located at 1365 H Street, NE, in the Capitol Hill area. A portion of the proceeds from this reading will benefit the Yvonne Olivia Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund for women studying Theatre Arts in the Department of Theatre Arts at Howard University. Admission to this and each presentation is Pay-What-You- Can. The suggested donation is $15. Adult language and themes! There will be a post-performance discussion for each reading with the director and Playwright.

Yvonne Olivia Lee, Esq. (1963-2007) Howard University Alumina is a graduate of the class of 1985. She originated the role of Aunt Mary during the development of, King Willie, under the aegis of the New Play Reading Series. The personification of university motto: Truth and Service, Attorney Lee originally arrived at Howard to study Theatre Arts in the College of Fine Arts. She later changed her major course of study to Broadcast Management. Continuing her education, she received a law degree and in 1998 began working as an Attorney for the United States Department of Justice. During the two years prior to her death she fought for her life against pancreatic cancer. Unaware of her condition we telephoned her the day before she transitioned to perform in the annual winter workshop reading of, King Willie. Despite her pain she indicated her interest and asked to be telephoned on the next day. On the Next day, November 24, 2007, Yvonne Olivia Lee departed this earth. While she and her characterization of Aunt Mary will be gravely missed, we celebrate her in a manner that will eternally inspire, educate and change lives.

The New Play Reading Series is created to give voice to the work of new and established playwrights. It is in substance an incubator that serves to nurture the work for a three-year period in a supportive and collaborative environment with other artisans, actors and directors. Further, it is a forum where audience members are welcomed to engage in an open dialogue with the playwright and director about the issues presented in the material as well as techniques used to present them. The New Play Reading Series was initiated in the spring of 1992. The first play that was presented as part of the process was Howard University Alumnus, Mark Green’s Just One Time.

The Essential Theatre is a non-profit professional theatre dedicated, but not limited to producing theatre reflective of the African-American experience, that speaks distinctly from an African-American voice. It is also an objective of the theatre to produce programs for youth in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area that promote interdisciplinary education and positive levels of self-esteem.

Additional Readings:
Bluff Street
By Sarah Moon (first reading)
Saturday May 31st
7:30 P.M.
H Street Playhouse
Admission: Pay What You Can

Stuck In Winnemucca
By Robert Alexander (first reading)
Sunday June 1st
3:00 P.M.
H Street Playhouse
Admission: Pay What You Can

For more info contact (202) 328-0569 or E-mail

Friday, May 2, 2008


Making Our Future & Honoring Our Past

WHO: The Coalition of Theatres of Color
Cordially invites you to

WHAT: A Conversation with New York Theatres of Color
sharing concerns regarding the issue of sustainability

WHEN: Sunday, May 18, 2008 – 2:00 PM
Press Conference at 4:30 pm

WHERE: Little Shubert Theater
422 West 42nd Street (Between 9th & 10th Avenues)

Master of Ceremonies:
Bob Law, Entrepreneur/Activist

Guest Moderators: Gil Nobel, Host/Producer, "Like it Is" ABC-TV / Felipe Luciano, Journalist/Activist
Imhotep Gary Byrd, Radio Host, WBLS-FM and WBAI-FM

Panelists: Carl Clay - CTC Co-Chair (Black Spectrum Theatre) / Woodie King, Jr. - CTC Chair (New Federal Theatre) Dr. Barbara Ann Teer - CTC Co-Chair (National Black Theatre) / Lorna Hill - (Ujima Theatre) / Richard Marino (Teatro Sea) / Voza Rivers - (New Heritage Theatre) / Marjorie Moon -CTC Co-Chair (Billie Holiday Theatre)

Special Guest Celebrity:
2008 Oscar Nominee, Ms. Ruby Dee

Guest Performance: IMPACT Repertory Theatre, also 2008 Oscar Nominee

Complimentary Admission
RSVP Required: 212-926-2550 ext 21 or
Register online at

Nashville International Black Film Festival Call for Films 7/31 Deadline

Click image to enlarge.

I am delighted that festival founder Hazel Joyner Smith has asked me to serve on the staff for this year's festival. I am forwarding information about this year's Nashville International Black Film Festival. Please forward this on to your film maker friends. For more information, please click here.


THE BLACKS at Karamu House review (Cleveland)

Karamu's THE BLACKS is an artistic triumph!

Reviewed by: Fran Heller, Cleveland Jewish News

It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

I am talking about The Blacks: a clown show, Jean Genet's 1958 absurdist comedy-drama which took off-Broadway by storm in 1961. A story about race and a fierce indictment of classism and white oppression of blacks, it struck a nerve in the turbulent era of nascent Black Nationalism and civil rights.

Fast forward to Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, where almost five decades later, a new production of The Blacks has lost none of its sting or sardonic humor under the fiercely intelligent and creative direction of Terrence Spivey. It runs through May 10.

It is a tribute to artistic director Spivey that his all-black cast of 13 non-Equity actors have not only met but surpassed the challenge of putting on this fiendishly difficult and demanding show. This ensemble acts its heart out and is a pleasure to watch.

In his preface to the play, Genet wrote: "One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast. But what exactly is a black? First of all, what's his color?" For Genet -- and a key to understanding his play-- any notion of color is absurd or meaningless.

Written as a play-within- a-play-within- a-play, the theater piece is a surreal mix of allegory, fantasy, symbolism and fragmented language and, like expressionism, more felt than fully understood. A running time of three hours, including intermission, requires some tenacity.

The bawdy in-your-face dramedy lampoons stereotypical attitudes on both sides of the color divide, namely the sexual attraction between whites and blacks. It takes us into the very heart of darkness, which is Africa, where colonialism, racism and hatred all began.

John Konopka's fabulous set is a cross between a funeral parlor and a courtroom, with audience members situated on both sides of a thrust stage, like a jury. In the center is a catafalque, or coffin-like structure, covered with a white cloth and a bouquet of lilies.

First to enter are the members of the Court. They are the whites (black actors wearing white masks), their smug superiority evident in their courtly airs and arrogant behavior. Next to arrive are the rowdy Negroes, who will re-enact for the Court the ritualistic murder of a white woman, of which they have been accused.

Bathed in Richard H. Morris Jr.'s fiery red glow, the Negroes file in like prisoners on a chain gang. It's a stunning tableau, the first of many that make this production unique.

Harold Crawford's sensational costumes and masks are a riveting study in black and white. Nothing has been spared in his rapturous designs, from the Queen's snow-white wedding gown and cascading mop of blonde curls to the prostitute's black bodice and the ringmaster's tux.

The intimate setting of the Arena theater, the smaller of Karamu's two performance spaces, is ideal for the kangaroo court setting in which the whites are situated on a platform above the stage, with the blacks placed below. The Negroes interact with audience members, pulling them into the entertainment.

The cast, individually and as an ensemble, reflects the discipline and hard work such physical theater requires. Jason Dixon is outstanding as the malevolent leader of the Negroes, Archibald Absalom Wellington. With his face painted like a clown and his manic grin a cross between a sneer and a smile, Dixon summons an image of the decadent master of ceremonies in "Cabaret."

Joseph Primes is equally memorable as the hotheaded Village, who loves the prostitute Virtue (the fetchingly seductive Andrea Belser). Neal Hodges impersonates a man of the cloth called Diouf, whose turn it is to play the white woman about to be raped and murdered.

The rest of the Negroes (fine performances all) include Michael R. Brown Jr, Janelle K. Tate, Erin Neal, and Saidah Mitchell as Felicity Trollop Pardon, an African prophetess who augurs an idyllic future when "everything gentle and kind and beautiful and tender will be black."

Members of the Court are Vernon-Reed Bulluck as the lascivious Governor, Jason Walker as the hypocritical Missionary, Dwayne Owens as the prejudicial Judge, Doug Pratt as a whining Valet, and Morris Cammon as the vulgar Queen who knits a pearly white sweater or strokes her snow-white dog when she isn't snoring.

In a production in which pantomime and movement play a key role, director Spivey's rampant imagination and inspired choreography are boundless. Though long and disorienting (as much a function of the play as written), the circus-like atmosphere keeps one's attention from flagging.

Genet wrote The Blacks as an indictment of French colonialism in Africa. But the parallels with the African-American experience, including slavery, racism, class prejudice, and a biased judicial system are unmistakably clear. While the historic injustices Genet rails against have been addressed in part, his play is a reminder that the color of one's skin is still very much a divisive issue.

Karamu Performing Arts Theatre is at 2355 East 89th St., Cleveland. 216-795-7077 or