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Karl Williams' The Black That I Am, to receive off Broadway run

Published:Sunday | February 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Jamaican actor and playwright Karl O’ Brian Williams

The Black That I Am, the multi-award winning play by Jamaican actor and playwright Karl O' Brian Williams, will have its New York premiere as part of the city's Black History Month cultural celebrations, with a limited run in Queens as well as Off Broadway, from February 25 to March 8.

The production will run at The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, Queens, from February 25 through March 1, before moving Off Broadway to the Roy Arias Studio Theater in Manhattan, from March 4 through March 8.

The production follows on the heels of Williams' popular domestic drama, Not About Eve, which premiered at Roy Arias in 2012 and enjoyed a highly successful run, culminating in its official selection for the 2013 National Black Theater Festival in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

The Black That I Am is a dramatic exploration of black identity seen from a Caribbean perspective. The 90-minute production unfolds through a series of monologues, woven together with movement and music, and addresses issues such as race, gender, sexuality and nationalism.

The dynamic cast - comprised of seven established and up-and-coming New York actors - will create nearly two dozen characters, bringing the monologues to life, and includes Andrew Clarke, Shayne Powell, Ilana Warner, Jovaun Black, Shykia Fields, Christopher Bazemore and Alana Barrett Adkins.

The show is directed by New Jersey native, Kelly Thomas, co-founder of the Akoma Newark Sister Circle, an organisation dedicated to producing socially and politically relevant cultural programming in and around Newark.

 

successful production

 

While this will be the New York premiere of Williams' critically acclaimed work, The Black That I Am has had a highly successful production history dating back nearly a decade.

The production began as a poem Williams wrote while visiting New York in 2003. He expanded the poem to a full-length production, by adding the monologues at the suggestion of Brian Heap, director of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies (Mona).

Heap went on to produce and direct the world premiere of the work with The University Players acting company in 2005, and the resulting production earned three International Theater Institute 'Actor Boy' Awards for Best New Jamaican Play, Best Director (Heap) and Best Supporting Actress (Monique Caesar).

In 2014, the world-famous National Theater of Scotland selected four monologues from the piece for one of their major theatrical production series, earning excellent reviews and giving the play its first international exposure.

 

exciting, vibrant, timely

 

For award-winning actor and vocalist Andrew Clarke, who performs in the latest incarnation of the show and produces it as well under the banner of his Braata Theatre Workshop, the timing of the 2015 New York premiere could not be better.

"Although the show was first produced in Jamaica nearly 10 years ago," he says, "it remains exciting, vibrant and very timely, even with relatively minor tweaks from Karl. What we have witnessed in race relations here in the USA in the past two years with Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, and others, is a reminder that we still have much to think about regarding how individuals of different backgrounds can best coexist in our modern society. The Black That I Am is a true reflection of this dilemma and will give all its audiences much food for thought."

Additionally, according to playwright Williams, the Caribbean perspective of the piece adds yet another dynamic.

"Caribbean immigrants to the USA have an additional hurdle in fitting into this society, because we are often treated by some as part of the African-American community, while in reality, the African-Americans themselves do not regard us as such. So we as Caribbean people have to find our own place in this dynamic and our own ways of coping with being 'double outsiders,' if you will. The Black That I Am addresses these feelings of confusion, hurt and yearning to belong. It is a terrific addition to the New York cultural landscape for Black History Month, but will generate conversations that will hopefully go on for a long time after that."

The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning is located at 161-04 Jamaica Avenue in Queens, New York. The Roy Arias Studios and Theaters are located at 300 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue in Manhattan.