Park Square Theatre presents American Family, a world premiere commission, produced in association with Carlyle Brown & Company, March 16 through April 7. Marion McClinton, who directed his first play in 1981 in the old Park Square Court building, will direct this new work by playwright Carlyle Brown-who will also act in the production.
Set in Alabama, in 1964, the play opens on the playground where Mary Ellen Collins last saw her mother. At just nine years old, Mary Ellen had been taken away by her long-absent father after her mother was deemed unfit for marrying a black man. Now a young adult, Mary Ellen has finally read the letters her mother sent to her over the years since that terrible separation. From those letters, she learns about her half-brother, born after she was taken away, and reaches out to meet him for the first time. Sharing their stories, brother and sister begin to heal from the past, with the hope that the family comes back together.
The idea for this commission bubbled up after Park Square's production of Othello in 2009. James A. Williams, who was Othello and is featured as the grandfather in American Family, was working with Carlyle Brown in preparation for his role, directed by Richard Cook.
Williams, who was originally cast to appear in this production, will not appear. He has joined the cast of Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa!, being produced by New York's Signature Theatre. Williams will be replaced by Carlyle Brown, making his Park Square acting debut.
"Richard Cook has been extraordinary," says Brown. "He has given me great artistic freedom. It has truly been a collaborative venture, allowing me to bring into the process a constellation of artists that comprise Carlyle Brown & Company, to play roles written with them in mind."
"I have great respect for Carlyle," says Cook. "His exploration of what is the American identity tells a story important for our time. I have watched this new work evolve, and I am excited to present it to the community on Park Square's stage."
Brown was influenced by seeing the movie "One Potato, Two Potato" many years ago. He couldn't forget the parting scene as the young girl is being driven away, watching her mother running after the car. His play takes up the story where it ended, exploring the years following her separation from her mother.
"This is a new kind of play for me," says Brown. "I am exploring the American identity from an African-American perspective, but the central character is white. And I've never written a play with a female central character. My family experience was not combative or dysfunctional. It was supportive and loving. There are many negative notions of what black families are that undermines the power of those families. I am attracted to this story, where the strength of the black family reflects my experience."
American Family features Michael Terrell Brown (Tommy Richardson), Megan Fischer (Mary Ellen Collins-Richardson), Gavin Lawrence (Jimmy Richardson), John Middleton (Billy Collins), Tracey Maloney (Narrator), Greta Oglesby (Martha Richardson), Noel Raymond (Laura Collins-Richardson) and Carlyle Brown (Sonny Richardson).
Joining director McClinton, the production team includes Gabriel Backlund (Scenic Designer), Michael P. Kittel (Lighting Designer), C. Andrew Mayer (Sound Designer), Abbee Warmboe (Properties Designer) and Jessica D. Finney (Stage Manager).