DRAMA ON and OFF THE STAGE IN L.A.
The past Friday was not only one of the hottest days of the year in Los Angeles’, streets it was also one of the hottest nights especially at the Leimert 4th Annual staged reading festival the reading of Teddy Hayes’ “Papa’s Bathtub Gin” When after the first act the functionaries representing festival’s organizers abruptly announced to the director Buddy Butler that that performance would not be allowed to proceed beyond ninety minutes despite the act that the play reading had only been performed up to the end of the first act.
The play was going and gaining a momentum and at the end of the first act it was announced that due to festival regulations, that the play would be stopped and that a Q and A would follow.
It was at this point that all hell broke loose. Firstly producer Ian Foxx who stormed out from backstage and into the audience and abruptly announced that there would be no Q and A because it didn’t make sense as the audience had not been able to see the whole play, Within minutes his view was taken up by audience members who quickly rallied behind him and insisted that they wanted to see the rest of the play on the basis that 1. They had paid to see a complete play, and 2. They were thoroughly enjoying the play up and that they felt cheated if the play was stopped especially as the first act ended with a “who dun it” scenario that left the audience wondering what would happened in the second act.
After more shouts and protests from the audience Festival Director James Burkes rode in on his white horse to save the day and announced that the play would be allowed to continue.
So the play continued and the audience was vindicated because at the end of the play, the actors were handsomely rewarded by the audience with a standing ovation.
The play Papa’s Bathtub Gin is about a family of African American bootleggers in the 1930’s and the effect it had on both the economically deprived community as well as the family. Powerful performances of the family patriarch role played by veteran actor Richard Gant and his hoodoo woman sidekick played by Ursaline Bryant gave the audience a series of jolts that kept audience laughing as well as in awe.
The play was originally at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in London in 2016, and garnered so much attention that a campaign was started by audience members to get the show produced by U.K.’s National Theatre. Subsequently a group of London producers have embraced the show and are talking to theatres who are interested in taking the show in the future.
The buzz of the show brought out an array of black actors expressing interest in becoming involved in future productions included Antonio Fargas better known as Huggy Bear of Starsky and Hutch as well as Tony King, ( Shaft, Hell Up In Harlem).
In the Q and A that followed writer Teddy Hayes explained that this play was based on his family’s history and explained that his family was actually bootleggers in the depression era and that some of the acts in the play were those things that his family had actually participated in.
The audience responded with comments that the richness of the storytelling and the richness of authentic characters and poetic language mirrored an important but lost part of African American history and placed the work the same level as that of Pulitzer playwright August Wilson. Hayes went on to talk about his influences that stemmed from a legacy of black theatre started for him at the Karamu theatre in his hometown of Cleveland Ohio where he became connected with fellow Karamu Alumni and Obie award winning director Buddy Butler who joined him onstage. He went on to explain that he was most influenced by the black arts movement of the late sixties where he discovered playwrights like Lonnie Elder “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” and Norman Jordan “Cadillac Dreams”.
Producer Ian Foxx and director Buddy Butler said that the most important element of the show had been discovered which was that, the audience’s reaction had indicated that the show worked on both an artistic as well as commercial level and that they would now be interested in talking to theatres with the look towards developing the show into a full production in the US which would be the next step in the play’s development.
“If the audience reacted like this only to a staged reading, I can just imagine what the reaction will be with costumes, lighting and effects. The way the audience laughed and gasped throughout this play left no doubt in my mind that this play has what it takes to go all the way to Broadway.” said producer Ian Foxx.