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Release: July 2, 1999

Iowa Summer Rep's August Wilson festival concludes with 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa Summer Rep '99, "Out of the Blues: an August Wilson Festival," will conclude with the turn-of-the-century drama "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," directed by UI alumna and University of Northern Iowa faculty member Tisch Jones, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. July 15-17 and 22-24.

"Joe Turner's Come and Gone" is part of Wilson's projected cycle of 10 plays that look at central issues confronting blacks in each decade of the 20th century. Each of the plays in the series to date -- "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," "Fences," "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "The Piano Lesson," "Two Trains Running" and "Seven Guitars" -- explores how black characters, cut off from their African roots and haunted by the legacy of slavery, grapple with the evolving realities of their lives in 20th-century America.

Set in 1911, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" portrays the earliest period of the plays so far completed. The play's action takes place in a black Pittsburgh boardinghouse where African-Americans, only a generation away from slavery, are attempting to construct both free lives and a sense of identity. The boardinghouse is populated by a fascinating mixture of characters, including an eccentric voodoo practitioner, a young boy just up from the South and a mysterious stranger searching for his wife after several years of unjust imprisonment.

Weaving through their intertwining stories are poetic echoes of Yoruba spirituality, harsh memories of slavery, the sting of continuing discrimination and abuse, and the elusive lure of the American dream. The Joe Turner of the title comes from a W.C. Handy blues song describing the Tennessee governor's brother, who forced black men into involuntary servitude on his plantation long after the Civil War by seizing them on trumped-up legal charges.

"It is Wilson's epic vision, power and poetic sense that lift Joe Turner to strange and compelling heights," the critic of the New York Daily News wrote.

Jones, who helped transfer "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" to Broadway as an assistant to Circle Rep artistic director Lloyd Richards, is taking special care to help audience members understand the fusion of African and Christian spirituality that informs the play. She explains that the boarding house -- designed in this production in the shape of an Ethiopian cross -- becomes a symbolic ritual healing space, from which its occupants emerge transformed.

"'Joe Turner' is August Wilson's most challenging play, but I also know that it is his favorite," she says. "To give audiences a way to enter the spirituality of the play, I've added a brief prologue; we're putting up a display in the lobby about African and African-American spirituality; and we are heightening some of the ritual episodes to make them stand out more vividly."

Wilson has built one of the most successful careers in contemporary American theater -- including two Pulitzer Prizes and a Tony Award. He has been dubbed the "bard of Black America" for poetic plays that probe the roots and manifestations of the African-American experience.

"We have here some of the finest dramatic writing of this century, and it's a pleasure and a privilege to be working on it," says Eric Forsythe, the UI department of theatre arts faculty member who is the artistic director of Iowa Summer Rep. "Each play chronicles life in a different decade of the century, and each has its share of humor, music, human resilience and faith. Wilson is a powerhouse."

The Iowa Summer Rep production of "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone" features scenic design by Marcella Beckwith, costume design by faculty member Loyce Arthur, lighting design by faculty member Bryon Winn, musical direction/sound design by Mark Bruckner, and fight choreography by Kachingwe. The movement coordinators are Ralph Hall and Cheveevah Ferguson.

For many seasons Iowa Summer Rep has pursued a unique focus in American summer theater -- making each season a festival of plays by a single contemporary playwright. But the 1999 season also offers something new: For the first time Iowa Summer Rep has become an Actor's Equity Company, elevating its status as a professional theater company.

The Iowa Summer Rep production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" features Equity actors Michael T. Kachingwe, Eric Forsythe, Kenshaka Ali and Joyce McKinley.

Consistent with a popular Iowa Summer Rep tradition, theatergoers may dine beginning at
6 p.m. on the Theatre Building plaza before each evening performance, on food prepared by the Iowa Memorial Union food service to match the theme of the summer.

This season, at Aunt Mabie's Backporch Diner, the menu will feature versions of traditional African-American fare, including black-eyed peas, succotash, catfish, greens and peach cobbler. Reservations are recommended by calling 319-335-3105. No credit cards are accepted for dinner items.

Tickets to "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" are $16 ($12 for senior citizens, and $8 for UI students and children). Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available at the Theatre Building box office one hour before curtain time. Group rates are also available. An Iowa Summer Rep brochure, with complete information about productions and performance dates, is available from the Hancher box office or from the UI Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700.

The University of Iowa Community Credit Union is the corporate sponsor of Iowa Summer Rep.

Hancher summer box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

"Joe Turner's Come and Gone" contains material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the theater department for additional information.