CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
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
"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 Turners
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
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
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
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