CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: June 4, 1999
Iowa Summer Rep's August Wilson festival opens with
'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa Summer Rep '99, "Out of the
Blues: an August Wilson Festival," will open with the musical drama "Ma Rainey's
Black Bottom," June 22 through July 3 in the David Thayer Theatre of the University
of Iowa Theatre Building.
Performances will be at 8 p.m. June 22-26; at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. Sunday, June 27; and at 8 p.m. June 29 through July 3.
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," directed by Iowa Summer
Rep veteran Mary Beth Easley, is set in a 1927 recording studio, where the
interactions of an African-American blues singer and her band with each other
-- and with her white manager and the white owner of the studio -- reveal
much about the origin and meaning of the blues in black America.
"The blues is the bedrock of everything I do," Wilson
has explained. "It's the best literature we have. All the ideas and attitudes
of my characters come straight out of the blues. It's a cultural response
of Africans to the world they find themselves living in."
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," based on the life of the
"Mother of the Blues," was a breakthrough play for Wilson. Written in 1981,
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" gained Wilson admission to the O'Neill Theatre
Center in 1982, and became his first major production, with acclaimed Broadway
and touring productions beginning in 1984.
Although the play is not a musical, in the traditional
sense, it includes performances of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" by Ma Rainey;
Louis Armstrong's "Hear Me Talkin' to You"; and "Doctor Jazz" by Joseph Oliver
and Walter Melrose. Historical recordings of Ma Rainey are also featured in
Calling the play "funny, salty, carnal and lyrical,"
Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote, "it floats on the same authentic artistry
as the blues music it celebrates." The Broadway production's director, Lloyd
Richards, wrote, "What a playwright needs is wit and wisdom and great respect
for life. These qualities cannot be taught. August Wilson has them."
The success of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" launched
Wilson into 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 "Ma Rainey's Black
Bottom" features scenic design by Alison Ford, costume design by Kaoime Malloy,
lighting design by Bryon Winn, musical direction/sound design by Mark Bruckner,
choreography/movement by Cecil Slaughter and fight choreography by Michael
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.
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
Tickets to "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" 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.
Tickets are also available at a substantial discount
as part of an Iowa Summer Rep season subscription. Other Wilson plays in the
festival are the Pultizer Prize-winning "Fences" and "Joe Turner's Come and
Gone." 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.
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. This number will be answered
by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking,
wheelchair access and seating and other services. The line is equipped with
TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" 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