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Release: June 24, 2002

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Cleage is pronounced “kleeg.”)

Iowa Summer Rep 2002 expands with Pearl Cleage’s ‘Bourbon at the Border’

The Iowa Summer Rep 2002 festival of plays by Pearl Cleage will expand with the opening of “Bourbon at the Border” -- a tale of revenge, murder, racism, insanity, disillusionment and forgiveness -- in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. The UI Department of Theatre Arts’ summer Actors’ Equity company will perform this story at 8 p.m. July 5-7 and 10; 2 p.m. Sunday, July 14; and 8 p.m. July 18 and 21-27.

In “Bourbon at the Border,” first staged at the Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 1997, Cleage deals with the aftermath of American historical events: A middle-aged couple in mid-1990s Detroit copes with the memory of their experience as young Civil Rights activists, when their attempts to register black voters in Mississippi during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 met with violent resistance. Now they struggle to live a simple, peaceful life, but some wounds will simply not heal. The bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, is visible from the apartment window of May and Charlie, and in guest artist Scott Bradley‘s scene design, this border imagery looms over the action.

“’Bourbon at the Border’ is a complex, delicate love story,” says guest director Marvin L. Sims, the head of performance at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The play demonstrates the unending love and bond between two beings who are victims of their own dreams for a satisfying and meaningful life together. May has remained Charlie's champion for over 30 odd years, through all kinds of turmoil and tragedy. We meet both of them in the play at their most vulnerable points of saturation from life's thrashings.

“I am directing the play using the metaphor of an incoming severe storm. The characters are on a tall ship in the midst of uncharted waters. Cleage uses the following quote from LeRoi Jones’ ‘Dutchman’ as a preface to this script: ‘If Bessie Smith had killed some white people she wouldn't have needed that music. She could have talked straight and plain about the world. No metaphors. No grunts. No wiggles in the dark of her soul. Just straight two and two are four. Money. Power. Luxury. Like that. All of them. Crazy niggers turning their backs on sanity. When all it needs is that simple act. Murder. Just murder! Would make us all sane." It is a very unfair world in which we live, and sometimes innocent bystanders are the victims of life's unfairness.”

It was important to Cleage, a Detroit native, that the characters in “Bourbon at the Border” were depicted as regular working people, not legendary radicals or rarified intellectuals. “There’s this feeling that everyone in the civil rights movement was either martyred and killed or they not only survived but went on to be elected mayor or go to Congress,” Cleage to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. “It’s a feeling that everybody involved was a great warrior.”

Calling the play “tight, dramatic, and very powerful” Raymond Dean Jones wrote for Colorado’s Urban Spectrum, “I highly recommend this play for its historical content and its powerful dramatic effect. It may leave you wondering what, indeed, is insanity; or, more to the point, what is sanity.” A review on KDHX radio in St. Louis described “Bourbon at the Border” as “a richly complex story that is profoundly tragic, yet one with a curious warmth.”

UI alums Ajeye Feamster and Michael T. Kachingwe are joined in the “Bourbon at the Border” cast by UI faculty member Tisch Jones and Equity actor Geoffrey D. Williams. The production features lighting by UI graduate student Liza Williams and costumes by UI Master of Fine Arts student Cynthia Galikin, craft shop supervisor at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Now an Equity actress, Feamster had several prominent roles when she was a UI student, including “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “King David” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Kachingwe is a Summer Rep veteran, and in addition to acting a recurring role on the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” he has performed and directed for many regional theaters, and he taught for several years at Northern Illinois University.

Williams, a guest from Atlanta, has performed in numerous regional theatres, and his film and television credits include “I’ll Fly Away,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Black and White,” “World Traveler,” the HBO special “Boycott,” and “Separate But Equal” with Sidney Poitier and Burt Lancaster.

Jones is a UI alumna -- she taught and directed Black Action Theatre as a graduate student -- who joined the faculty of the UI Department of Theatre Arts last fall after teaching at Spelman College and the University of Northern Iowa.

Cleage, who has been playwright in residence at Spelman College and at the Just US Theater Company in Atlanta, has written plays that have been produced professionally for more than 20 years. But she was boosted to a new level of public awareness when Oprah’s Book Club recommended her novel “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day” in 1997. Her most recent novel, “I Wish I Had a Red Dress,” won the top fiction honor in the 2002 Literary Awards of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc.

The themes of Cleage’s plays began to form early in her life, as the daughter of a minister and a school teacher. She recalled, “By the time I was eight or nine, I understood clearly that slavery and racism had created a complex set of circumstances that impacted daily on my life as an African-American. . . I also knew that as a person who had the advantage of growing up in a house where there were books, it was my responsibility once I achieved adulthood to work consciously to ‘uplift the race,’ or at least as much of it as I could, given limited resources, human frailty and the awesome implacability of the group itself.”

Before dedicating her energies to writing, Cleage worked at a variety of jobs in the media, including host of a black-oriented interview program in Atlanta. In the mid-1970s, she served as director of communications for the city of Atlanta and press secretary for Mayor Maynard Jackson.

Cleage’s essays have appeared in Essence, the New York Times Book Review, Ms., Atlanta Magazine, Pride, Black World, the Afro-American Review and other publications. She has been a columnist for the Atlanta Gazette, the Atlanta Tribune and the Atlanta Constitution, and she was the founding editor of Catalyst, a literary magazine.

Cleage’s other books include the poetry collections “We Don’t Need No Music,” “Dear Dark Faces” and “One for the Brothers”; the essay collection “Deals with the Devil: And Other Reasons to Riot”; the short-story collection “The Brass Bed and Other Stories”; and the non-fiction work “Dreamers and Dealmakers: An Insider’s Guide to the Other Atlanta.”

Tickets to the Iowa Summer Rep 2002 production of “Bourbon at the Border” are $17 ($13 for senior citizens and $9 for UI students and youth.” Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

“Bourbon at the Border” tickets are also available at a substantial discount as part of an Iowa Summer Rep 2002 subscription. A subscription, which also includes tickets to Cleage’s “Blues for an Alabama Sky” and “Flyin’ West,” is $40 ($31 for senior citizens and $22 for UI students and youth).

Free Iowa Summer Rep 2002 brochures are available, including Cleage’s bio, information about the plays, a full festival schedule and order forms for series packages. The brochures are available for pick-up at the Hancher Auditorium box office or the Theatre Building lobby, and they may be requested from either the Hancher box office or the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. The Hancher box office may be contacted by phone at 335-1160 in the local calling area or toll-free at 1-800-HANCHER, or by e-mail at < >. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology. Iowa Summer Rep individual tickets will be on sale online at < >.

Light picnic fare from the food service of the Iowa Memorial Union will be available on the Theatre Building plaza, overlooking the Iowa River, before 8 p.m. performances. The “Cotton Club Cafe” will begin serving at 6 p.m. Reservations are recommended, by calling 319-335-3105.

The department of theatre arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts. For UI arts information, visit < > on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact < >.

For many seasons Iowa Summer Rep has pursued a unique focus in American summer theater with its single-playwright festivals, but three seasons ago Iowa Summer Rep also became an Actor’s Equity Company, elevating its status as a professional theater company. Iowa Summer Rep is made possible by the support of the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.