Tony winner Chuck Cooper will complete the star-studded cast of the upcoming Roundabout revival of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The Roundabout’s production, under the artistic direction of Todd Haimes, will be playing on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre. The Cherry Orchard marks Cooper’s fourteenth Broadway show.
Cooper, who was last seen on Broadway in the 2015 historical fiction musical drama Amazing Grace, is set to take on the role of Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pishchik. Throughout the play, Pischik, a landowner and aristocrat who has fallen into financial ruin, relentlessly deliberates undergoing new business ventures that could save him while pestering Ranyevskaya and the Gayevs for a loan, instead of earning the funds all by himself.
Cooper, a veteran stage actor, won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance as the tough-as-nails pimp Memphis in Cy Coleman’s The Life, opposite Lillias White. His other Broadway credits include Act One, Romeo & Juliet, Finian’s Rainbow, Lennon, Chicago, Getting Away With Murder, Passion, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Rumors, Amen Corner, and Caroline, Or Change. On screen, he recently appeared as a guest star on TV series such as “The Good Wife,” “House of Cards,” “Madame Secretary,” “Gossip Girl,” “Nurse Jackie” and the HBO drama film, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.
Earlier this week, Roundabout previously announced the casting of Harold Perrineau (HBO’s “Oz,” FX’s “Sons of Anarchy”), as Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin. The production marks Perrineau’s first appearance on Broadway since starring in the 1987 return engagement of Dreamgirls, 29 years ago. The actor last appeared in the Atlantic Theater Company’s 2002 production of Blue/Orange. Cooper and Perrineau will be joined by a handful of diverse actors that include Maurice Jones (Little Children Dream of God), Aaron Clifton Moten (The Flick), Ian Lassiter (An Octoroon, War Horse) and Carl Hendrick Louis(Little Children Dream of God, Sunset Baby).
The new adaptation of The Cherry Orchard is penned by Stephen Karam, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright who won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play for The Humans, which also originated at Roundabout before transferring to Broadway. Unlike previous productions, this one, directed by Simon Godwin (Associate Director of the Royal National Theatre in London; making his Broadway debut), is perhaps one of the more diverse productions of a Chekhov play in a commercial Broadway theatre.
Academy Award nominee Diane Lane will headline the company of actors, playing the role of Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya, a Czarist aristocratic landowner living in Russia on the brink of revolution. In the play, the character reunites her family at their estate in the countryside before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage in a bid to delay foreclosure. The show also stars Tavi Gevinson (The Crucible, 2016 revival) as Anya, Tony winner John Glover (Love! Valour! Compassion!) as Gaev, three-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger (Peter and the Starcatcher, 2014 revival of The Glass Menagerie) as Varya, and Tony winner Joel Grey (Cabaret, Wicked) as Firs. Additional casting includes Tina Benko, Susannah Flood, Quinn Mattfeld, Peter Bradbury, Philip Kerr, Lise Bruneau and Jacqueline Jarrold in the ensemble.
The Cherry Orchard will begin preview performances on September 15, 2016, and opens officially on Sunday, October 16, 2016. This is a limited engagement through December 4, 2016 on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street). Additional casting will be announced soon. Tickets are available by calling (212) 719-1300, online at roundabouttheatre.org and in person at any Roundabout box office.
We Were There: Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Playwright, educator, opera singer, and Queen, Mfoniso Udofia has two plays running at New York Theatre Workshop. *pause* TWO PLAYS. In the SAME season!?!? *ends congratulatory gasp* Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are performed in repertory, as two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle. Admittedly, before researching each show, I didn’t know the definition of either word; and in the spirit of keeping it consistent with the honesty, I didn’t like either play. I loved them.
Minimalism seems to be the name of the game these days. I sat down to a completely black stage, sans a multimedia display lodged on the ceiling at a 45-degree angle. Clutching my all white program and bobbing my head to the ‘70s pop rock pre-show music, I prepared my heart for the story of Sojourners, well at least that was the plan. The stage begins to rotate and we meet Abasiama (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong (Hubert Point-Du Jour), Nigerian expatriates sojourning in Houston, Texas with the plan to start a family, earn their degrees, and go back to Nigeria until life happens.
Charming and handsome, Ukpong becomes defined by his leather jacket, shoulder work and shimmy which match the fascination and yearning for freedom that illuminates his eyes every time he talks of peace, protest, and Prince–all shaping his view of 1970s America, and consequently, the American Dream. But does leather compensate for grit? Is a movement or vibe really a panacea for disappointment, aimlessness, and a need to find yourself? Abasiama enters the play pregnant, purposed, and outfitted in pieces of Nigerian garb, grounded in duty showing a stark contrast to Ukpong who floats in desire. What’s lost in your household is found elsewhere, and this is when we start to see, and root for, Abasiama’s transformation from timid to tenacious.
Enter Moxie (Lakisha May), a colorful prostitute turned protector and friend. There is a mutual respect despite great differences between her and Abasiama, with their love for one another creating moments that make you believe in the beauty of humanity. Enter Disciple (Chinaza Uche), another warm and determined hearted immigrant who has come to the United States to study, rounding out the timely additions of love, support, and security when Abasiama needed them the most.
Through and through this is Abasiama’s story and she glows. Her kindness, her sisterhood, her strength, her worthiness, and the realization of her American Dream, guide her decisions—which is the catalyst behind the entire Ufot Cycle.
Her “portmanteau”, or red suitcase, makes a return as 30 years have passed. Abasiama now has two daughters, one raised in America and the other who has come from Nigeria to reconnect with her family.
This is a good moment to mention that each story is informed by the other, but can certainly stand alone on substance, content, and the amazing direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. The staging is exciting and deliberate, while minimal, putting the full focus on the tension and growth to be expected of a family reunited after a substantial amount of time and distance.
Chinasa Ogbuagu returns to the stage, this time as the American-born daughter, Adiagha Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Ukpong and Abasiama’s daughter), and Jenny Jules as the mother, Abasiama Ufot.
Seated on a couch in Adiagha’s small New York Apartment, no amount of preparation readies your mind and spirit to form the words to make up for 30 years of life, connection, and memories missed. We’re taken on a ride of resentment, hurt, love, and forgiveness, as the portmanteau is literally unpacked. We watch the teeter-tottering between offense and defense as one sister tries to assimilate into American culture, and the other attempts, albeit stubbornly, to fall in formation in honoring a family she shares blood with, but little time or tangible history.
It’s powerful to see a story of history and continuing a legacy despite lost time, faulty promises, and difficult choices explored with an all-woman cast as far too often the idea of legacy is framed in patriarchy. Jules admirably takes Abasiama through the fire to heal, to feel, and to fix her family. The narrative allows us to empathize and understand the struggle that comes with upholding family values versus cultivating a space to achieve personal dreams and happiness.
Her Portmanteau (and Sojourners) is written in a way that finds your soul, gently massaging it with humor, while leaving it with very real questions. I’ve never felt a greater need to binge read nine stories and simultaneously study the story of my own family tree. I left changed. I left wrapped in the strength of my mom and my mom’s- mom’s sacrifice. I left pensive and with seeds of future forgiveness planted. I left changed.
For capturing our hearts with wit and with truth. For putting Black women at the center of a poignant narrative. For unapologetically telling a story you haven’t seen told and telling it in the way you want it to be told.
We thank you Mfoniso. We thank you.
Have you seen the #duetplays? Sound off in the comments below![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price: Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
Last winter, we reported on Sojourners by playwright Mfoniso Udofia, a new play about a Nigerian family who has come to America with the goal of earning a college education, starting a family, and returning to Nigeria. But not without the twists and turns that come along with every plan that seems straightforward.
Thanks to New York Theatre Workshop, we get to relive this moment and continue the dialogue, decades later, with Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family.
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar directs the two-part story in association with The Playwrights Realm, who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production. Her Portmanteau also received the 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we have an exclusive deal for our Broadway Black readers!
Our Story in 2 Plays for 1 Price!
Yes. That’s two shows for one price! The discount code BWYBLACK will take 50% off tickets to ANY performance(s) if purchased by May 15th!
Go ahead and grab your tickets. We have ours!
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau plays at NYTW until June 4th.