Let’s talk about what it means to be a woman writer and a woman of color in a world of words populated primarily by men. And what it means to be a woman not of color with similar difficulties as you are, after all, a woman. What it means to sit down with your peers and discuss the difficulties, the undermining of your work, due simply to your sex. What does it mean to then look directly at each other with questioning, scrutinizing eyes and throw out games of words, truthful words, and what it means, in the end, to embrace self as well as your fellow travelers in the world of books and thoughts put down on paper for all to read? All of this and more is played out in the New Federal Theatre’s production of Wesley Brown’s Telling Tales Out of School.
What if four of the most prominent female writers of the Harlem Renaissance just happened to show up at the funeral of Alain Locke, the notable founding father of the Renaissance? It has been over two decades since any of them have been in touch, and there might be some catching up to do. The chance meeting must be taken as an omen and so they end up at Harlem’s Hotel Theresa to spend the day in one of the hotel’s rooms reminiscing, attacking, critiquing, and questioning each other and themselves and their place in the world. In the process discover not only their own truth but that of their fellow writers. As all such meetings must, they start properly with tea and then quickly move to the harder, more truth-seeking libations. And what if these women are Nella Larsen (Petronia Paley), Jessie Fauset (Richarda Abrams), Nancy Cunard (June Ballinger), and Zora Neale Hurston (Elizabeth Van Dyke)? They are distinguished and direct, stabbing at one another, and not in-the-back kind of way, these ladies are tough and can take it straight on.
Let the games begin!
This is a quick-witted, sharp, intelligent look at the world of the Harlem Renaissance and its artists. These women are each strong and fearless, witty and dry, considerate and caring. We, the audience, are the fly on the wall lucky enough to witness the clever, witty, and smart dialogue writer Wesley Brown has conjured for these four legends. Lucky enough to hear his machinations of outrage at Locke’s attacks on their works and the “eye rolling” jabs at one another and the elitism they face in a male world. They dance and play games with their words, a trivial pursuit of their own lives. They drink and send up stories and criticism of their male counterparts with aplomb and settle into one another with regard and respect.
Woodie King Jr. directs with a gentle hand, allowing us the pleasure of sitting with these icons of writing. Allowing them the privilege of sitting together. Silence is as important to the play and these character’s time together as the words are.
The performances are sublime, superb, and expert. The actors are at the top of their game, and they are thoroughly enjoying the back-and-forth banter of thoughts and ideas. They are not only women of art but broads of the world. It is a captivating, thought-provoking theatrical experience.
Telling Tales Out of School by Wesley Brown, directed by Woodie King, Jr.
With: Richard Abrams, June Ballinger, Petronia Paley, and Elizabeth Van Dyke.
Creative Team: Set Design by Chris Cumberbatch, Costume Design by Gail Cooper-Hecht, Lighting Design by Antoinette Tynes and Sound Design by Bill Tales, Assistant Stage Managers Fumiko Tanaka & Chrystal Campbell
New Federal Theatre (NFT) ASP/Castillo Theatre
543 West 42nd Street
Telling Tales Out of School runs from October 18 to November 12.
The playing schedule is Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM.
Running Time: 80 minutes, no intermission