June 3, 2008

It’s August in June: Juneteenth Jamboree debuts controversial new plays

It’s a year sure to generate some heated post-show discussions. 

Juneteenth Legacy Theatre pays tribute this month to Pulitzer- and Tony-award-winning playwright August Wilson. Guest artists from the St. Louis Black Rep theater company, Ron Himes and Linda Kennedy, will present excerpted scenes and monologues from all 10 of Wilson’s plays. Himes and Kennedy, along with Obie-winning New York director Sue Lawless, direct, act and choreograph seven other Juneteenth Jamboree-staged readings. They will also judge the “Juneteenth@Apollo” community talent showcases. Three Louisville playwrights — Gloria Pressley-McGruder, Muriel Wharton and Caroleanne Conerly-Griffin — will premiere their plays at the festival as well.

This year’s festival focuses on the African-American family, both in comedies and dramas. Lorna Littleway, founder and producing director of Juneteenth Legacy Theatre, calls this festival particularly politically controversial, which is “fitting in an election year,” she says. She’s thrilled that members of St. Louis Black Rep will help with the Wilson salute. “It’s been exciting to read all 10 of Wilson’s plays and select scenes that underscore his unique ability to mix the personal and historical,” she says.

Other plays explore contemporary issues, such as th

August on Juneteeth: Juneteenth Legacy Theatre pays tribute this month to Pulitzer- and Tony-award-winning playwright August Wilson.
August on Juneteeth: Juneteenth Legacy Theatre pays tribute this month to Pulitzer- and Tony-award-winning playwright August Wilson.

e toll of war on soldiers and their families. One of the more controversial plays at this year’s Jamboree is “Through the Roof,” a musical drawing on Zydeco traditional music that illustrates the Faustian-like history of flooding in New Orleans. Playwright Rick Mitchell says, “Like the Great Flood of the Bible, the Lisbon Earthquake and the first atomic bombing, Hurricane Katrina is an epic event. The story of Katrina, which is still being written, includes elements that are mythical, natural and, most importantly, historical and political.” 

The horrors that ensued have more basis in history and racial inequality than in nature, Mitchell says. “Calling Hurricane Katrina a ‘natural disaster’ is, in fact, highly deceptive, because there is nothing ‘natural’ about poor people being disproportionately affected by a flood that could have been prevented. While the social injustices related to Katrina are enormous, and often race-related, there’s a mythical side to this event too, which cannot be reduced to social explanation. Yet even myth, which helps people to grapple with forces that seem beyond them, cannot escape history.”

The play moves through time, from the mid-19th century’s Yellow Fever epidemic to racial conflict on the levees in the early 20th century and to the Great Flood of 1927. “The play incorporates mythical elements that help to emphasize the epic role played by New Orleans throughout an American history that, even today, can’t seem to shake the rampant racism and greed that help to make nature disastrous,” Mitchell says. 


Red Program:

June 6 

8 p.m. — “A Tribute to August Wilson” 


June 7

2 p.m. — “Breaking Down Monologues” workshop & Youth Apollo Contestant Performance

5:30 p.m. — “Juneteenth@Apollo” Round 1

8 p.m. — “Bringing Back Josephine” by Gail Parrish

Black Program:

June 13

8 p.m. — “Ghosts With Insomnia” by Richard Fewell

8 p.m. — “A Soldier’s Daughter” by Gloria Pressley-McGruder 


June 14

2 p.m. — “Breaking Down Monologues” workshop & Youth Apollo Contestant Performance

5:30 p.m. — “Juneteenth@Apollo” Round 2 

8 p.m. — “Through the Roof,” a musical by Rick Mitchell and Max Kinberg. 


Blue Program:

June 20

8 p.m. — “Pomp and Circumstance” by Roger Collins


June 21:

2 p.m. — “Breaking Down Monologues” workshop 

5:30 p.m. — “Juneteenth@Apollo” Round 3

8 p.m. — “The Heart of the Beast” by Caroleanne Conerly-Griffin

8 p.m. — “The Stoop” by Muriel Wharton 


Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com


9th Annual Juneteenth Jamboree

of New Plays

June 6-21

Actors Theatre

316 W. Main St.