Theater at the Woodland

The Magic Negro & Other Blackness by Mark Kendall

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) is delighted to present its third reading of its 2017-2018 staged reading series, Theater at The Woodland, with a presentation of THE MAGIC NEGRO AND OTHER BLACKNESS, written and directed by Mark Kendall. This event will be performed for one night onlyon Sunday, January 14th at 7:00pm at The Woodland (60 Woodland Rd. Maplewood, NJ), where MDR is the resident theater company. The reading is $20 (advance purchase), $25 (if purchased at the door) and open to the public. Student/Senior discounts are also available. Tickets can be purchased online through Eventbrite by clicking the link HERE.

Why do we laugh at the things that we do, and why are we sometimes a little wary laughing at others? Well, maybe it’s time to take a closer look. Mark Kendall uses a series of comedic sketches to examine the representation of black males in the media in his critically acclaimed one-man show. By dissecting common themes in representations of the African-American experience, from race cards to white flight, and Aunt Jemima to Black Jesus, Kendall will make you laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh.

And if you have ever pondered the idea that Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham might be racially charged, or whether it is possible to skip and listen to hip-hop at the same time, or for that matter, whether black people actually carry around race cards, then come laugh out loud and hear the Magic Negro lay down some comedic wisdom!

Originally created and produced at Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta.

About the play – a statement from the author

When I first wrote and performed “The Magic Negro and Other Blackity Blackness” back in 2014, I wanted to use comedy to explore how stereotypes can limit how we see black men in every day life. But after performing the material for a couple years, I began to wonder, are people understanding the satire, or am I just giving them an opportunity to laugh at stereotypes? This was something that I struggled with for a bit, and after a few revisions, I tried to address that inner-questioning more in the work. I wanted to point out that stereotypes are ridiculous, but why do they stick in the first place? And for me, when I see an audience start to question their own laughter, that’s when the real comedy can start.”



About the playwright – Mark Kendall

Mark Kendall first got into comedy while studying film at Northwestern University. He had a chance to work at Comedy Central through the Chris Rock Summer School Program for up and coming comedy writers of color. During his time at Comedy Central, Kendall got to pitch jokes to the writing staffs of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” Mark performs comedy in Atlanta at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company and Highwire Comedy, and also teaches improv and sketch writing. He is currently touring with his one man show “The Magic Negro and Other Blackity Blackness”, a sketch show that examines the depiction of black men in the media. For his work with the show, Kendall was named “Best Professional Funny Man” by Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Fear by Matt Williams

Cast Announced for Midtown Direct Rep Staged reading of FEAR, a new play by Matt William, directed by Mark Armstrong

Sunday, December 3 at 7:00pm at The Woodland in Maplewood, NJ

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) is delighted to present its second reading of its 2017-1018 staged reading series, Theater at The Woodland, with a presentation of FEAR, written by Matt Williams and directed by Mark Armstrong. This event will be performed for one night only on Sunday, December 3rd at 7:00pm at The Woodland (60 Woodland Rd. Maplewood, NJ), where MDR is the resident theater company. The reading is $20 (advance purchase), $25 (if purchased at the door) and open to the public. Student/Senior discounts are also available. Tickets can be purchased online through Eventbrite by clicking the link HERE.

The cast will feature MDR members Norbert Leo Butz (Broadway: My Fair LadyCatch Me If You Can, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Big Fish, Wicked, TV: Netflix’s Bloodline, PBS’s Mercy Street), Maury Ginsberg (Off-Broadway: Laugh It Up, Stare It Down. Regional: The Cherry Orchard, Mother Courage. TV: Elementary, Madam Secretary, The Blacklist, and HBO’s Vinyl) and Lucas Calhoun(Broadway/West End: The Elephant Man. Regional: Improv Olympic-West, The Second City Hollywood. TV: Madam Secretary, I love you but I lied, and Billions. Sawyer Nunes rounds out the cast (Broadway: Matilda, Finding Neverland. Regional: Something Wicked This Way Comes, Because of Winn Dixie. TV: Madam Secretary, Power and Instinct. Film: Breatharians, 37, Wonderstruck. Self-produced: 50/50Songs I Wrote in my Room.

About the play

A little girl’s disappearance in the woods near Princeton, NJ prompts a tense confrontation among a neighborhood plumber, professor, and teenage boy. In this gripping psychological thriller, three neighbors discover how far they are willing to go to defend the values – and the secrets – that define them.

About the playwright – Matt Williams

Matt Williams began his career with a collection of one-act plays entitled, Bruce Lee Is Dead and I’m Not Feeling Too Good Either. His one-act play, Jason and The Nun, won the Double Image Festival of Short Plays Award and was subsequently published by Samuel French. His first full-length play, Between Daylight and Boonville, premiered in New York to critical acclaim, and was later performed at the Kennedy Center as part of the American College Theater Festival. His comedy Faithful Wives and Healthy Children was included in the 2017 new play reading series at Penguin Rep. Most recently, Matt developed a psychological drama, Fear, at New Harmony, and will be doing further development at Midtown Direct Rep later this year.

Matt has directed over twenty productions in educational, regional and Off-Broadway theatres, working on everything from Neil Simon to Lanford Wilson. He directed the world premiere of Robby Benson’s musical Open Heart at the Cherry Lane Theatre and, along with Daryl Roth Productions and his partners at Wind Dancer, he co-produced the stage production of Camping with Henry and Tom. He and Wind Dancer co-produced The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin at Playwrights Horizons. Matt has received Emmy and Humanitas nominations and is the recipient of a shared Peabody Award.

Mr. Williams started his television career when he joined The Cosby Show during its premiere season and worked as a writer/producer for three subsequent seasons. He served as co-creator of A Different World, and is best known as the creator and Executive Producer of the hit series Roseanne and the co-creator and Executive Producer of Home Improvement.

In addition to his many credits, Matt serves on the board of The University of Evansville, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts (he also holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans), and is a founding board member of The New Harmony Project and the Cherry Lane Theatre. Matt is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University School of the Arts Theatre Program, and lives in New York with his wife, actress Angelina Fiordellisi, who is the owner and Artsitic Director at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Matt and Angelina are the proud parents of Matisse and Frederick.

About the Director – Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong is a Brooklyn-based theater director and the Executive Director for The 24 Hour Plays.Recent directing credits include Christopher Shinn’s, Falling Away, and The Coming World (Williamstown), Lucas Hnath’s Odile’s Ordeal (Williamstown), Dan O’Brien’s From Kandahar to Canada, Max Posner’s Old Folks, and 30 Million, a new musical with music and lyrics by Max Vernon, and book by Jason Kim (Keen Company). Other credits include development and directing work at Naked Angels, Primary Stages, New Dramatists, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Hartford Stage, Lincoln Center Theater, TheatreSquared, Roots & Branches, The New York Neo-Futurists, and many more. Mark is the former Director of New Work for off-Broadway’s Keen Company, where he created the Keen Playwrights Lab for mid-career playwrights and led Keen Teens, producing new plays with high school actors from the five boroughs of New York City. Mark is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and Lincoln Center Theater Director’s Lab.

About the Stage Manager – Sydney Golden

Previous credits Include: Broadway: American Psycho and Fiddler on the Roof; Off-Broadway: The Band’s Visit and The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois (Atlantic Theatre Company), If Only (Cherry Lane Studio Theater), The Mother of Invention (Abingdon Theatre Company); Showcases: A Wall Apart (NYMF); Touch (59e59); The Phillie Trilogy and The Fierce Urgency of Now (Wild Project); Readings: Gilded Girls (Drama League) Proud member of AEA.

About Theater at The Woodland
Midtown Direct Rep’s Theater at The Woodland is a series of readings of new plays and musicals in development, presented at The Woodland, right in the center of Maplewood Village. The readings include lively post-show discussions with the cast and creative team, fostering a fun and collaborative environment that allows the audience to be a part of the development of vital new works. Many of the works presented by this reading series have gone on to major productions off-Broadway, in regional theaters, and beyond.

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) is excited to continue its partnership with the Township of Maplewood, presenting its staged readings and other productions as the resident theater company of The Woodland (60 Woodland Rd. in Maplewood, NJ). MDR’s reading series, “Theater at The Woodland,” takes place in the Parlor, and larger productions, such as the well-known annual event Listen To Your Mother, are held in the Great Hall.

Something to Live For by rob zellers

Midtown Direct Rep (MDR) launches its 2017-18 reading series, Theater at The Woodland, with a free presentation of SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, a new play with music, written by Rob Zellers, directed by Billy Porter, with music supervision by Zane Mark and musical direction by Darryl Ivey. This event will be performed for one night only on Monday, October 2nd at 7:30pm at ­­­­­­The Woodland (60 Woodland Rd, Maplewood, NJ), where MDR is the resident theater company. The reading is free but reservations are required. Free General Admission Tickets can be reserved online through Eventbrite, by clicking here.

The cast will feature Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) as Billy Strayhorn; Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) as vocalists, including Lena Horn, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday; Norm Lewis (Porgy & Bess) as Duke Ellington; Nathan Darrow (House of Cards) as Jazz Drummer Mickey Scrima; Matthew J. Harrisas pianist Aaron Bridgers; with Brian Dykstra reading stage directions. Terrence Witter is Stage Manager.

The reading will be followed by a discussion with members of the creative team.

Click Here To Reserve Tickets

“It’s a thrill for us be bring such an exciting new work to open our second season in residence at the Woodland. We are delighted that, through our wonderful partnership with Maplewood Township, we can offer this special reading, with a spectacular creative team and cast, as a free event, open to the entire MAPSO community. It’s a great way to continue to build our audience, introducing more and more folks to what makes MDR such a unique and vibrant arts organization.” MDR Board Chair, Ondine Landa Abramson

“A new work featuring such highly respected theater professionals is custom made for the sensibilities of this community and wouldn’t be possible without the collaborative efforts of the Township and MDR.”  Maplewood Office of Cultural Affairs Manager Andrew Fishman

Something to Live For is presented by special arrangement with producer Steven Tabakin, a Midtown Direct Rep company member and its Artistic Producer.

About the play

Something to Live For tracks the extraordinary life, music and legacy of Billy Strayhorn, an often-overlooked giant in the history of jazz. His too- short life was filled with beauty and richness — from his youth in poverty in Pittsburgh, through the fateful first meeting with Duke Ellington, the turmoil and triumphs of the Civil Rights movement, the challenge of living in his era as an openly gay black man, and his struggles to forge a career and a legacy as a composer.

About Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio on November 29, 1915. His family soon moved to the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While still in grade school, he worked odd jobs to earn enough money to buy a used piano. While in high school, he played first piano in the school orchestra, studying under the same teacher, Carl McVicker, who also instructed pianists Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, and Ahmad Jamal.

Though classical music was Strayhorn’s first love, his ambition to become a classical composer was shot down by the harsh reality of a black man trying to make it in the classical world, which at that time was almost completely white. In his late teens, Strayhorn was introduced to the music of jazz musicians like Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson, began work on a musical Fantastic Rhythm, and founded a mixed race jazz combo called the Mad Hatters that played jazz clubs all around Pittsburgh.

Strayhorn met Duke Ellington in December 1938, between matinees of an Ellington appearance in Pittsburgh. After a quick backstage tryout, Ellington arranged for Strayhorn to join his orchestra when the band returned to New York.

The Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn partnership enjoyed remarkable success from the mid 1930s through mid 1960s, including such Strayhorn compositions as “Day Dream,” “After All,” “Satin Doll,” “Something to Live For,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Lush Life.” Despite their strikingly different backgrounds, sensibilities and styles, Strayhorn and Ellington were at the forefront of jazz and popular music until Strayhorn’s untimely death in 1967 at the age of 51.

About the playwright – Rob Zellers

Rob Zellers’ plays have been developed at Pittsburgh Public Theater, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Urban Stages, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, Cincinnati Playhouse, The Lark, PlayPenn, New Harmony Project, Youngstown Playhouse, Accessible Theatre Company of Boston, and Carnegie Mellon and Wake Forest Universities. He is co-author of The Chief, the most successful play in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s history, published by University of Pittsburgh Press and made into a feature film. Other plays: Harry’s Friendly Service, premiered Pittsburgh Public Theater 2009, Edgerton Award; Mr. Wheeler’s,premiered Pioneer Theatre Company’s 2015 Play-by-Play Series. Currently in development: Smokey Hollow, Safekeeping, and The Happiness They Seek. Rob is the recipient of Pittsburgh’s Tapestry Award in the Arts, Pittsburgh New Works Lifetime Achievement Award, and proud member of The Dramatists Guild.

About the director – Billy Porter

Billy is a Tony Award, Grammy Award, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-winner for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Lola in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical Kinky Boots. Recent television and film credits include The Get DownThe HumblingLaw & Order SVU. His solo recordings include: Untitled (A&M Records), At The Corner Of Broadway and SoulBilly’s Back On Broadway and Billy Porter Presents: “Soul Of Rogers.” He is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA (screenwriting). His play While I Yet Live had its premiere Off-Broadway in Fall 2014. Some directing credits include: Being AliveRent (associate, Off-Broadway), The Colored MuseumTopDog/UnderDogThe WizOnce On This Island (NAACP Award). Billy holds an honorary doctorate from Washington & Jefferson College.