Black is back at Mixed Blood Theatre. Not that it ever completely left, but the playhouse’s 43rd season, “Transforming the Impossible to the Probable” (2018-19), is strong on African American fare.
Five out of six scripts feature such subjects as the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, NFL player protests, and gender identity. “The art and science of picking our season,” Artistic Director Jack Reuler reflects, “[is looking at] …what’s in the world that needs to be talked about [and] the best vehicles to say that.”
Accordingly, on the boards are Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is, Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ Gloria, Tearrance Arvell Chisholm’s Hooded or Being Black for Dummies and Idris Goodwin’s Hype Man. Also, on tap is a yet-to-be-announced Broadway-bound property that’s pending clearance from the playwright’s agent.
Familiar artists from past Mixed Blood successes abound this season, including Thomas W. Jones II (Point of Revue, Barbecue), directing Hooded or Being Black for Dummies, and director Nataki Garrett, who helmed, among other shows, Octoroon and Neighbors.
The staging of Is God Is is something of a California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) comes to Mixed Blood occasion, enlisting CalArts alumni actress Dame-Jasmine Hughes, Garrett, Harris and set designer Christopher Hanlon.
Reuler delightedly says of the script, “It’s a spaghetti western revenge [story]. Sort of #MeToo on steroids and bloody.”
In Is God Is, twin sisters survive a house fire and are scarred in youth — physically, mentally and emotionally — with hideous burns. They eventually connect with Mom, who also escaped being fried alive and now has a lead on the whereabouts of the arsonist, the man of the family.
Mom sends them on a determined mission of cold-hearted retribution, dispatching any and everyone who gets in the way.
Reuler is equally pleased to provide the lowdown on added attraction, Zealous Hellions: Conversations with Rebels, Renegades and Rascal s— a conversational forum led by Ernie Hudson (Oz, Ghostbusters) and national theatre luminary Oskar Eustis.
Recalling how Hudson inspired him to found Mixed Blood, Reuler smiles. “Ernie, at Theatre in the Round (TRP) in 1975, played the James Earl Jones role in The Great White Hope. [TRP] has always been a community theater. So, when the run was done, and they wanted to extend it, he said, ‘I’ve done my volunteering as agreed.’”
Reuler continued, “If they wanted more work out of Hudson, he’d have to get paid. TRP refused. He walked. And, the next year, [he] returned to the role in a long-running production downtown. The point was… there were no opportunities for professional theatre artists of color.”
So, White, 21-year-old upstart Reuler decided to make a difference, occupying an abandoned firehouse across the bridge from TRP to put on plays that paid actors just like it did directors and everyone else.
This historic venture, it happens, saw Lou Bellamy star at Mixed Blood in LeRoi Jones’ Dutchman, then break off to found Penumbra Theatre Company, where Hudson not long ago starred in August Wilson’s King Hedley II.
It wouldn’t be Reuler if there wasn’t one oddball, off-the-wall offering. Hence, Ken LaZebink’s Autonomy, directed by Reuler, which he dubs drive-through theatre, a show about automobile horsepower. Auto-nomy. Get it? “You see the show from your car,” said Reuler.
“You drive to one scene, the sound comes into your car system, and then, minutes later, you drive to the next scene.
“There are three storylines tied together, like [the film] Crash, on automation, self-driving cars, climate change, race and unemployment — how all those things are connected,” he adds. To reiterate, only Jack Reuler — only at Mixed Blood Theatre.
Mixed Blood’s new season kicks off in September. For details on dates, times, and tickets, go to mixedblood.com.