New Federal Theatre Tells Tales

Underbellies of the Harlem Renaissance Directed by Woodie King, Jr.

By: - May 04, 2023

Four women writers of the Harlem Renaissance meet in "Telling Tales Out of School" by Wesley Brown, directed by Woodie King, Jr.

Leave it to Woodie King Jr., founder of the New Federal Theatre (NFT) over a half-century ago, to develop a play that gives us the unique voices of four of the Harlem Renaissance’s most distinguished writers.  All are women.

Playwright Wesley Brown finds his characters at the funeral of Alain Locke. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are going to teach our children that Plato and Aristotle are not the founding philosophers.  They are Alain Locke and W.E.B. Dubois. " Note: Way before affirmative action became an issue, both Black men went to Harvard.  

At Locke’s funeral, Zora Neale Hurston, Nancy Cunard, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen find each other.  Cunard invites them for tea at her suite in the Hotel Theresa, near the Abyssinian Baptist Church where the funeral has taken place.  Each woman has a unique voice that flows from her written words.  

These women hold much interest for the current Black theater. They have inspired Dominique Morrisey, Suzi Lori Parks, Ntozake Shange and Lynn Nottage.

Lorraine Hansberry was the first Black playwright to be produced on Broadway.  Her “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” will be revived.  The original production was dismissed because it focused on politics, not Blackness. 

Yet Zora Neal Hurston, years before, had come forward as very much herself, a person.  Her punchy, sharp vocabulary abounds in the new play. She does not dwell on her Black issues.

Nella Larsen had retreated to nursing, battered by harsh criticism of her work.  Larsen's book "Passing" was adapted into the acclaimed 2021 film of the same name by Rebecca Hall.

Jesse Fauset was literary editor of "The Crisis," the official magazine of the NAACP, and played a key role in promoting African American literature during the early 20th century. She authored four novels, numerous short stories, and advocated for education and civil rights throughout her life.

Nancy Cunard is white.  She famously focused on the underclass.  After a hot affair with a Black musician, she took up the cause of Negroes.

The women start with tea and end up with whiskey in their teacups.  Revelations become increasingly deep and stark.

The evening is directed by King and features Richarda Abrams, June Ballinger, Petronia Paley and Elizabeth Van Dyke, recently winner of an AUDELCO Award for her performance in Wedding Band at Theatre for a New Audience.  She is Producing Artistic Director of the NFT.

Broadway bound?  Come hear a reading and join the discussion.  

May 2 to 7, 2023

Presented by New Federal Theatre, Elizabeth Van Dyke Producing Artistic Director, in association with Castillo Theatre at ASP/Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street.

Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM