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Tag: jim crow

Joe Turner’s In This Town

by on Jan.16, 2012, under The Sixth Boro, Theatre

Excited to report that August Wilson’s masterful Joe Turner’s Come and Gone opens on the mainstage of Plays & Players this Thursday, January 19th. The play is set in 1911, the same year Plays & Players was founded, which is part of the reason for its inclusion in our 100th anniversary season.  It’s also included because it’s a smart and powerful play, and because it’s part of our mission statement to bring greater diversity to Philadelphia’s theatre scene.

Wilson took the title from the old blues song Joe Turner, my favorite version of which is the one by Mississippi John Hurt:

They tell me Joe Turner’s in this town
They tell me Joe Turner’s in this town
He’s a man I hate, I don’t want him hangin’ around.

The song is about Joe Turney, aka Joe Turner, a real-life kidnapper of blacks during the Jim Crow South after the Civil War.  I quote liberally from usprisonculture.com:  “In the late 19th century, a man named Joe Turney became well-known in the South. He was the brother of Pete Turney who was the governor of Tennessee. Joe Turney had the responsibility of taking black prisoners from Memphis to the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. It is said that Joe would make a habit of distributing some of the prisoners to convict farms along the Mississippi River, where employers paid commissions to obtain laborers.

“According to Leon F. Litwack in his terrific book Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow:  ‘Most of the prisoners had been rounded up for minor infractions, often when police raided a craps game set up by an informer; after a perfunctory court appearance, the blacks were removed, usually the same day, and turned over to Turney. He was reputed to have handcuffed eighty prisoners to forty links of chain. When a man turned up missing that night in the community, the word quickly spread, ‘They tell me Joe Turner’s come and gone.’ Family members were left to mourn the missing (p.270).

“Joe Turney was the embodiment of the convict leasing system. ”

Set in a boarding house in Pittsburgh’s predominantly black Hill district during the Great Migration, this is a play about the search for identity, family and home after centuries of slavery.  It is at times heartbreaking, hilarious, musical and entertaining. In 1911 as emancipated slaves move north in search of employment and a chance to start over, Seth and Bertha Holly’s boarding house offers a new place to call home. Their routines are shaken when an angry and lost man arrives looking for his wife whom he hasn’t seen for years after he was captured and put in a chain gang by Joe Turner.  They are all forced to confront their own demons and come together to help the lost stranger find his way.

Don’t miss it. Get your tickets here.

Plays & Players Presents:
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone by August Wilson
Directed by Daniel Student
Starring Kash Goins, Damien Wallace, James Tolbert, Cherie Jazmyn, Jamal Douglas, Candace Thomas, Mlé Chester, Bob Weick, Lauryn Jones, Brett Gray, and Erin Stewart

 

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The Last Emperor

by on Jan.15, 1998, under Film/TV, NYC, Politics, The Press, Theatre

Now that the Cold War is over, maybe Paul Robeson can finally get a little respect

(Originally published in Time Out New York, 1/15/98.)

Jeffrey Stanley is the author of Joe Glory, a script about the Peekskill riots, written for director Barbara Kopple.  “Paul Robeson, A Centennial Retrospective” runs January 16-27 at Film Forum.

Big Fella: Robeson Reconsidered

If Bugs Bunny can have a stamp, why not Paul Robeson?  One of the greatest entertainers of the century, Robeson was a Broadway legend (one of the first black Othellos), an opera singer, a movie star and an outspoken political gadfly at a time when so-called Sambo roles were the norm for mainstream black performers.

Blackballed for his politics, Robeson is only now–on the centennial anniversary of his birth–receiving a measure of the respect that was denied him during his lifetime.  In addition to receiving a posthumous Grammy, he’ll be honored with special events in LA and Chicago, and beginning January 16, Film Forum will screen a retrospective of his films.  But the stamp is just too much to ask:  last month, the idea was rejected despite nearly 90,000 signatures on his behalf.

As Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones–a role for which the Columbia law-school graduate was handpicked by the playwright–Robeson became the first black actor on the white stage to portray a character who was not a stereotype.  Possessed of a mesmerizing baritone purr, he sang in some 20 languages.  And his commitment social justice would shame today’s most committed Hollywood celebs:  in 1933, he gave all his earnings from the film All God’s Chillun Got Wings to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

Between 1924 and 1943, he starred in 11 pictures, including the screen version of The Emperor Jones and black auteur (continue reading…)

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