Acclaimed director Lou Bellamy to lead two one-act plays

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February 9, 2018

The old adage, “To know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you’re coming from” will ring true for a pair of one-act plays produced by the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University Theater Department Feb. 22-27.

Lou BellamyAcclaimed director, actor, producer, entrepreneur and educator Lou Bellamy, who founded and is artistic director emeritus of the Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, will direct the plays, which are entirely cast with CSB and SJU students of color.

“Black Satire: One Acts from the Black Arts Movement” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22-24 and Feb. 26-27, and 2 p.m. Feb. 24-25 at the Colman Black Box Theater, Benedicta Arts Center, CSB. The performance consists of two one-act plays, “Day of Absence” and “Contribution.”

The plays will “provide comment on several issues that Americans find very difficult to engage,” Bellamy wrote in his director’s statement. “We often find ourselves engaged in discussions, the terms of which have complex historical determinants and long-standing social and racial mores. Though not overtly present, these narratives often frustrate contemporary intercultural exchange.

“‘Day of Absence’ and ‘Contribution,’ both plays written in the 1960s, interrogate perceptions on both ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness,’ ” Bellamy added. “We intend to use these satirical dramatizations and 1960s tropes to stimulate and bring into focus our present-day conceptions of self and other.”

“Day of Absence,” written by Douglas Turner Ward, has been called a reverse minstrel show performed by people of color in “white-face.” Ward uses satire to depict an imaginary Southern town where all the persons of color have disappeared overnight.

“Contribution,” by Ted Shine, is set just hours before a sit-in at a drugstore where African-Americans have historically been refused service. A young black man clashes with his grandmother on how they should respond to white power.

“We will use humor, exaggeration as well as pathos to explore complex racial and economic relationships that resonate and determine today’s racial topography,” Bellamy wrote. “It is my dearest hope that our company can create a safe space where we can laugh at ourselves while discovering the ways in which we are both trapped and liberated by our history.”

Bellamy is in residence at CSB and SJU in the weeks leading up to the performances. He is the first African-American director to stage a production at CSB and SJU, according to Kaarin Johnston, professor of theater at CSB and SJU.

“Part of the reason I was hoping that he could be our guest director is that he has lived through so much history,” Johnston said. “He can help our students see the past from a living perspective.”

Since Bellamy founded Penumbra in 1976, the company has evolved into one of America’s premier theaters dedicated to the dramatic exploration of the African-American experience. The theater has produced 39 world premieres, including August Wilson’s first professional production, which was directed by Bellamy. It has produced more of Wilson’s plays than any other theater in the world.

Tickets for the production are $10, with general admission seating. For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or order online.