The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites audiences to witness the new play development process firsthand on Thursday, September 10 with a virtual, staged reading of Black Like Me by Monty Cole. The play is based on the memoir of the same name by John Howard Griffin. This noir docudrama – which Cole will also direct – examines the fine line between allyship and appropriation.
In 1959, a white journalist sought a doctor’s help to temporarily darken his skin so he could pass as Black. He traveled the segregated South for three weeks and published his experiences in 1961. Griffin’s book has been celebrated by many as an indictment of racism, while others have described it as patronizing or offensive.
Cole, a Chicago-based artist, was compelled to express the conflicting feelings he experienced while reading the book, so he created modern-day Black characters to reenact the story, respond in real time to the events of the play and wrestle with their own concepts of equality and social justice.
“As I read Griffin’s book, I was simultaneously enticed and repulsed, understanding and critical, pushing back against it and being sucked into the Twilight Zone aspect of it,” said Cole.
Cole is a director, producer and playwright who has workshopped and directed new plays and re-imaginings of classic texts around the country, working with significant companies such as Steppenwolf, Center Theatre Group, The Goodman Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Cape Cod Theatre Project, Alley Theatre All New Festival, American Theatre Company, California Institute of the Arts and others. He directed the Jeff Award-winning production of The Hairy Ape for Oracle Productions.
Black Like Me is a juxtaposition of historical and contemporary, analytical and emotional, lighthearted and heartbreaking.
“Of the many doors that theatre opens, civic dialogue is one of my favorites,” said Hana S. Sharif, The Rep’s Augustin Family Artistic Director. “Monty Cole’s brilliant new play is a compassionate and creative entry point. The Rep is thrilled to elevate this artist and this work.”
Black Like Me is along the lines of the type of work Sharif said that she was eager to present when it was announced that she would take the helm of the award-winning theater company two years ago.
“To create authentic conversations to create space for the type and level of healing necessary to happen has been exciting to be a part of, but it’s not without its own set of challenges. It’s not an easy process, but it is a necessary one,” Sharif told The American in 2018.
“I feel like art has the power to liberate – and art has the power to transform lives and art has the power to heal. To be in a community where we can leverage that in order to create bridges with real understanding and where real conversations can happen – and not the pretense of conversation – that was important to me.”
In addition to Cole, the Chicago-based cast and artistic team of Black Like Me includes Dramaturg: Regina Victor, Project Manager: Christopher Maxwell and Actors: Adia Alli, Breon Arzell, Brianna Buckley, McKenzie Chinn, Joe Dempsey, Eric Gerard, Daniel Kyri and Netta Walker. They will workshop the script for four days and record a staged reading, incorporating the changes honed during those rehearsals.
The one-night-only staged reading of Black Like Me will be free and available for online streaming anywhere in the world at 7:30 p.m. on September 10. There are a limited number of “seats,” so those interested in viewing the virtual staged reading are encouraged to register early at https://tinyurl.com/Rep-reserve.
For more information, visit repstl.org or call The Rep Box Office at 314-968-4925 Mondays through Fridays between 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m