PAST Productions Tackles Classic Ceremonies In Dark Old Men
PAST Productions returns to Columbus stages after mounting several productions and readings in the August Wilson Festival no one will soon forget. This time, they’re taking on the work of one of Wilson’s primary inspirations, Lonnie Elder III. Elder’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men opened last weekend in a production directed by Patricia Wallace-Winbush and runs through the next. PAST Productions are giving Columbus a vital chance to see a classic not often performed.
I spoke to the company’s artistic director, Truman Winbush, and he said, “PAST Productions Columbus has had this play on our radar since we formed five years ago.” Short-listed for the Pulitzer when it premiered in 1969, Ceremonies was hailed as “a phoenix too infrequent” by New York Times critic and tastemaker and called “the most truthful play I have seen in a long time” by no less than James Baldwin. Winbush said, “Ceremonies was perhaps his greatest work, but he was renowned for penning the film Sounder.”
Winbush said, “The play is special to me because it reminds me of the older gentlemen I grew up around. In the play, the main character Russell Parker is a barber and plays checkers with a friend almost daily. When I was 11 years old in 1969, I went to the barbershop with my dad on Mount Vernon Ave and he played checkers with a group of characters that I remember to this day. They would discuss the news of the day, sports, and signified at each other in good humor.”
The vivid characters and language in Ceremonies in Dark Old Men have attracted some of America’s finest black actors over the years, from Carl Lee, Douglas Turner, and Rosalind Cash in its premiere, to Billy Dee Williams, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Glynn Turner, Keith David, and Stephanie E. Williams, among many others. Winbush said, “This play is unapologetic in its blackness. The language is colorful and honest.” The cast for Columbus is a dream team including Ricardo Jones, Taylor Moss, Cheyanne Tutt, Scott Porter, and Lisa Shepherd.
Talking about the relevance of this material in the current day, Winbush commented, “His play is as relevant in the era of Donald J. Trump as it was in the era of Richard M. Nixon. The desire for self determination, and pride in community are as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1969. This is a powerful story about family.”
Ceremonies In Dark Old Men runs through June 10 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Friday and 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit pastproductionscolumbus.com.