-Courtesy of Perpetual Motion PR
photo: directors Zuhairah McGill and Steven Anthony Wright
Quintessence Theatre Group, Philadelphia’s professional classic repertory theatre, concludes Season XII: Breaking the Cycle with a rotating repertory of Pearl Cleage’s epic historical fiction Flyin’ West and Alexandre Dumas fils’ enduring tragic romance Camille. The repertorystarts previews May 25, with Opening Nights for Flyin’ West Saturday, June 4 and Camille Thursday, June 9.
Visit www.QTGrep.org or call 215.987.4450 to purchase tickets to Flyin’ West and Camille. Preview performances will run May 25 – June 5, general admission tickets are
available June 4 – June 26.
The Reclamation Repertory features an ensemble cast of ten actors performing across both productions. Founding Artistic Director of First World Theatre Zuhairah McGill, last seen at Quintessence Theatre starring in the one-person play Sojourner and Rachel, will direct Flyin’ West. Steven Anthony Wright (The Cure at Troy, Seven Deadly Sins, Oliver!, and Uncle Vanya) will direct Camille.
“Quintessence is thrilled to bring these two epic classics to the Philadelphia stage,” said Quintessence Founding Artistic Director Alexander Burns. “Our first repertory with two playwrights of African descent, Quintessence continues to expand our definition of “classic” to include twentieth century plays about key figures and moments in American history. We welcome our audiences back to live and in person theatre and are excited to share these two delicious dramas that celebrate the tenacity of the human spirit and the power of love.”
Set in the all-Black Western settlement of Nicodemus, Kansas, Flyin’ West tells the story of four Black female pioneers who stake their claim in the face of sexism, violence, and the constant threat of white speculators breaking up the home they’ve made for themselves. Through harsh conditions and complicated relationships, the sisters stand in solidarity, declaring “our lives to be our own and no one else’s.” Pearl Cleage’s American classic archives the history not taught in schools of the brave Black women who migrated West as part of the Exodus of 1879.
“Pearl Cleage, who is one of the most powerful, brilliant, exquisitely beautiful playwrights, has written a tribute to the African American women pioneers of this period, and the men that supported them…or didn’t.” says Zuhairah McGill. “It’s amazing to see how many of these issues from 1899 still resonate here in 2022. Maybe we can walk in through the front door instead of the back now, shop in stores without the brown paper bag test, sit in restaurants to eat, go to the schools of our choice, but all the while here in 2022 we’re still walking into the legacy of Jim Crow, poor education, poverty, police brutality, loss of family, hatred of each other and the self, gentrification and so much more.”
Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose plays include Pointing at the Moon, What I Learned in Paris, Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, and Bourbon at the Border. Her plays have also been performed at Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Huntington Theatre, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Long Wharf Theatre, Just US Theatre, True Colors Theatre, Bushfire Theatre, the Intiman Theatre, St. Louis Black Repertory Company, and Seven Stages. Her novels include What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah Book Club selection, I Wish I Had a Red Dress, Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, Babylon Sisters, Baby Brother’s Blues, Seen It All and Done the Rest, and Till You Hear from Me. Cleage has been awarded grants in support of her work from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulton County Arts Council, the Georgia Council on the Arts, the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Coca-Cola Foundation. Her work has earned her many awards and honors, including an NAACP Image Award for fiction in 2008.
DeAnna S. Wright, Maya Smoot and Billie Wyatt will each make their Quintessence debut as sisters Sophie, Fannie, and Minnie. Director Zuhairah McGill (Rachel, Sojourner) takes the stage herself as their housemate Miss Leah. Dax Richardson joins as Frank Charles and Phillip Brown plays Wil Parrish.
Among the glitz and glamor of 1800s Paris, Armand falls in love with a courtesan, even as the threat of deadly disease hangs over France like a ticking time bomb. Experience the passion, sacrifice, and raw emotion that inspired La Traviata and Moulin Rouge! Matilda Heron, the actress who renamed the title character for her 19th century American tour, translated this rarely produced version of La Dame aux Camélias. The quintessential test of true love in the face of an unforgiving society, Alexandre Dumas fils’ Camille lives on.
“It’s so wonderful to be doing live theatre again, and especially at Quintessence, which I have always considered an artistic home,” says Steven Wright. “We’ve put together a really incredible ensemble of artists for this repertory and are just looking forward to putting on a fabulous show.”
The son of the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas fils was born in Paris in 1824. His mother was a dressmaker and his great-grandmother was a Black Haitian slave. His romantic novel La Dame Aux Camélias was based on his affair with a courtesan named Marie Duplessis. Strict censorship laws blocked several attempts to create a stage production, but the success of the 1852 production at the Théâtre du Vaudeville popularized the tragic heroine, becoming a star vehicle for popular actresses Sarah Bernhardt, Laura Keene, and Eleonora Duse.
Billie Wyatt and Dax Richardson star as the tragic lovers Camille and Armand. DeAnna S. Wright joins as Olympe and Zuhairah McGill as Prudence. Quintessence favorite Lee Cortopassi (The Winter’s Tale, The Alchemist, Little Women, The Skin of Our Teeth) returns as the Count de Varville. Maya Smoot plays Nichette and Kahlil Wyatt plays Gustav. The cast is rounded out with Julia Sims as Nanine, Liam Mulshine (Aesop’s Fables) as Gaston, and Phillip Brown as Duval.
Both plays will be presented on sets designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge with lighting by James Carter. Ali Turns will design the costumes for Flyin’ West and Anna Sorrentino for Camille. The sound design for Flyin’ West is by Jarious L. Parker, and sound design and composition for Camille is by Tom Carman.
Quintessence Theatre joins theatres across the region in signing the Audience COVID-19 Policy from Philadelphia Regional Theatres published by Theatre Philadelphia. Visitors to the Sedgwick Theater will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours in order to attend indoor performances. Proof can be physical or digital. Following the current policy of the city of Philadelphia, patrons are also required to wear masks at all times when inside the theatre.
Founded in 2009,the award-winning Quintessence Theatre Group uses the classics to explore the fundamental question of what it is to be human in today’s world. Through intimate, visceral, and innovative productions of epic theatre, Quintessence pursues its vision to become the Delaware Valley’s center for progressive humanism and an engine for radical empathy through the classics.
General Admission tickets are $35 – $55.
Youth tickets(21 and under) are $20.
Tickets for active military service are $25.
Seniors (65 and over) receive $5 off the ticket price.
Upgrade to premium seats for an additional $19 per ticket.
STUDENT MATINEES: Weekday student matinees are available at a discounted student rate. To book your classroom’s visit, contact Educational Programs Manager Daniel Ciba at 215.987.4450, ext. 106, or Daniel@QTGrep.org.
GROUP SALES: Special rates are available for groups of over ten. For information on group sales, please contact the Box Office at 215.987.4450, ext. 1, or BoxOffice@QTGrep.org.