Monday, October 18, 2010

L.A Stage Times Article!

The Robey Theatre Company
by BEN GUILLORY | October 12, 2010

Ben Guillory
(Artistic Director / Co -Founder)

Robey” was the legendary actor Paul Robeson’s athletic nickname when he played college football at Rutgers and became an All-American.

Co- founder Danny Glover and I had long admired Paul, understanding what he stood for in terms of social consciousness and humanitarian efforts. It was natural then that when Danny and I came to LA and felt a need to fill a void we found that would give audiences here an opportunity to hear Artists of Color particularly Black Playwrights- we chose Robey believing that was a very appropriate name.

The Robey Theatre Company’s creative standards are grounded in the spirit & legacy of its namesake, the Renaissance Man who was able to transcend barriers to achieve artistic success for the betterment of all humanity.

In that spirit, Robey’s Mission is to develop, explore, and produce plays written about the global Black Experience sometimes reinterpreting works that have become classics. We believe that one of the theatre’s responsibilities is to tell stories that reflect our relationships as human beings. In theatre, we are allowed to examine how we behave toward each other. How circumstances and events bring us together and more time than not, keep us apart. Robey is dedicated to offering an environment for telling those stories from a black perspective.

Robey began in 1994 as a readers’ theatre. Mostly the classics and not limited to black work. We quickly became aware there was very little support for Artists of Color who were interested in the creative process. We realized that there was further need not only for classes and workshops but for an actual environment– a community that would be a place to safely nurture those who needed support, time, and an acknowledgment for the belief in the continued development of the Black aesthetic as a priority.

Toyin Moses and Jacob Sidney

Toyin Moses and Jacob Sidney

Robey’s collaboration with artists, audiences, and especially our playwrights has cultivated relationships & trust that is the foundation of our collective. It is the force that drives the Company.

The past two years have been particularly satisfying. During that time, Robey has produced five plays.

Bronzeville was commissioned by Robey based on an idea presented to me by playwright Tim Toyama. Tim worked with co-writer Aaron Woolfolk in 2009 and then later that year, Robey selected Joseph A. Walker’s Tony Award winner The River Niger an American classic. Both plays and Robey’s production-cast & designers were recognized this year by seven NAACP Theatre Awards Nominations.

Early this year featured a collaboration with The Towne Street Theatre resulting in the premiere of a commissioned work by playwright Bernardo Solano. The play, Nicolas & Langston, recounted the moving relationship between Langston Hughes and Cuba’s poet laureate, Nicolas Guillen.

This year we produced three plays, all developed over several years through Robey’s Playwrights Program. We started the year with Melvin Ishmael Johnson’s The Emperor’s Last Performance. That play helps audiences understand and recognize the significance of Charles Gilpin often lauded as one of the early great actors of African descent in the US. Gilpin was tapped by Eugene O’Neill to star in the legendary playwright’s play, Emperor Jones on Broadway. That was a first in this country. No Black actor had ever headlined a multi-racial cast on Broadway til then. Melvin took audiences backstage and allowed a glimpse into those two men’s psychological and philosophical struggle over language in that play. Kellie Roberts’ Transitions turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. The play was really three one-acts united by a theme. Family members in each vignette-just two in each scene-asking to connect with the other family member and just not quite being able to. We’re now in production until the end of October with Kimba Henderson’s The Reckoning at the LATC.

Tiffany Boone and Kendrick Sampson

Tiffany Boone and Kendrick Sampson

It’s important to understand that each of the playwrights has gone through a rigorous process of development in the program with our writing instructor, Aaron Henne & dramaturge Dylan Southard working two, three, & four years bringing the work to where it was ready for production.

The program consists of three 10-week sessions each year. The playwrights meet 10am -1pm and 2pm - 5pm. Those who are interested in further details please visit our web-site www.robeytheatrecompany .

The historical & archival value in developing these plays speaks to Robey’s Mission of exploring & developing work about the Black Experience as seen through our own eyes. Other institutions can’t explore aspects of Black history & the black experience with the same insight & sensibility.

Making these works available to new generations of all ethnic backgrounds is an ongoing mandate of Robey. Robey’s creative staff feels strongly that preserving the events through dramatic depiction that have shaped the history of Black culture is an exciting way to ensure the future of our community’s voice.

The Reckoning production photos by Carlos San Miguel.

Ben Guillory is the Producing Artistic Director at Robey Theatre Company.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Actor Tarnue Massaquoi, Actor Terese Aiello, Actress Toyin Moses
and Actor Alex Morris

Actor Tarnue Massaquoi and Actress Terese Aiello

Actress Tanya Lane and Actor Kendrick Sampson
Photo Credit John Freeland Jr

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


By Joe Straw

“You clean up nice.” – Nicholas Burnside

Somewhere, locked away in a dusty cedar chest, is a journal. In it are the juicy tidbits, and the unpredictable innermost secrets of family life.

It is opened and gazed upon only when there is a sincere interest in family history. But then one discovers some ugly truths: that families steal from each other.

They steal not with guns but signed pieces of paper, side agreements, and notes laid out in a family journal for future generations to see. Generally, the keepers of the land keep that journal, locked away, behind closed doors, “until it’s time”.

(“We don’t talk about the dead.” is a favorite expression among my southern relatives. It’s a need to know thing: “And, you don’t need to know.”)

And by the time one is curious about one’s family history, the participants are dead. All forgotten but there in the book, for that day, the day of reckoning.

The Robey Theatre Company, Ben Guillory Producing Artistic Director in association with The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents The Reckoning written by Kimba Henderson and directed by Ben Guillory.

Set in 2005 The Reckoning is a fantastic story of a family struggling to keep a crawfish plantation running in Louisiana. It is an engaging story from the opening moment to the end, filled with wonderful characters. Spread out over countless generations with loitering ghosts who believe they are the rightful heirs and who ultimately know a day of reckoning will come. And for that reason they wait. Even in death, families never forget. Run to see this production because it closes October 24, 2010.

The play opens on a day a figurehead with a bad ticker comes home from the hospital. Nathalie Robillard (Toyin Moses) is putting up a “Welcome home Daddy” sign and Ashley Robillard (Terese Aiello) is upstairs dancing to some very loud music. Nathalie asks her to turn it down and when that happens we hear chimes and whispers and know that ghosts inhabit the home they call Rubaiyat.

Helene (Tanya Lane) is an old friend of the family and drops by to tell Nathalie, who has recently gotten her doctorate, that she will try to get her into a professional society Sigma Phi Pi. Nathalie also tells her she has applied for a job with Tulane University and wants to leave the farm.

Christophe Robillard (Tarnue Masaquoi) a former professional football player and now the official playboy of the family has ideas of taking over the farm himself much to the dislike of his father LJ Robillard (Alex Morris).

LJ wants his daughter to run the farm and so announces it to the entire family. After all she is the brains of the family and recognizes that a well though out studied process can correct any misconceptions others may have about running a successful farm. But she is conflicted because she feels her life is better suited elsewhere.

Christophe, hearing the news, is devastated and runs off with Helene for a few days leaving his wife, Ashley to fend for herself.

In the meantime a farm worker, Nicholas Burnside (Jacob Sidney) comes to the farm to look for work. LJ takes a liking to him and says he can sleep in the cabin. Later LJ invites him to live in the house.

Nicholas is immediately enchanted by Nathalie but Nathalie wants nothing to do with him because Nathalie is in love with Philipe (Dorian Christian Baucum) a doctor living nearby who wants to take a job in Atlanta and bring Nathalie with him.

Nicholas runs into the ghost of Captain Burnside (Michael Harrity) a former relative who gives him instructions to burn Rubiayat to the ground. Unfortunately Captain Burnside tried this long ago but was caught in the fire that cause his unfortunate demise.

As the story progresses and Nathalie reads the journal and the audience is transported back in history to the lives of Natty (Tiffany Boone) and Auguste Robillard (Kendrick Sampson). Auguste has taking a liking to Natty but because of her race he is forced to marry Katherine (also Terese Aiello) daughter to Captain Burnside.

Auguste unable to have children with Katherine at first has turned to Natty and as luck would have it now has two women who are with child. Katherine finds out about it leaves the marriage and Rubiayat altogether much to the dismay of Captain Burnside.

Morris as the patriarch LJ gives us another incredible, magical performance. His moments are captured effortlessly. It is also a physical role that has him falling down a small flight of stairs. His objective moving us toward the ultimate reckoning is flawless.

Massaquoi, last seen in The River Niger, gives another wonderful performance. He wears many hats, slightly off centered as he moves from being a landowner, to a womanizer, to a lion of redemption.

Moses as the sophiscated enchanting Ph.D. is a match for any man that may want to take over Rubaiyat. She fights her way through the maze of men seeking her attention. And never gives an inch in her quest for the ultimate goal.

Baucum as Philippe wears a very proper mantel. His mistake is thinking that others will blindly follow his path. It is a miscalculation that keeps him out of harm’s way.

Lane as Helene lets her hips do the thinking. Making a play for a control of Rubiayat seems to be her motive in capturing Christophe. This is a very fine performance.

Sidney as Nicholas is an amazing actor with a characterization that grows on you as the story unfolds. He is a seasoned professional with a Robert Stack like voice that keeps the audience guessing with his next passing remark. His southern trailer park trash like manners, appropriate or inappropriate, hit the mark. At one point he sits on the porch holding the shotgun, knowing family matters can sometimes get out of hand. His family or hers, it doesn’t matter. Still, he caresses the shotgun like an old family friend. It is a wonderful moment of many moments in this play.

Sampson as Auguste fills out the cast nicely with his girlfriend Natty (Tiffany Boone) playing ghosts from another time that haunts the house. These are young roles that need work on character and also needs strengthening the physical relationship.

Aiello as Katherine/Ashley Robillard offers us a fine performance but one is not sure of her objective. Is it as imaginative as it could be? There is more here in this character’s objective than witnessed on this particular night. Nevertheless, this was a very fine performance.

Harrity as Captain Burnside/Gentry plays the big bad white guy. He was serviceable in the role but not imaginative. Possibly, not that mean, not that driven, not that evil, or physical. Certainly this is a role of someone whose has seen the depths of hell and wants to recreate it here on earth. It’s a role that needs a little more exploration.

Kimba Henderson has written a play that in some respect is old fashioned, but don’t let that fool you. This is an exciting play, with clever dialogue, and characters rich in every respect. One would like to roll around it in its richness.

Ben Guillory has directed a very fine play and has done a masterful job. The after dinner scene was fantastic, subtle and beautifully choreographed. These silent moments were quite incredible and subtle in execution. There were things that were objectionable, the rubber shotgun, which bent as actors were leaning it against the fence. Also, the choreographed shootout, which had audience members laughing for reasons not quite clear, needs reworking.

One of the things I find interesting is that from another time period, men and women were quite proper. Four feet away from each other and acting all prim and proper. It’s a wonder anyone ever had babies. And yet everyone got pregnant and the relationships remained the same.

Naila Aladdin Sanders did a fine job with the costumes.

Ticket Reservation: 866-811-4111

Saturday, October 2, 2010


"Your plays are amazing...."
- Jaime Saginor
"Congratulations on a wonderful show! My friends and I loved it!
You did a fantastic job! Wishing you, the playwright and cast a spectacular run!
- Toni Ann
" I just wanted to comment that the play was fantastic all around, from the actors, set, and costumes. "
- Rodney Sanders