By Professor Elin Diamond
Wesley Brown was already a published novelist and poet when he turned to playwriting. His life-long themes – art’s ability to transform; the need to bear witness; the human drive to connect with others despite an equally strong penchant for self-destruction – figure in his all his writing, but especially in his plays: Boogie Woogie and Booker T (1987), winner of four AUDELCO awards for excellence in Black theater; Life During Wartime (1992), also the winner of four AUDELCO awards for excellence in Black theater; and, A Prophet Among Them (2001).
Wesley’s newest work for the stage, Murderess (2004), was a commissioned adaptation of Alexandros Papadiamantis’s novel by that name, written in 1904. Wesley offered this synopsis of the play: “Murderess tells the story of Hathoula, a midwife and healer on the Greek island of Skiathos, who has witnessed four generations of women whose lives remain mired in suffering. Through a series of converging incidents, the medicinal powers that Hathoula uses to bring forth and sustain life are transformed into healing acts of mercy, cutting short the lives of infants and young girls before they can know the misery that awaits them.”
In a salute to Wesley Brown’s playwriting career, and to honor him in his retirement after his twenty-six years of teaching at Rutgers, the English Department Drama Group presented a staged reading of Murderess on Tuesday, May 3, 2005, in the Plangere Writing Center and Annex. The 50-minute performance was made possible through the support of the Chair’s Office and the dedicated participation of Rutgers English faculty and graduate students, and two professors outside the Department.
A reception preceded the reading; a wonderful party followed. Guests included Wesley’s colleagues in the Department and across the University and his long-time friend Amiri Baraka, who made the journey from Newark to attend the celebration. The event was an appropriately theatrical and pleasurable way to bid farewell to a dear colleague and to wish him the best in his future creative work.
Cast and Production Staff:
CHERYL CLARKE as Hathoula, healer and midwife
DAWN LILLEY as Amersa, youngest daughter of Hathoula
DEVIN GRIFFITHS as Mourtos, youngest son of Hathoula
BETH PERRY as Delcharo, the eldest daughter of Hathoula
THE CHORUS (who each assume the roles of several characters):
MEREDITH MCGILL as First Woman
BARBARA BALLIET as Second Woman
ALEX LIN as First Man
BEN JOHNSON as Second Man
CHRIS CHISM read stage directions
ANNE KEEFE provided original vocal accompaniment
ELIN DIAMOND directed the reading
SOYICA DIGGS and KEN URBAN assisted
JESSICA HEDGES provided logistical support