Swinging for the Fences with Monty Cole

In 2016, Monty Cole made his directorial debut in Chicago with Eugene O’Neill The hairy monkey at Oracle Productions, now defunct, and what a start it was. His staging of the story of Yank, a swaggering stoker on a steamboat who is ultimately wrecked by a society that sees him only as a bully, brought together a stellar ensemble of six black actors. Cole incorporated live percussive sounds and interludes of hypnotic movement into O’Neill’s expressionist text, while interpolating subtle appeals to contemporary abuses of black men by police and others.

Cole, an Oak Park native, has been busy since: he earned a master’s degree in directing from the California Institute of Arts, and he’s also developed his voice as a playwright; american teenager was written as a commission from The Goodman, where Cole was part of the 2019-2020 cohort of the Theater’s Playwright Unit, and the Repertory Theater in St. Louis is currently developing its John Howard Griffin stage adaptation. black like mein which the White Griffin recounted his travels in southern Jim Crow disguised as a Black.

Fences
01/07-06/08: Thu-Friday 7.30pm, Sat 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Sun 2.30pm; no performance Sat 7/9 2.30pm and Sat 8/6 7.30pm; Wit Theater, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-975-8150, americanbluestheater.com, $25-$45

For his first live Chicago stage production since the pandemic, Cole delves into a contemporary black classic: August Wilson’s Fences, the 1950s chapter of the late playwright’s monumental Century Cycle examining the lives of Black Americans in each decade of the 20th century, opens in preview this weekend with American Blues Theater at Theater Wit. The play was of course performed frequently in Chicago and elsewhere. And the 2016 film starring Denzel Washington (who also directed) as Troy Maxson, the embittered Pittsburgh sanitation worker and former Negro League star, and Viola Davis as his suffering wife Rose. has long earned Oscar nominations for both Washington and Davis, with the latter winning best supporting actress for her role. (A bit confusing, since Rose is far from a supporting role, but that’s how it goes in Tinsel Town.)

Cole has never conducted a Wilson play before. “It’s kind of crazy and exciting, because I think I see Wilson differently than maybe people who have traditionally managed Wilson before,” he said. “And that’s why I was maybe a little scared directing Wilson, because of the way his work has been produced and created before. He is part of a certain lineage, a certain tradition, a bit like the spirit of the griot who transmits an aesthetic from generation to generation. And this production is kind of breaking that.

Specifically, Cole says, “I don’t see Wilson as realistic at all. I would say that the heart of his plays is spirituality. Almost every play he writes, what keeps the cogs in the play turning is a certain sense of spirituality. Whether it’s the City of Bones in ocean gem, which we just saw at the Goodman, or some kind of ancestral plane. In Fencesit’s along the lines of talking to death and talking to the devil and fence [which Troy is building around his house throughout the play] sort of symbolize the American dream. I’m kind of in the lead with that. I really allow the play to have those weird moments where talking to death or death strangled Troy is really prevalent.

Cole notes that Kamal Angelo Bolden, who plays Troy in the ABT production, is younger than Troy’s 53 years. But he said, “Troy does not die of old age. Troy dies due to a type of spiritual rot that occurs during the play. It dies of a type of individualism that the American dream kind of forces you to partake in. And it’s the community that he kind of closed off in order to seek his own individualism. And right now, it’s wildly relevant as we’re about to enter another recession and people of my generation are trying to have their own American dream. What are you willing to sacrifice to have this American dream? »

Fences and black like me are far from the only projects on Cole’s role. He is also working with playwright Isaac Gómez, whom he met when they both worked at the Victory Gardens Theater several years ago, on a digital project for Teatro Vista called The Vuelta.

“Isaac works with the set individually to kind of talk about, ‘What have you been allowed to play before? What were you allowed to work on? What have you been authorized to do and what do you want to do? What haven’t you done? And we tried to find themes between those things, and we talked about it like it was an anthology web series. And so we’re going to film those beautiful moments in between the set.

Cole also created his own film projects; his short film Son of Toledowritten with Matt Voss, about a grieving barber giving his slain brother one last haircut, has appeared at film festivals around the world and won Best African American Short Film at the Festival du Phoenix 2022 film. But even with all the directions he’s moved in, there’s something about taking on Wilson that he finds daunting and yet exhilarating – which is why he knew that it was time to do it.

“My wife and I are starting to think about having children ourselves. And so I’m halfway between how I view fatherhood and how I view what I need to do to have a successful life as a child here in America as a black man. And with all these things put together, I read Fences and it hits me harder than it’s ever hit me before. And so I’m like, oh my God, I think I have to do this.

EM Davis and Rose Hamill of the Broken Nose Theater Courtesy of Spenser Davis

Broken Nose leaders resign

Earlier this month, Broken Nose Theatre, one of the best-loved showcase ensembles of the past decade, announced that it would embark on a search for a new management team. Artistic Director EM Davis and General Manager Rose Hamill will step down from their executive roles effective September 1.

The two reprized their roles from founding creative director Benjamin Brownson in 2018 and steered the company through the upheavals of the global pandemic (during which they continued to produce digital programming, including the annual Bechdel Labor Fest of women playwrights).

According to the press announcement, the company is in no rush to appoint new management. Instead, they plan to establish a transition committee made up of board members, employees and members of the whole to “reimagine the current structure of the organization in the context of our recent growth. and with the aim of incorporating “recent assessment and work around the company”. racial equity, access, diversity and inclusion. Future projects also plan to expand the complex; BNT plans to return in 2023 with two full productions. In the meantime, they will hold a fundraising gala in August and continue with their plans for the ninth edition of Bechdel Fest.

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