I attended the standing room only closing night performance of the World Premiere of acclaimed writer Ishmael Reed’s The Final Version, directed by and starring Rome Neal, at the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village of Manhattan, which began preview performances on December 12, 2013 and played its final show on Sunday, January 19, 2014, during its 40th anniversary season.
Rome Neal portrays Lee Ransom, an African-American writer sponsored by the American Communist Party, who struggles with tensions between Communist ideology and commercial success from the 1930s through the 1960s. When the Party founders in the late 1930s, Ransom compromises his ideological stance by cutting radical Communist characters from the manuscript of his novel, a move that wins him a publishing contract and material success. In 1965, a publisher asks to release the original novel. Ransom fights with his conscience and with the two excised characters about whether to accept the new publishing deal. The Final Version explores the complex intersections between racial identity and liberal ideology, and examines how New York City’s leftist culture has changed since the 1930s.
The cast also featured Lynae De Priest (Bess), Melissa Harlow (Editor), Dawn Murphy (Veronica Ransom), Molly Elizabeth Parker (Mabel), Stephen Powell (WASP), Connie Stewart (Ruth Ransom), Temesgen Tocruray (Ernest Perkins) and Robert Turner (Hank).
Ishmael Reed’s poetry, prose and plays have been honored with fellowships from the MacArthur and Guggenheim Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts; his work has also been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Awards.
After the curtain call, Rome gave shoutouts to many of the audience members and invited them to the stage, including my Power Play castmember Roscoe Orman and his wife Kimberley LaMarque Orman, jazz drummer Phil Young, Basir Mchawi, actor Ron Bobb Semple, Amy Olatunji, Imani Parker, George Miles, New York Amsterdam News scribe Linda Armstrong, Harold Valle, Hank Smith. The evening was also a family affair with his son Rome Kyn Neal and daughter-in-law Ziggy Neal in the house.
The Final Version opened Thursday, December 12 and played 23 performances through January 19, 2014 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York.
ROME NEAL (Actor/Director/Producer/Jazz Vocalist) is the Artistic Theatre Director of the Nuyorican Poets Café theatre program. Rome received an Obie Grant with Café founder Miguel Algarin for excellence in theatre. He is the recipient of five Audelco Awards – two for directing – Pepe Carril’s SHANGO de IMA and Samuel Harp’s DON”T EXPLAIN; two for acting – Lead Actor in Gabrielle N. Lane’s SIGNS, and one for Solo Performance in his critically acclaimed MONK, by Laurence Holder. He also received the National Black Theatre Festival’s coveted Lloyd Richards Director’s Award. His fifth Audelco Award was a technical award for his lighting design of SHANGO de IMA. Mr. Neal received a Triumph Award for his acting in Alex Mc Donald’s PRISM and a Monarch Merit Award for his outstanding contributions in New York Theatre. His directorial credits includes his adaptation of William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR SET IN AFRICA, Sekou Sundiata’s THE CIRCLE UNBROKEN IS A HARD BOP Amiri Baraka’s MEETING LILLIE, SHANGO de IMA, PRISM, Ishmael Reed’s THE C ABOVE C ABOVE HIGH C and Amiri Baraka’s PRIMITIVE WORLD: AN ANTI- NUCLEAR JAZZ MUSICAL, all performed at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Rome directed Wesley Brown’s LIFE DURING WARTIME at the Cafe and The National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta Georgia. His production of Alex McDonald’s PRISM was performed at the Ex-Ponto Festival in Slovenia, Eastern Europe. His acting credits include Dan Owen’s FOREVER MY DARLIN’, directed by Daune Jones at the Richard Allen Center, and later by John Amos, and Judi Ann Mason’s A STAR AIN’T NOTHIN BUT A HOLE IN HEAVEN directed by Mikel Pickney. Rome’s film acting credits include Michael Almereyda’s HAMLET, Spike Lee’s SUMMER OF SAM and Leon Ichaso’s PINERO. As a Jazz Vocalist, Rome has performed at Town Hall on Broadway, The Metropolitan Room, The Museum of the City of New York, Lenox Lounge, Joe’s Pub, Saint Nick’s Pub, Minton’s Playhouse, Showman’s, 966Jazz, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Jazz Spot, and has performed around town as the lead vocalist for the Bill Lee Mo’ Better Quintet (Spike’s father). Mr. Neal has a CD entitled: “A Brighter Crooner”, and now his live concert “All in The Puddin'” recently released on DVD along with his “Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz Jam… A Night To Remember”.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. She recently starred in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival opposite Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar. 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