Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

New Federal Theatre’s Off-Broadway Revival of The Fabulous Miss Marie starring Tonya Pinkins and Roscoe Orman, opens on May 1

Tonya Pinkins and Roscoe Orman at New Federal Theatre's 44th Anniversary Gala on March 16, 2014 at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York. Photo by Lia Chang

Tonya Pinkins and Roscoe Orman at New Federal Theatre’s 44th Anniversary Gala on March 16, 2014 at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York. Photo by Lia Chang

Tony and Drama Desk Award winner Tonya Pinkins and Roscoe Orman (“Sesame Street”) lead the cast of The Fabulous Miss Marie, Woodie King Jr.’s New Federal Theatre Off-Broadway revival of the second play of “The Ed Bullins Project” dedicated to Ed Bullins, the pioneer of the Black Arts Movement and one of America’s most important and influential playwright.

The Fabulous Miss Marie, first produced in 1971 at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, began previews on April 17th, and will open on May 1st at Castillo Theatre, 543 W 42nd St (between 10th Ave and 11th Ave) in New York. Performances will continue through April 18th. Woodie King Jr. directs a cast that also features Toccarra Cash, Michael Chenevert, Ugo Chukwu, Aaliyah Habeeb, Beethovan Oden, G. Alverez Reid, Ashley C. Turner, and Brittany N. Williams.

Set during a three-day holiday party at the home of Marie Horton in the Wilshire section of Los Angles in the early 1960s, it takes place against the backdrop of the Civil Right Movement and on the eve of the Watts Rebellion. Most of the play’s middle class characters, however, are distant from those upheavals; instead they drink, flirt, quarrel and reminisce as they hope their lives in the emerging Black middle class can shield them against the painful legacy of slavery and racism in America.

Roscoe Orman, Ed Bullins and Tonya Pinkins. Photo by Lia Chang

Roscoe Orman, Ed Bullins and Tonya Pinkins. Photo by Lia Chang

The Fabulous Miss Marie is structured like a jazz improvisation, with each of the ensemble members taking a solo/monologue, that reveals the pain simmering under the party’s cheerful, suburban façade. As New York Times theatre critic Clive Barnes said at the time, “Bullins writes the way Charlie Parker played: It is all so easy and effortless. It sounds improvised, and yet it doesn’t sound improvised, simply because it is the improvisation of formalitThe Fabulous Miss Marie, is set in Los Angeles during the Civil Rights’ student sit-ins. This is arguably Bullins’ greatest work, one that bears comparison to Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Like Chekhov, Bullins is interested in how love can be expressed in a “cemetery of human failure and class arrogance.” With this play, part of his Twentieth Century Cycle, Bullins perfected a dramatic structure also found in In the Wine Time, which kicked off this season.

Ed Bullins is considered one of the most prolific and influential playwrights of the Black Arts Movement. Winner of the prestigious NY Drama Critics’ Circle Award and OBIE Award for The Taking of Miss Janie, he has greatly influenced American theatre, especially Black theatre. He is the author of more than 100 plays that have been produced throughout the United States and Europe. His acclaimed canon of plays include Clara’s Ole Man, Dialect Determinism (or The Rally), How Do You Do (1965), A Minor Scene, It Has No Choice, The Theme Is Blackness (1966); In New England Winter, Black Commercial #2 (1967); Goin’ a Buffalo, A Son Come Home, The Electronic Nigger, The Corner, In The Wine Time, The Gentleman Caller (1968); The Box Office, One-Minute Commercial, State Office Bldg. Cruse, The American Flag Ritual, We Righteous Bombers (1969); The Helper, Death List, A Short Play for A Small Theater, Street Sounds, The Man Who Dug Fish, The Duplex, It Bess Dat Way, A Street Play, A Black Time for Black Folk (1970); The Fabulous Miss Marie, Night of the Beast (1971); The Play of the Play (1973); Malcolm: 71 or Publishing Blackness (1975); The Taking of Miss Janie, The Mystery of Phyllis Wheatley: An Historical Play for Young Americans, I Am Lucy Terry: An Historical Fantasy for Young Americans (1976); City Preacher (1984); High John Da Conqueror: the Musical (1985); and Salaam, Huey Newton, Salaam (1990), among others. He received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award, the Drama Prize at the Venice Biennale Arts Festival, an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Columbia College, three OBIE Awards, two Guggenheim fellowships, three Rockefeller Foundation Playwriting grants and three NEA playwriting grants. A Professor of Theatre at Northeastern University, Mr. Bullins has also won AUDELCO Awards and The Black Theatre Festival Living Legend Award. Bullins has published four collections of plays: Five Plays by Ed Bullins (1968), The Fabulous Miss Marie (1970), The Duplex: A Black Love Fable in Four Movements (1971), Four Dynamite Plays (1972) and The Theme is Blackness (1972), as well as short prose The Hungered One: Early Writings (1971) and a novel The Reluctant Rapist (1973). Bullins was recently represented Off-Broadway by the York Theater’s revival of Storyville. His work, characterized by disdain for ineffective political rhetoric as a substitute for action, most often examines the lives of Black people in the inner city. In 1968, Clive Barnes, writing in the New York Times called Bullins “a welcome addition to the ranks of New York playwrights.” Four years later, Barnes added “Bullins writes the way Charlie Parker played: It is all so easy and effortless. It sounds improvised, and yet it doesn’t sound improvised, simply because it is the improvisation of formality.” Today, Bullins is regarded as a seminal force in the American theater.

Performances are Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $25 and can be ordered through or by phone at 212/941-5800.

For more information, please visit or call NFT at 212-353-1176.

Founded by Woodie King, Jr. in 1970, New Federal Theatre has gone on to international acclaim for its bold mission to integrate minorities and women into the mainstream of American theater by training artists for the profession and by presenting plays by minorities and women to integrated, multicultural audiences – plays which evoke the truth through beautiful, artistic recreations of ourselves. Specializing in minority drama, New Federal Theatre has brought the joy of the living stage to not only the minority community living on the Lower East Side near NFT’s home at Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center, but to audiences from all over the metropolitan area. NFT has provided emerging playwrights with the opportunity to have their works produced; it has brought minority actors, directors and designers to national attention and sponsored numerous ethnic theater groups and events. NFT’s vocational training workshops continue to prepare minority people for employment in theater and related fields. Most importantly, NFT provides the multi-ethnic Lower East Side, as well as the New York Metro area, with theater of the highest caliber that relates to the interest of different cultural groups. The impact of NFT is nothing less than extraordinary. Writers first presented at NFT are now part of the literary fabric of the American mainstream. Many plays attained national significance and reached much wider audiences by having been showcased at NFT. The alumni list of NFT productions reads like a Who’s Who of American theater, film and television: Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jackee Harry, Laurence Fishburne, Dick Anthony Williams, Taurean Blacque, Debbie Morgan, Robert Downey, Jr. Garrett Morris, Lynn Whitfield, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruby Dee, Leslie Uggams, Samuel L. Jackson and many more. Under Woodie King, Jr.’s stewardship, NFT presented over 280 productions in the last four decades including: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, What the Winesellers Buy, Reggae, The Taking of Miss Janie and The Dance and The Railroad. His directorial credits are extensive and include work in film as well as in theater. He has directed at the most prominent theaters across the country and has been the recipient of numerous awards from AUDELCO, The NAACP, Drama Critics Circle and an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement.

Lia Chang

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York.  She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

Other articles on The Fabulous Miss Marie:
theatermania:The Fabulous Miss Marie

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Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

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