Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Photos: Phylicia Rashad, John Earl Jelks, Robert Joy, J. Bernard Calloway, Francois Battiste and More in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s HEAD OF PASSES at The Public

John Earl Jelks, Arnetia Walker, Phylicia Rashad, and Francois Battiste. Photo by Joan Marcus

John Earl Jelks, Arnetia Walker, Phylicia Rashad, and Francois Battiste. Photo by Joan Marcus

Tina Landau is at the helm of The Public Theater’s New York premiere of Head of Passes, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, which began previews on March 17, in the Newman Theater and runs through Sunday, April 17. The official press opening is on Monday, March 28.

Arnetia Walker, Phylicia Rashad, and Robert Joy. Photo by Joan Marcus

Arnetia Walker, Phylicia Rashad, and Robert Joy. Photo by Joan Marcus

The Head of Passes cast features features Alana Arenas (Cookie), Francois Battiste (Aubrey), Kyle Beltran (Crier), J. Bernard Calloway (Spencer), Robert Joy (Dr. Anderson), John Earl Jelks (Creaker Johnson), Phylicia Rashad (Shelah), and Arnetia Walker (Mae).

Phylicia Rashad and Francois Battiste. Photo by Joan Marcus

Phylicia Rashad and Francois Battiste. Photo by Joan Marcus

Tarell Alvin McCraney, MacArthur Award-winning playwright of the acclaimed Brother/Sister Plays, has written a poetic and contemporary parable inspired by the Book of Job. At the mouth of the Mississippi River, Shelah’s family and friends have come to celebrate her birthday and save her from a leaking roof but unexpected events turn the reunion into the ultimate test of faith and love. As her world seems to collapse around her, Shelah must fight to survive the rising flood of life’s greatest challenges. Head of Passes is a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Phylicia Rashad and Kyle Beltran. Photo by Joan Marcus

Phylicia Rashad and Kyle Beltran. Photo by Joan Marcus

Head of Passes features scenic design by G.W. Mercier; costume design by Toni-Leslie James; lighting design by Jeff Croiter; sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; and wig and hair design by Robert-Charles Vallance.

Company. Photo by Joan Marcus

Company. Photo by Joan Marcus

Single tickets for can be purchased by calling (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. The Library at The Public is open nightly for food and drinks, beginning at 5:00 p.m., and Joe’s Pub at The Public continues to offer some of the best music in the city.

John Earl Jelks, Kyle Beltran, and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

John Earl Jelks, Kyle Beltran, and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

Robert Joy and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

Robert Joy and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

J. Bernard Calloway and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

J. Bernard Calloway and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

Alana Arenas and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

Alana Arenas and Phylicia Rashad. Photo by Joan Marcus

TARELL ALVIN McCRANEY (Playwright) was last seen at The Public with his edit of Antony and Cleopatra, a co-production with The Public, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Miami’s GableStage; The Brother/Sister Plays, and The Brothers Size at the Under the Radar Festival. His additional credits include Head of Passes (Steppenwolf); Choir Boy (Royal Court/Manhattan Theatre Club); and Wig Out! (Sundance Theatre Lab/Vineyard Theatre/Royal Court). McCraney was the International Writer in Residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2009 to 2011 where he remains an associate artist. He is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and a founding member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami. In 2013, McCraney received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant. He also is the recipient of the Doris Duke Artist Award, Whiting Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, the inaugural New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, the inaugural Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, and the inaugural Windham Campbell Award from Yale University.

TINA LANDAU (Director) collaborates frequently with McCraney, having directed his In the Red Brown Water (The Public, Alliance, and McCarter theaters), Wig Out (Vineyard Theatre), The Brother/Sister Plays (Steppenwolf), and Head of Passes (Steppenwolf, Berkeley Rep). She is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf in Chicago where she’s directed 18 productions including The Wheel, The Tempest, The Time of Your Life, Cherry Orchard, Ballad of Little Jo, Berlin Circle, and her own play Space (also The Public). Landau’s other New York directing credits include Chuck Mee’s Big Love and Iphigenia 2.0, and Bill Irwin/David Shiner’s Old Hats (all Signature Theatre); Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas (New York Theatre Workshop); Dream True with Ricky Ian Gordon (for which she also wrote book and lyrics; Vineyard Theatre); and Floyd Collins with Adam Guettel (for which she also wrote Book and Additional Lyrics;Playwrights Horizons). On Broadway, Landau’s directed the revival of Bells Are Ringing and Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts, and will direct the upcoming The SpongeBob Musical. She teaches regularly and has co-authored, with Anne Bogart, The Viewpoints Book.

ALANA ARENAS (Cookie) joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble in 2007 and created the role of Pecola Breedlove for its Young Adults production of The Bluest Eye, which also played at the New Victory Off-Broadway. Her credits include Marie Antoinette, Tribes, Belleville, Head of Passes, Good People, Three Sisters, The March, Man in Love, Middletown, The Hot L Baltimore, The Etiquette of Vigilance, The Brother/Sister Plays; The Tempest, The Crucible, Spare Change, The Sparrow Project (Steppenwolf); Disgraced (ATC); The Arabian Nights (Lookingglass, Berkeley Rep, Kansas City Rep); Black Diamond (Lookingglass); Eyes (eta Creative Arts); SOST (MPAACT); WVON (Black Ensemble Theater); Hecuba, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); and Eclipsed (Northlight Theatre). Television and film credits include Crisis, Boss, The Beast, Kabuku Rides, and Lioness of Lisabi.

FRANCOIS BATTISTE (Aubrey) has been seen at The Public in Detroit ’67; The Good Negro, for which he received an OBIE Award and Lortel Award nomination; and The Merchant of Venice and The Winter’s Tale at the Delacorte Theater. He has been seen on Broadway in Bronx Bombers at Circle in the Square; Prelude to a Kiss at Roundabout; and Magic/Bird at the Longacre. His additional Off-Broadway credits Broke-ology at Lincoln Center, 10 Things to do Before I Die at Second Stage, and Bronx Bombers at Primary Stages. He has worked regionally at Williamstown, Sundance, Chicago Shakespeare, The Goodman, Victory Gardens, Lookingglass, and Dallas Theater Center. His film and television credits include Men in Black III, You Bury Your Own, Delivering the Goods, One Week, HBO’s “The Normal Heart,” ABC’s “The Family,” “Person of Interest,” “The Good Wife,” and “Are We There Yet?”

KYLE BELTRAN (Crier) has previously been seen at The Public in The Fortress of Solitude. His Broadway credits include In the Heights; and his additional Off-Broadway credits include The Flick at Barrow Street, Gloria at the Vineyard, Choir Boy at MTC, and 10 Things To Do Before I Die at 2ST. He has performed in the national tour of In the Heights and has been seen regionally in The Fortress of Solitude at Dallas Theater Center, Head of Passes at Steppenwolf, Good Goods at Yale Rep, Kingdom at Old Globe, and Aida at WVPT. His television credits include “The Big C” and “Unforgettable.” He can be seen in the upcoming film Equity.

J. BERNARD CALLOWAY (Spencer) is returning to The Public after appearing as “Henry Evans” in The Good Negro. He recently was starred as the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Old Globe Theater, the first African American actor to play the role. His Broadway credits include “Delray” in the 2010 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Memphis, and “Ralph Abernathy” in the 2014 Tony Award-winning Best Play All The Way. His film and televisions credits include the series “The Breaks” on VH1; “Blue Bloods”; “Elementary”; and “Law & Order: SVU.”

JOHN EARL JELKS (Creaker Johnson) returns to The Public, having appeared in Lemon Andersen’s Toast. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his role as Sterling in August Wilson’s Radio Golf on Broadway. He also appeared as Citizen opposite Phylicia Rashad on Broadway in Gem of the Ocean, which he won a NAACP and an Ovation Award. Other Broadway credits include the Tupac musical Holler If Ya Hear Me. Off-Broadway, Jelks won an AUDELCO Award for the Off-Broadway revival The First Breeze of Summer; starred in the off-Broadway play Fetch Clay, Make Man followed by Sunset Baby, and won OBIE’s for both; and played Lawyer/Detective in Neil LaBute’s The Break of Noon with David Duchovny.  His film and television credits include Spike Lee’s Miracle At St. Anna’s, A Powerful Thang, Enter the Dangerous Mind, “Blue Bloods,” and Law & Order: SVU. 

ROBERT JOY (Dr. Anderson) has appeared at The Public in The Death of Von Richthofen as Witnessed From Earth, Found a Peanut, Lenny and the Heartbreakers, The Taming of the Shrew, and As You Like It. On Broadway he has been seen in The Nerd, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Side Show, among others. His Off-Broadway credits include Hyde in Hollywood and Life and Limb at Playwrights Horizons; Lydie Breeze at the American Place; June Moon at Variety Arts; Pigeon and No One Will Be Immune at Ensemble Studio Theater; among others. His regional credits include Baby Doll, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Big River, The Nether, among others. His film and television credits include Atlantic City, Ragtime, Desperately Seeking Susan, The Hills Have Eyes, George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, Fallen, Waterworld, Radio Days, “Resurrection,” and over 200 episodes and TV movies. For eight years he played “Sid Hammerback,” the medical examiner on “CSI: NY.”

PHYLICIA RASHAD (Shelah) was last seen at The Public in The Story by Tracey Scott Wilson in 2003, as well as in Helen in 2002, and Everybody’s Rudy in 1999. She is a versatile performer who became a household name when she portrayed “Claire Huxtable” on “The Cosby Show,” a character whose appeal has earned numerous honors and awards for over two decades. While television was a catalyst in the rise of Rashad’s career, she has also been a force on the stage, appearing both on and off Broadway, often in projects that showcase her musical talent such as Jelly’s Last Jam, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, and The Wiz. As a dramatic actress, Rashad has appeared on Broadway in August Osage County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (also West End), Gem Of The Ocean (Tony nomination), A Raisin in the Sun (Drama Desk and Tony Awards) and Cymbeline. She appeared in Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, and starred in Perry’s highly acclaimed film version of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. She made her directorial debut at the Seattle Repertory Theater with August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and has directed works at The Ebony Repertory, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Westport County Playhouse, Mark Taper, Longwharf Theatre, and the McCarter Theatre. Rashad has received numerous honorary doctorate degrees and awards for excellence both in theater and television.

ARNETIA WALKER (Mae) began performing on Broadway at age 16 in such productions as Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Wiz, Raisin, and Dreamgirls. She is the only actress credited with portraying all three dreamgirls. Her television credit list includes “The Big House,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “NYPD Blues,” and “Nurses.” Among her feature film performances are College Road Trip, Love Crimes, and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.

The Public Theater, under the leadership of Oskar Eustis and Executive Director Patrick Willingham, is the only theater in New York that produces Shakespeare, the classics, musicals, contemporary and experimental pieces in equal measure. Celebrating his 10th anniversary season at The Public, Eustis has created new community-based initiatives designed to engage audiences like Public Lab, Public Studio, Public Forum, Public Works, and a remount of the Mobile Shakespeare Unit. The Public continues the work of its visionary founder, Joe Papp, by acting as an advocate for the theater as an essential cultural force, and leading and framing dialogue on some of the most important issues of our day. Creating theater for one of the largest and most diverse audience bases in New York City for nearly 60 years, today the Company engages audiences in a variety of venues-including its landmark downtown home at Astor Place, which houses five theaters and Joe’s Pub; the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, home to free Shakespeare in the Park; and the Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which tours Shakespearean productions for underserved audiences throughout New York City’s five boroughs. The Public’s wide range of programming includes free Shakespeare in the Park, the bedrock of the Company’s dedication to making theater accessible to all; Public Works, an expanding initiative that is designed to cultivate new connections and new models of engagement with artists, audiences and the community each year; and audience and artist development initiatives that range from Emerging Writers Group and to the Public Forum series. The Public is located on property owned by the City of New York and receives annual support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and in October 2012 the landmark building downtown at Astor Place was revitalized to physically manifest the Company’s core mission of sparking new dialogues and increasing accessibility for artists and audiences, by dramatically opening up the building to the street and community, and transforming the lobby into a public piazza for artists, students, and audiences. The Public is currently represented on Broadway by the Tony Award-winning Fun Home and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s acclaimed American musical Hamilton. The Public has received 47 Tony Awards, 167 Obie Awards, 52 Drama Desk Awards, 48 Lortel Awards, 31 Outer Critics Circle Awards, 13 New York Drama Critics Awards, and four Pulitzer Prizes.www.publictheater.org

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

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek, which will screen at the Disorient Film Festival in Eugene Oregon in April. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2016 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachangphotography.com

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