In early December, The Negro Ensemble Company, a seminal force in American theater, kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration by presenting a week-long run of Day of Absence at Theatre 80. Day of Absence won the 1966 Drama Desk Award for writing, and the then controversial political/social satire still offers important commentary on race in America at a time when race and bigotry are again in the news and at the forefront of our national consciousness.
The showcase production sold out all eight performances, and both opening and closing nights featured a “talk back” where audiences commented on the play’s continuing impact as a vehicle for examining attitudes about race and economic status in America.
HOFOPRO and Theatre 80 hope to extend our partnership with NEC as their anniversary season continues throughout the coming year.
“What would the world look like if… those we look down on disappeared overnight, how would we go on? That’s the question posed by Douglas Turner Ward’s ‘Day of Absence,’ a ‘satirical fantasy’ that kicked off the pioneering Negro Ensemble Company in 1965. Fifty-one years later, the company has revived it in a feisty, slapdash production at Theater 80 St. Marks, featuring several cast members who starred in the original version… Mr. Ward’s wit is scathing…”
New York Times, 12/8/16
“Ward’s satire is sharp and relentless as he points out again and again the contradictions between white perceptions of African-Americans…and the reality of how necessary they are to the country’s social and economic progress. Relevant to the 60’s, it remains so today..”
New York Beacon, 12/15/16
“Legends of the black theater community gathered in the historic Theatre 80 St. Mark’s in the East Village … to share memories and laughs as Woodie King, Jr. and Douglas Turner Ward were honored for their longstanding contributions to the arts.
King, founding director of the New Federal Theatre, and Ward, founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, are pioneers in New York’s black theater scene and were invited to add their names and handprints to Theatre 80’s Sidewalk of Stars. The new bricks now share the sidewalk with names of other theater luminaries, including Joan Crawford and Alan Cumming.
Brandon Dirden, who has shared the Broadway stage as Martin Luther King, Jr. with Bryan Cranston’s Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way,” was one of the evening’s hosts. Like many who crossed paths with the N.E.C., Dirden was inspired by alumni like Denzel Washington, who he once saw on a bootleg VHS tape of “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost.”
“It didn’t just change my life, it gave me life,” Dirden recalled. “Throughout my matriculation in college and in graduate school, I always had one goal and that was to come to New York and to be a part of this lineage.”
The Villager, 12/8/16