Court Theatre will collaborate with American Blues Theater on the development of a stage version of Richard Wright’s classic novel, “Native Son,” adapted by Nambi E. Kelley, a member of the American Blues Ensemble. A production of the work is slated to open in Fall 2014 at Court Theatre as part of that company’s 60th anniversary season and American Blues Theater’s 29th season.
Published in 1940, “Native Son” is considered a landmark novel in 20th century American literature, and one with deep Chicago connections. It tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, an African American living in poverty on Chicago’s South Side. The story’s action escalates after Thomas gets a job as a chauffeur for the Daltons, a wealthy white family and, one night, hes finds himself making a terrible, violent mistake that changes the course of his entire life.
In addition to the production, American Blues Theater and Court will work together to further engage the Court’s community by developing an original exhibit at Hyde Park’s DuSable Museum of African American History and partnering with the Chicago Public Libraries and the Chicago Public Schools to encourage young people in Chicago to read the novel before seeing the production at Court.
In a prepared statement, Court’s artistic director Charles Newell said: “Richard Wright’s ‘Native Son’ is one of the most important novels of the 20th century. American Blues Theater and Court are committed to telling this story of a young, African-American man, who makes a decision driven by fear and uncertainty that begins a free-fall toward oblivion. This story is, unfortunately, still relevant and demands to be produced for a new generation. We are thrilled to be working with American Blues Theater on this particular play, which we think will resonate in Chicago and throughout the nation.”
American Blues Theater’s producing artistic director Gwendolyn Whiteside noted: “Our theater prides itself on presenting premiere theater experiences while working within the community on relevant issues reflected in the production. With ‘Native Son,’ which we have been working on since 2010, we acquired adaptation rights from the Richard Wright Estate and realized this opportunity was much larger than all of us. After seeing [the recent stage adaptation of the classic Ralph Ellison novel about race] ‘Invisible Man’ at Court, and witnessing their commitment to community outreach, Nambi Kelley and I knew a partnership with Court would be perfect. ”
Kelley is an actress/writer and ensemble member of American Blues Theater whose productions have been staged in Chicago, New York, St. Louis and Los Angeles. Her commissioned work includes projects at The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, The Arts Club of Chicago, Health Works Theatre (Chicago), and Unibooks Publishing Company (South Korea). Kelley’s professional writing affiliations include: Steppenwolf Theatre Company, New Plays Lab Playwright-In-Residence, Goodman Theatre/Ellen Stone Belic Institute/ Fellowship Recipient, Goodman Theatre Lila Wallace Fellowship, LaMaMa Playwrights Symposium Playwright-In-Residence, Spoleto, Italy, Chicago Dramatists Playwright-In-Residence, Danny Glover’s Robey Theatre Co. Playwriting Lab (Formerly The Blacksmyths At The Mark Taper Forum), and MPAACT Playwright-In-Residence, Chicago. Special Writing Awards/Nominations include: Black Ensemble Theatre Playwriting Award for the Black Playwrights Initiative 2009, 3 Arts Fellowship 2009, TCG Playwrights Residency Nomination at Goodman Theatre, Ignition New Plays Festival by Artists of Color, Victory Gardens Theatre, Finalist; Chesterfield Writing Project Fellowship at Paramount Pictures, Finalist; O’Neill Playwrights Conference Nomination; Act Theatre/Seattle Repertory Nomination For Women’s Playwright Festival and Peace Maker Of The Year Award Her Publications include: The Blaq Market: Monologues and Scenes, The Blaq Market: Essays and Plays from Afrikan Centered Theatre and Alibi Transcripts: Monologues of the Dark Indicted. Kelley is a guest lecturer at Lake Forest College, has a BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul University, and is currently an MFA candidate at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.