This is the third in a series of four profiles of the playwrights of the 2013 Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays. 2013 will be the sixth Dionysos Cup in our nine year history. We are particularly proud right now because in the past twelve months, three Dionysos Cup plays have gone on to their world premieres in Chicago–and the most recent of these, Bill Jepsen’s Never the Bridesmaid, is nominated for Best New Play in the Jeff Awards. (Cast member Lindsey Pearlman is also nominated for Best Actress). We believe the success of the Festival as a launchpad for new work is due to its intense Chicago roots. We bring local playwrights together with local directors, dramaturgs and actors to provide a full six month development process with talented collaborators. We place no restrictions on what the playwrights write–only that their work excites us and that they are locally based to work in the room with us.
–Richard Engling, Artistic Director
“I love to stir the pot. I want to get the audience to ask themselves questions they might not otherwise.” And with that Reginald Edmund (Reggie to his friends) explains his writing’s raison d’être. He is a writer who leans towards questions of social justice and in so doing seeks to “put America on trial.” But his passion is not that of the hell-fire preacher, wielding righteous indignation, but rather is the compassionate voice of Holy Scripture’s wisdom literature, seeking understanding through insight, without excusing or ignoring the problem of evil.
One hears humanists of earlier eras like Walt Whitman or Dudley Randall when listening to Reggie. Like Whitman he contains multitudes, drawing upon a variety of eclectic theater artists. He cites as inspiration August Wilson, Charles Smith, Lydia Diamond, Jose Rivera, Thomas Meloncon, Gregg Henry, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Jeremy Cohen, Russ Tutterow, and Gary Garrison. He calls them “brilliant minds with giving and open hearts towards the craft and towards the world around them.” And his commentary on America echoes that of Randall, who in serio-comic form, explicated the political tensions of his day, with the thesis that a writer must write “what agitates his heart and sets his pen in motion.”
“Reggie’s plays are personal and spiritual, and also fearless statements about society,” says Russ Tutterow, Artistic Director of Chicago Dramatists Theater, where Reggie is Resident Playwright and where his play Southbridge recently enjoyed its world premiere. He is also a noted teacher at Dramatists where he guides young playwrights through the possibilities of the form.
“I feel I have a duty as an African-American writer to speak on things that aren’t often said, or that people are scared to say. But even more, I see myself as an American artist where I get to wrestle with the ugliness and beauty that is America.”
His latest work, White America, on display in the Polarity Ensemble Theatre 2013 Dionysos Cup is a continuance of his search for the American aesthetic. In White America, it’s Thanksgiving dinner for the illustrious Whites, a political powerhouse family within the Republican Party that proudly traces its roots to the founding of the United States. Dinner turns to a debacle when the son, Justin, brings home his new wife and a secret that could shake the family tree to its core.
“One of the things that drew me to Reggie’s work is how he combines the political with the intensely personal,” says Polarity’s Artistic Director, Richard Engling. “In White America, the political situation is played out in the struggle between a father and a son. Racial strife is played out in the relationship between a husband and a wife and winds out into the relationships with the in-laws. He brings the large questions home into a familiar, intimate setting.”
The motivation for the play was the current state of our country where Reggie “noticed that upon the rise of the supposed Post-Racial America that emerged when President Obama came to office, a strange boil of bitter racism seemed to fester upon the flesh of America. I wanted to explore that. Try to at least get a glimpse of who we are as a country.” Reggie’s goal with this piece is to “show that in some way we are all guilty in some way shape or another of this nation. This house we live in has a weak foundation.”
Reggie’s choice to engage this theme is indication of his courage. His use of a comic form to tell this story is indication of his craftsmanship. “You do three things for the audience and one thing for you. You start with something easy, that’s where the comedy comes in, and then look to challenge yourself, which ultimately will challenge the audience.”
He sought out Polarity Ensemble Theatre and the Dionysos Cupas a way to continue his craftsmanship because he felt, “that the opportunity to work with an exciting company like Polarity was a chance that I couldn’t pass up. Polarity is a great company dedicated to new works, and I want very much to be part of this artistic family.”
Reggie brings a unique voice to the ensemble and one that should raise questions many might not have pondered but will be worth asking, and answering.
Reginald Edmund, is a resident playwright of Chicago Dramatists. He was previously a 2009-2010, 2010-2011 Many Voices Fellow playwright. Originally from Houston, Texas, he served Artistic Director for the Silver House Theatre, as well as the founder and producer for the Silver House Playwrights Festival and the Houston Urban Theatre Series. His play Southbridge was the 2009 National Runner-up for the Lorraine Hansberry and Rosa Parks Playwriting Award, Winner of the 2011 Southern Playwrights’ Competition, and a 2012 Finalist for the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.
He received his BFA in Theatre-Performance from Texas Southern University, and his MFA in Playwriting at Ohio University under the guidance of Charles Smith.
In 2009 he founded the Unit Collective and in 2010 he was named Winner of The Southern Writers Competition and recognized by TCG as a 2011 Young Leader of Color. His plays, The Ordained Smile of Sadie May Jenkins, Southbridge, Juneteenth Street, and The Redemption of Allah Black, all part of his nine-play series The City of the Bayou Collection, were developed at esteemed theaters including Ensemble Theatre of Houston, Silver House Theatre, Penumbra Theatre, the Playwrights’ Center, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Moving Arts, Karamu House, Pangea World Theater, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Texas State University Black and Latino Theatre Conference, the Last Frontier Theater Conference, and the Kennedy Center. Most recently he traveled to Colombia to serve as the guest speaker at the Intercolegiado de Teatro de Buenaventura. He is currently Founder and Artistic Director of New Voices/ Barebones Theatre, a company dedicated to playwrights and their works as well as emphasizing the development of an ethnically and culturally diverse community of artists for the Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago area and an associate artist for Chicago’s Pegasus Players Theatre.