QUINTESSENCE THEATRE GROUP PRESENTS
NATHAN ALFORD-TATE, DONOVAN BAZMORE, NIYA COLBERT, WALTER DESHIELDS, JESSICA JOHNSON*, TRAVOYE JOYNER, ZUHAIRAH MCGILL*
By Angelina Weld Grimké
Directed by Alexandra Espinoza
Performances begin Wednesday, January 29, 2020 7:30pm
OPENING NIGHT is Thursday, February 6, 2020 at 7:30pm
At THE SEDGWICK THEATER in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, PA
Quintessence Theatre Group, Philadelphia‘s professional classic repertory theatre, continues its 10th season of progressive classics with the Philadelphia premiere of Angelina Weld Grimké’s 1916 masterpiece, Rachel. All performances, running January 29-February 16, are at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, 19119. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.QTGrep.org or call 215.987.4450.
An African-American family at the turn of the 20th century strives to find life, liberty, and happiness in a Northern city. Haunted by her family’s Southern past, Rachel, an ambitious high-school graduate, struggles to find a vocation, love and hope in the face of systemic racism, ultimately choosing to reject marriage and motherhood. Grimké’s American classic was produced by the NAACP as a response to the flamboyantly racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. When the production opened in New York on April 25, 1917, it made history as the first play written by an African-American author with an all-black cast to be performed before an integrated audience. Inside the program for the premiere of Rachel was written, “This is the first attempt to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people relative to the lamentable condition of the millions of Colored citizens in this free republic.” Over a century later, a direct parallel can be drawn from the lynching and institutionalized discrimination of the early 20th century to the systemic racism, killing and mass incarceration of the African American community in the early 21st century and the affect it has on the everyday lives of families, making exigent the need for understanding, sharing, and awareness.
With deep family ties to Philadelphia’s early abolitionist and women’s rights movements, Angelina Weld Grimké was a pioneering poet and essayist, a forerunner of the Harlem renaissance who has been largely written out of history. The NAACP chose to produce Grimké’s work because of her extraordinary ability to portray the African-American experience through poetry and prose. Grimké’s work has been compared to Ibsen and Chekov but was unproduced for nearly a century. Quintessence is thrilled to be staging the Philadelphia premiere of this great American classic.
Angelina Weld Grimké is the great niece of the Grimké sisters, Angelina Grimké Weld (who she is named after) and Sarah Moore Grimké . The Grimké sisters were ardent abolitionists and involved in the early women’s right’s movement. They were the first female agents of William Lloyd Garrison’s American Antislavery Society. On May 17, 1838 Grimke Weld spoke at the new Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia. An angry mob gathered outside throwing bricks and making threats while she spoke and she continued and incorporated these incidents into her speech. She finished her speech, the racially diverse group left the meeting arm in arm. Later that evening, the building was burned to the ground. Grimké Weld was the final speaker in the building. Sarah Moore Grimké took in her late brothers three illegitimate mixed-race sons by his personal slave. Welcoming them into the family, Sarah worked to provide funds to educate Archibald Grimké and Francis James Grimké, who went on to successful careers, and were leaders in the African-American community. Archibald Grimké , Angelina Weld Grimke’s father, was the second African American to graduate from Harvard Law School.
Philadelphia-based theatre artist Alexandra Espinoza will be directing the production. Her work aims to connect creative power to issues of community, identity, and action. Her work has been produced by Power Street Theatre Company and Juniper Productions. She has worked as an actor, dramaturg, and director with Orbiter 3, Inis Nua Theatre, Azuka Theatre, and PlayPenn. She practices community engaged dramaturgy with Simpatico Theatre and has facilitated the creative expression of people aged 7 to 70 in her work as a teaching artist. She was the 2018 recipient of the Barbara Wall Award for Feminist Praxis for her work on introducing Brechtian aesthetics to Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.
“Rachel is a play that is both specific to its time and chillingly prescient for our current moment. Angelina Weld Grimké was a Black, Queer woman who wrote this play in 1915 as a direct repudiation of the white supremacist propaganda film Birth of a Nation. Her work is bursting at the seams of realism, in that the container of the play is stylistically straightforward but its underbelly is an aggressively subversive examination of what it means to be Black, to be a child, to be a woman, to be a man, to be, and stay, alive in America,” said Espinoza.