Brooks -- a two-time winner Repeat: The Baltimore writer has taken top prize in the annual competition for black playwrights for the second time.

Theater

December 14, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Donald Dankwa Brooks says he tries not to repeat himself when he writes a play. But he's repeated himself in another way, by becoming a two-time winner of the annual competition for black playwrights sponsored by WMAR-TV (Channel 2) and Arena Players.

"This is twice as nice," Brooks says. The first time around, in 1995, he explains, "Everyone kept saying, 'This is once in a lifetime.' I said, 'This is only the first.' "

A Baltimore writer and college student, Brooks, 27, is only the second two-time winner in the 17-year history of the competition. (The first was the late H. B. Johnson Jr., who wrote both his winning entries while serving a sentence for armed robbery in the Maryland Penitentiary.)

Brooks' latest winning play, "Love, Rhythm & Blues," tells the story of a 16-year-old girl discovered by a talent agent, who falls in love with the girl's mother.

The play differs from Brooks' others -- he's submitted a half-dozen to the competition over the years -- in two respects. It incorporates music, specifically, rhythm and blues, and it includes more female characters, three out of four, than anything else he's written.

Amini Johari-Courts, artistic director of Arena Players, says the seven-member jury that selected Brooks' play was impressed by its youth-appeal, use of music, show-business theme and the fact that "it deals with the issues of family loyalty, and friendship and loyalty, and it also deals with a love story that's upbeat."

Brooks' previous contest winner was "Without a Doubt," a murder mystery that took top honors in 1995.

The following year he submitted a sequel, which was passed over by the judges. Last year, however, he came in second.

He says he learned a lot from the opportunity to have "Without a Doubt" produced on TV. For one thing, "Without a Doubt" turned out to be twice as long as it should have been. "They really cut it last time, but they were good cuts," he acknowledges.

Not only did he have a more accurate sense of length this time around, but, he explains, " 'Without a Doubt' was written more as a play. ['Love, Rhythm & Blues'] is written more as a film."

A telecommunications major at Morgan State University, Brooks is transferring to Towson University next semester to major in film. He eventually hopes to work in TV or film.

When he got the word that he'd won the playwriting contest, he was studying for finals and finishing up a term paper on the Harlem Renaissance.

Besides having his play filmed for TV, Brooks wins $1,000, which he will probably spend on a computer. "Love, Rhythm & Blues," which will be co-directed by Arena's LaFonde Holley and WMAR's Dante Wilson, will air at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 on Channel 2.

This year's second-place prize of $500 also went to a love story, "Real Love," by Regina Malloy. An account of an interracial love triangle in the antebellum South, it was a first play for Malloy, a media analyst with Venture Media.

Third prize and $250 went to David Alan Bunn's "New Variety Entertainment," a musical comedy about five writers creating a new television show.

A pianist, composer and conductor on leave from the Peabody Conservatory faculty, Bunn is currently working on a new musical in New York.

Smith will return

Patrons who attended "A Tuna Christmas" at the Mechanic Theatre last week may have noticed an article referring to Center Stage in the program. The mention appeared in a short profile of actress Lois Smith, who is currently playing the mother of the bride in the off-Broadway production of Beth Henley's "Impossible Marriage."

Center Stage, noted writer Harry Haun, gave Smith a chance to play her dream role, Madame Ranyevskaya, in "The Cherry Orchard" in 1994, and Haun hinted, "she may return there to take up 'Mrs. Warren's Profession.' " Sure enough, Center Stage has confirmed that Smith, who made her film debut opposite James Dean in "East of Eden," will indeed star as Mrs. Warren in director Irene Lewis' spring production.

It will be the actress' third appearance at Center Stage. A year before "The Cherry Orchard" in 1994, she played the mother of the violent, working-class family in George F. Walker's "Escape from Happiness."

In other news from Center Stage, JR Conklin, the theater's audio engineer from 1991 to 1996, will make his Broadway debut as the sound designer of the revival of "Annie Get Your Gun," starring Bernadette Peters. The musical will play a monthlong pre-Broadway engagement at Washington's Kennedy Center beginning Dec. 29.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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