Coppin professor's story of slavery will debut


March 20, 2000|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Seven years ago, Sidney Krome, an English professor at Coppin State College, was team-teaching an interdisciplinary honors course called Literature in History, which focused on the Holocaust and slavery in America. One week he brought in a guest speaker -- Baltimorean Leo Bretholz, a Holocaust survivor who saved his life by jumping out of a train bound for Auschwitz.

Krome expected the session with Bretholz to last an hour. Instead, it stretched out to four hours. "It was an incredibly intense experience," the professor recalls. Struck by the session's power and wanting to capture the same impact for the slavery experience, Krome came up with the idea of telling the story of a slavery survivor in a play.

That play, titled "The Survivor: An Oratorio of Celebration," debuts at Coppin's James Weldon Johnson Auditorium this weekend. The action takes place in a class like the one he team-taught with history professor Larry L. Martin. In the first part of the play, Krome explains, "The professors invite an actor in to play the role of a survivor of slavery."

In the second part, the actor has been transformed into an actual former slave named Tomba. Without giving away the third part, Krome says it is inspired by the Greek Orthodox Vespers of Agape service on Easter afternoon during which various gospels about the resurrection are read in different languages.

"I consider it a very religious piece," Krome says of the play, which takes place the day before the first Passover Seder, in a year when the holiday falls midway between Palm Sunday and Easter. "It's about how human beings find faith and hope to continue in the face of just incredible, awful suffering."

The play is being directed by Amini Johari-Courts, a colleague of Krome's at Coppin and associate artistic director of Arena Players, where she directed a staged reading of "The Survivor" in 1997. Most of the students in the production are being portrayed by Coppin students, although the major roles are played by local actors Elliott Daughtry, Richard Kirstel, Steven Maurice and Donald Owens. The production also includes documentary footage of the Holocaust and slavery as well as live music and dance.

"The Survivor" is one in a series of cultural programs being presented in commemoration of Coppin's 100th anniversary and supported in part by Bank of America. Show times at Coppin, 2500 W. North Ave., are 8 p.m. Saturdayand 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 general admission; $5 for students. Call 410-383-5960.

Tony n' Tina's separation

The party's over. "Tony n' Tina's Wedding," the audience-participation show at Scarlett Place, will close on April 9 after nearly seven months.

Although the initial two-month run was extended several times, the most recently announced extension -- through May 28 -- proved overly optimistic. "We really wanted to get it to six months, but it had to perform at higher numbers than it has to warrant going beyond that," said the show's Minneapolis-based producer, Sandy Hey.

A simulated blue-collar, Italian-American wedding, "Tony n' Tina" opened as part of the Mechanic Theatre season, initially playing eight performances a week. The schedule was cut back to five performances in January and four in February.

Hey said the production needed to play to at least 80 percent capacity, but in recent weeks was attracting only 60 percent. After the Christmas holidays various discount packages were offered, but she characterized response to those as merely "moderate."

"We could have cut the cast down, found a way to somehow hang on longer, but we didn't want to give up quality," Hey said. "So we decided to make a clean break."

Though the production initially featured a combined local and out-of-town cast, all but two members of the current company are area actors. Hey said several of those may be given a chance to perform the show in other cities. Her Minneapolis production is now in its fifth year, and a new production opens in Cleveland in September.

As Tony and Tina prepare to say their Baltimore vows for the last time, here are some final wedding statistics. By April 9, the show is expected to have played to more than 24,000 patrons, who will have consumed 3,000 bottles of champagne, nearly 48,000 meatballs and 25,000 slices of wedding cake. The show's charitable dollar dance is expected to have raised more than $10,000 for local charities.

As for the fate of the catering hall, dubbed "Vinnie Black's Blue Lagoon" in the show, Hey believes it'll probably be used as a catering hall for real weddings. In the meantime, prospective brides and grooms still have three weeks to glean ideas about what to do -- and not do -- at their own nuptials.

Show times at Scarlett Place, 250 S. President St., are 7 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. and 8: 30 p.m. Saturdays, and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $43.50-$58.50. Call 410-752- 1200.

Pumpkin needs director

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