Penumbra Theatre has announced a potent 2019-20 main-stage lineup that's heavy on contemporary titles. Selected by artistic director Sarah Bellamy and themed "State of Emergence," the season represents an artistic grappling with some vexing issues.
It kicks off with "Pipeline," the 2017 drama by MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow Dominique Morisseau. Two of her earlier plays, "Detroit '67" and "Sunset Baby," received powerful productions at the St. Paul theater.
"Pipeline" is named for the so-called school-to-prison pipeline crisis roiling communities of color. The play revolves around a young black man who is a student at a predominantly white private school. Raised by a single mother who is a teacher, Omari has escaped the tough streets of his neighborhood only to face the possibility of expulsion and jail after a confrontation with a white teacher.
Penumbra Theatre founder and retired artistic director Lou Bellamy directs "Pipeline." The play's Lincoln Center production was filmed and broadcast on PBS in February with Penumbra alum Namir Smallwood as Omari (Oct. 3-27).
The season also features "The White Card" by critically acclaimed poet and Yale Prof. Claudia Rankine ("Citizen"). The play looks at issues of visibility and invisibility — and norms and differences — as wealthy and supportive white arts patrons build a collection of works rooted in black pain. Published by Twin Cities-based Graywolf Press, "White Card" will be directed by Talvin Wilks, who recently staged "Benevolence" at Penumbra (Feb. 6-March 1, 2020).
And issues of sacrifice, migration and compassion animate "How Black Mothers Say I Love You" by Jamaican-Canadian playwright Trey Anthony. Sometimes described as the Oprah Winfrey of Canada for her pioneering role in broadcast TV in the north, Anthony writes about a situation that many immigrants find themselves in. Daphne left her children in the care of their grandparents back home in Jamaica while she came to work in the United States. The children felt abandoned even as Daphne tried to make a better life for them. Now, with the family reunited, Daphne faces a fatal illness as she and her daughters wrestle with their shared pain. Signe Harriday directs the drama (April 23-May 17, 2020).
Penumbra also brings back "Black Nativity," the Twin Cities area's most soulful holiday tradition. Lou Bellamy again directs, Uri Sands choreographs and Sanford Moore does musical direction with the Kingdom Life Church Choir (Nov. 21-Dec. 22).
The upcoming Penumbra roster also includes a Reel Talk film-and-discussion series that kicks off with "Wrestle," a documentary about a high school wrestling team in Huntsville, Ala., where challenges extend far beyond the mat (Oct. 14). Reel Talk continues with the James Baldwin documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" (Jan. 20, 2020) and ends with "Charm City," a film about violence in Baltimore (April 6, 2020).
Season tickets cost $96 to $207 and will be available starting June 1 via 651-224-3180 or penumbratheatre.org. Individual tickets will be available at a later date.