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★★★★★  “Poetic, elegant, astonishing … a remarkable theatrical experience” 
— North Bay Bohemian

★★★★★  “Riveting, dynamic, brilliant … a devastating gut punch of a play” 
— Marin IJ

Bigger Thomas dares to want more out of life. Things start looking up when he lands a plum job with the well-to-do Dalton family, but their daughter Mary proves to be as dangerous as she is alluring. A fateful decision sends Bigger down a violent and inescapable path. Misrepresented and underestimated by everyone around him, Bigger has no one to turn to except himself. Using W.E.B. DuBois' theory of double consciousness as a guiding principle, this fresh 90-minute adaptation of Native Son focuses on the landscape inside the mind of Bigger Thomas, bringing the power of Richard Wright’s novel to life for a whole new generation. MTC is proud to bring Ms. Kelley’s heart-stopping, urgent and expressionistic adaptation of Wright’s groundbreaking novel to the West Coast, following its sold-out World Premiere at Chicago’s Court Theatre in 2014.

Nambi E. Kelley was a finalist for the Francesca Primus Award for her work on Native Son, and is currently the 2015-2017 playwright in residence at The National Black Theatre in NYC. Ms. Kelley will be joining MTC’s artistic team and the play’s originating director Seret Scott for the MTC production.


Performance Schedule

Evenings

Tue - Sun 7:30pm

Matinees 

Sun (Preview) Jan 21, 4:00pm
Thu (Perspectives) Feb 2, 1:00pm
Sat, Jan 28 & Feb 11, 2:00pm
Sun Jan 29, Feb 5 & 12, 2:00pm


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Ticket Prices

Performance Center
seating
Side
seating
Previews (Jan 19 - 22) $37 $37
Opening Night (Jan 24) $60 $55
Sat Eve $60 $55
Tue*, Wed, Thu, Fri & Sun Eve $49 $44
Matinees $49 $44
Best Deal (all shows, limited availability) n/a $25

* Excludes Opening Night.

Phone orders subject to a $10 per order fee; online orders subject to a $3 per order fee

Disabled seating is currently only available through the MTC Box Office (415.388.5208 or in person). We apologize for any inconvenience.


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Discounts

GROUPS – Bring eight or more people to receive a $7 discount on tickets. Click here or call 415.388.5208.
SENIORS (65+) – $4 off any performances
MILITARY – $6 off all performances. Learn more
UNDER 30 – $22, all performances
EDUCATOR – $12, all performances (limit 2). Must teach at a Marin County School. Contact the Education Dept. to request.
TEENS – $10, all performances

Discounts and special rates available only by calling or visiting the Box Office in person: (415) 388-5208
Promo Codes distributed for online redemption subject to availability. 
Only ONE (1) Promo Code will be valid per order. 
Promo Codes do not apply to Best Deal ($25) tickets.

MTC Engaged Special Events

​Post-show discussions

​Post-show discussions

After Most Shows

Join a member of our artistic staff (often with one or more members of the cast) for a Q&A discussion after most performances, except on Saturdays, and Opening and Closing Nights.


Wednesday Pre-Show Talks

Wednesday Pre-Show Talks

Before the Show

Join a member of our artistic staff for a Q&A discussion before the performance.

Cast

  • Ryan Nicole Austin*

    Ryan Nicole Austin*

    Vera/Bessie

    Ryan Nicole Austin is honored to make her debut at Marin Theatre Company in this fabulous production of Native Son. An Oakland, California-based actor, she has appeared in the Public Theater’s #BARS Mixtape Medley (a multimedia rap adaptation of classic literature); California Shakespeare Theater’s A Raisin in the Sun and Hamlet: Blood in the Brain; African-American Shakespeare Company’s Xtigone (by Nambi E. Kelley); and San Francisco Playhouse’s The Story. Her film and commercial credits include HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn and Bare Minerals foundation. Ms. Austin is a graduate of San Diego State University, where she earned distinctions as a champion track and field athlete while completing degrees in Sociology and Political Science. She is the proud wife of Michael Austin and mother of toddler Onyx Austin. She is grateful to her family for supporting her many adventures and endeavors.

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  • Rosie Hallett

    Rosie Hallett

    Mary

    Rosie Hallett is delighted to return to Marin Theatre Company after appearing as Meesh in The Way West and understudying for Steve Yockey’s Bellwether. Her other credits include The Country House at TheatreWorks; Top Girls and Harry Thaw Hates Everybody at Shotgun Players; The Winter’s Tale at San Francisco Shakespeare Festival; Status Update at CenterREP; and three productions and tours to France with Word for Word Performing Arts Company, where she is an associate artist. When not in San Francisco, Ms. Hallett can often be found in Paris, where she performs with Big Funk Company in English-language productions. She is a company member of PlayGround, a Theatre Bay Area Titan Award recipient, and a graduate of Stanford University.

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  • William Hartfield

    William Hartfield

    The Black Rat

    William Hartfield is excited to be making his Marin Theatre Company debut. Previous credits include Crowded Fire Theater’s The Shipment; Ubuntu Theater Project’s The Brothers Size (Theatre Bay Area Award nomination for Best Actor in a Lead Role), Dance of the Holy Ghosts, The Gospel of Lovingkindness, Waiting for Lefty, and The Grapes of Wrath; and Z Space’s Lucia Berlin. Mr. Hartfield is a Richmond native, and has also performed with the Fusion Theater program under the tutelage of Michael Torres at Laney College, where he is thrilled to be pursuing a Theater and Social Science degree. 

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  • Jerod Haynes*

    Jerod Haynes*

    Bigger

    Jerod Haynes was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side. He is excited to join and work with Marin Theatre Company in the 2017 production of Native Son. Last season, he appeared as Bigger in Court Theatre and American Blues Theater’s world-premiere production of Native Son, taking home the Joseph Jefferson Award for Actor in a Principal Role for his performance. He also received an award nomination for his portrayal of Jay Jackson in American Theatre Company’s production of The Royale, directed by Jaime Castaneda (a play loosely based on the first African-American heavyweight boxer, Jack Johnson). Mr. Haynes has also played Citizen Barlow in Court’s production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (2015, directed by Ron O.J. Parson), Canewell in Court’s production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (2014, directed by Ron O.J. Parson), and Walter Lee in Timeline Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun (2013, directed by Ron O.J. Parson). Other theatre credits include: Columbinus (2013) at ATC, Tom Robinson in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird (2012), and appearances in eta Creative Arts Foundation’s productions of Contribution and Greensboro 4: Downpayment on Manhood. Film/TV credits: Mr. Haynes plays Tommy in Southside with You, about the Obamas’ first date; Sense8 (Netflix); Empire and The Mob Doctor (Fox); Consumed and Betrayal (ABC); and Crisis (NBC). Mr. Haynes studied at the British American Drama Academy and finished the training program at the Acting Studio Chicago. He thanks God and his family, and dedicates his work to his daughter, Jalaiya.

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  • Patrick Kelly Jones*

    Patrick Kelly Jones*

    Britten

    Patrick Kelly Jones has performed with Marin Theatre Company in August: Osage County; Gem of the Ocean; Failure: A Love Story; It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play; and Bellwether, as well as two Theatre for Young Audiences shows and several readings and workshops. Recent Bay Area credits include: The Tempest (California Shakespeare Theater), The Heir Apparent (Aurora Theatre Company), Sister Play (Magic Theatre), and Peter and the Starcatcher (TheatreWorks). Select regional credits include: Cymbeline and Misalliance (New York Classical Theatre); Step One: Plays with Instructions (The 52nd Street Project, New York); You Can’t Take It with You (Denver Center for the Performing Arts); The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Florida Studio Theatre); Arms and the Man (Great Lakes Theater); and Vincent in Brixton (Cleveland Play House). Mr. Jones earned his M.F.A. in Acting from Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House. patrickkellyjones.com

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  • Adam Magill*

    Adam Magill*

    Jan

    Adam Magill recently appeared at Marin Theatre Company as Arthur de Bourgh in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Bay Area credits include: Macbeth (Berkeley Repertory Theatre), Stupid F**king Bird (San Fransisco Playhouse), The Whale (MTC), The Mousetrap (Shotgun Players), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (City Lights Theater Company). Mr. Magill is a graduate of the Foothill Theatre Conservatory. 

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  • Dane Troy*

    Dane Troy*

    Buddy

    Dane Troy is truly grateful to his friends, family, and the Marin Theatre Company community for their support. He is honored to be here. Mr. Troy graduated from the University of Georgia in 2013 and moved to Los Angeles in August 2015. In Atlanta, he worked with Alliance Theatre, Aurora Theatre, Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, Horizon Theatre Company, and Theatrical Outfit. He is a graduate of the core comedic improv programs at Upright Citizens Brigade (Los Angeles) & iO West, where he is on the Blue Bellies performance team; he also was recently accepted into The Groundlings’ Advanced Improv training. In fall of 2016, Mr. Troy was fortunate to be a part of Killing My Lobster’s production of Night of the Living Data and an understudy for Justin/Son in Afros & Ass Whoopins at The Second City (Hollywood). Look for him as Freddie Hampton in season two of Amazon Prime’s Hand of God. Go Braves!

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  • Courtney Walsh

    Courtney Walsh

    Mrs. Dalton

    Courtney Walsh is delighted to make her Marin Theatre Company debut. Recent Bay Area credits include San Francisco Playhouse’s Jerusalem and Seared (world premiere) as well as We Players’ Romeo and Juliet; this coming spring, she will play the title role in Phèdre at Cutting Ball Theater. Internationally, she has performed in Berlin, Amsterdam, Cardiff, Athens, Nafplio, Sydney, and Auckland as Clytemnestra in Tangled Justice; in Paris and Montpellier as Winnie in a bilingual production of Happy Days; and in Athens in The Wanderings of Odysseus. Ms. Walsh has worked with Stanford Repertory Theater for nine seasons, including Moby Dick--Rehearsed, for which she won Theater Bay Area Awards for Outstanding Production, Directing and Acting. During a hiatus from acting, she earned a law degree and represented children in child abuse cases, returning to the stage in 2006. Ms. Walsh is a graduate of Yale University in Theater Studies. courtneywalsh.net

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  • C. Kelly Wright*

    C. Kelly Wright*

    Hannah

    C. Kelly Wright is honored to return to Marin Theatre Company in this timely adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic literary tale. Ms. Wright had an award-winning debut on the MTC stage in As Thousands Cheer (2000); she has since continued to receive acclaim for her work on stages in the Bay Area and throughout the country, including, most recently, Party People (Berkeley Repertory Theatre), The Scottsboro Boys (American Conservatory Theater), Langston in Harlem (Urban Stages Theater, off-Broadway), and Black Pearl Sings! (InterAct Theatre Company, Philadelphia). Ms. Wright’s greatest love is developing new works; she has given voice to the development of Broadway shows Memphis and The Mountaintop as well as to playwrights Marcus Gardley, Imani Harrington, Nilan Johnson, Nambi E. Kelley, James T. Lane, Nina Mercer, Robert O’Hara, Philana Omorotionmwan, Larry Powell, Venus Opal Reese, and Aurin Squirer, to name only a few. Ms. Wright’s film work includes Angel Wishes, Everyday Black Man, and Black Nativity.

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Creative Team

  • Nambi E. Kelley

    Nambi E. Kelley

    Playwright

    Nambi E. Kelley has penned plays for Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, and Court Theatre/American Blues Theater in Chicago; Lincoln Center and the National Black Theatre in New York; and internationally with LATT Children’s Theatre/Unibooks Publishing Company (South Korea), Teatri Sbagliati (Italy), and The Finger Players (Singapore), where she also performed in The Book of Living and Dying. Most recently, Ms. Kelley was named playwright in residence at the National Black Theatre in New York and a finalist for the Francesca Primus Award and The Kevin Spacey Foundation Award. She is currently working on a stage adaptation of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, to be produced by Center Stage in their 2016-17 season. The world premiere of her Native Son was presented in 2014 to critical acclaim at Court Theatre with American Blues Theatre (co-production); it was nominated for five Joseph Jefferson Awards, including Best Adaptation and Production of the Year, and was the highest-grossing production in Court Theatre’s 60-year history. Native Son is also on the 2015 Kilroys’ List of the best new plays by female and trans* authors across the country. Ms. Kelley’s Xtigone celebrated production in Chicago (Chicago Danz Theatre Ensemble) and San Francisco (African-American Shakespeare Company, directed by Rhodessa Jones), with several high school and college productions across the country; the script has been published by YouthPlays Publishing. Also an actress, Ms. Kelley has worked on stage and television in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and internationally, playing opposite such artists as Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Blair Underwood, and Patrick Swayze. nambikelley.com

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  • Seret Scott^

    Seret Scott^

    Director

    Seret Scott directed a dozen productions at The Old Globe in San Diego as an associate artist. Off-Broadway credits: New Victory Theater, Second Stage Theatre, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. Regional credits: Court Theatre, Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, South Coast Repertory, American Conservatory Theater, Long Wharf Theatre, Hartford Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company, National Black Theatre. Workshops: Roundabout Theatre Company, Pacific Playwrights Festival, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, New York Stage and Film, Sundance Institute, the New Harmony Project, New Dramatists. Ms. Scott is also the author of Second Line, produced by Passage Theatre (New Jersey) and Atlas Theatre (Washington, D.C.).

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  • Giulio Cesare Perrone

    Giulio Cesare Perrone

    Scenic Designer

    Giulio Cesare Perrone is returning to Marin Theatre Company, where he has directed Tartuffe and designed 12 past productions. Regional credits include: Inferno Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Festival Opera, Dell’Arte International, ACT Academy, Opera San Jose, Foghouse Productions, California Shakespeare Festival, TheatreWorks, A Travelling Jewish Theatre, Magic Theatre, Denver Theatre Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Alley Theatre, and others. Special awards/training: 2000 Pew National Artists Residency grant with Dell’Arte International for an adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost, 2002 Pew-Theatre Communications Group grant for an adaptation of The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova, Los Angeles Drama-Logue Award. Mr. Perrone graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti “Brera” in Milan.

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  • Melissa Torchia+

    Melissa Torchia+

    Costume Designer

    Melissa Torchia is thrilled to be working on this project again, now with the artists at Marin Theatre Company. Credits include: You Never Can Tell, King Lear, and The Verona Project (California Shakespeare Theater); City of Angels (San Francisco Playhouse); Native Son (Court Theatre with American Blues Theater); A Long Day’s Journey into Night, Jitney, and The Mountaintop (Court Theatre); The Invisible Hand, The Fantasticks, Anne Frank, and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Kansas City Repertory Theatre); Little Shop of Horrors (Cleveland Play House); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Last Wife (TimeLine Theatre Company); The Last Defender, The Iron Stag King, The Crownless King, The Excelsior King, Rose and the Rime, and The Magnificents (The House Theatre of Chicago); Peter Pan (Lookingglass Theatre Company); Samuel J. and K. (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); Grease (American Theater Company); James and the Giant Peach (First Stage, Milwaukee) Chapter Two (Windy City Playhouse); My Fair Lady, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Hair (Paramount Theatre); Gypsy, Aida, and Sugar (Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook); Not Wanted on the Voyage (American Music Theatre Project, Northwestern University); The Importance of Being Earnest (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company); and Abigail’s Party and Butcher of Baraboo (A Red Orchid Theatre). Ms. Torchia is a proud company member with The House Theatre of Chicago. Upcoming projects include: Silent Night (Opera San Jose); Robin Hood (First Stage, Milwaukee); and As You Like It (California Shakespeare Theater). melissatorchia.com

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  • Marc Stubblefield

    Marc Stubblefield

    Lighting Designer

    Marc Stubblefield is excited to have his first opportunity to work at Marin Theatre Company. MTC’s Native Son is his third collaboration with director Seret Scott (Native Son, world premiere; Spunk!) Mr. Stubblefield has previously worked extensively in Chicago, including productions of Glass Menagerie, Arcadia, Three Tall Women, Seven Guitars, Jitney, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Wait Until Dark, and The First Breeze of Summer at Court Theatre, where was also the director of production for 11 years. Mr. Stubblefield has also worked at the Geffen Playhouse, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, and the Alley Theatre, among others. He received a dual M.F.A. in Production Management and Scenic Design from U.C.L.A.’s school of Theatre, Film and Television, and a B.A. in Technical Theatre from Rice University.

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  • Joshua Horvath+

    Joshua Horvath+

    Sound Designer

    Joshua Horvath is an award-winning sound designer, composer, and music producer. Recent shows have included: Into the Woods (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Little Shop of Horrors (Cleveland Play House), The Verona Project and King Lear (California Shakespeare Theater), Blood Wedding (Lookingglass Theatre), Start Down (Alliance Theatre), An Iliad (Geva Theatre Center, Kansas City Repertory Theatre), A Raisin in the Sun (Milwaukee Repertory Theater), Baskerville (Arena Stage, McCarter Theatre), Oliver! (Arena Stage), A Comedy of Tenors (Cleveland Play House, McCarter), Immediate Family (Mark Taper Forum), The Long Red Road (Goodman Theatre), A Civil War Christmas (Long Wharf Theater), Crime and Punishment (Center Stage), Winesburg (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Porgy and Bess and Titus Andronicus (Court Theatre), Circle Mirror Transformation (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), and Clay (Lincoln Center). Mr. Horvath has taught sound design for theatre and film at Northwestern University, DePaul University, and Loyola University. He is a four-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner and an L.A. Ovation Award winner, a company member of The House Theatre of Chicago, an artistic associate of Lookingglass Theatre, and a collaborative partner with Goodman Theatre. 

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  • Sean McStravick*

    Sean McStravick*

    Stage Manager

    Sean McStravick has previously stage-managed Marin Theatre Company’s productions of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley; August: Osage County; The Invisible Hand; Anne Boleyn; Gem of the Ocean; My Mañana Comes; The Oldest Boy; Choir Boy; The Convert; The Whale; Fetch Clay, Make Man; and Good People. Mr. McStravick has worked for numerous Bay Area theatres, including Shotgun Players; 42nd Street Moon; and Willows Theatre Company, where he was the production stage manager from 2010 to 2012. Regionally, he has also supported productions at North Coast Repertory Theatre, Blue Trunk Theatre Company, Back Seat Theatre, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and Actors Alliance of San Diego. He is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. 

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  • ​Jessica Berman

    ​Jessica Berman

    dialect coach

    Jessica Berman is also a voice and text coach. She made her Marin Theatre Company debut with August: Osage County. Ms. Berman has led dialect workshops and voice warm-ups for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has taught voice and speech at U.C. Berkeley, in American Conservatory Theater’s Summer Training Congress, and at Academy of Art University. Recent coaching credits include: Sojourners, runboyrun, and Fred’s Diner (Magic Theatre), Fences (California Shakespeare Theater), Punk Rock (A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory), Summertime and Aulis: An Act of Nihilism in One Long Act (U.C. Berkeley), and Jerusalem (San Francisco Playhouse). Ms. Berman holds an M.A. in Professional Voice Practice from the Birmingham School of Acting and an M.F.A. in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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  • ​Lizabeth Stanley

    ​Lizabeth Stanley

    Prop Master

    Lizabeth Stanley is thrilled to return for this very exciting 50th anniversary season. In addition to last season at Marin Theatre Company, her recent credits include The Unfortunates and Chester Bailey at American Conservatory Theater, The Comedy of Errors and Year of the Rooster at Impact Theatre, and A House Tour of the Infamous Porter Family Mansion with Tour Guide Weston Ludlow Londonderry at Z Space. Ms. Stanley holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts from The Ohio State University.

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  • Dori Jacob

    Dori Jacob

    Casting Director

    Dori Jacob joined Marin Theatre Company as the casting director in May 2015. For the previous four seasons, she served as the director of new play development for Magic Theatre in San Francisco, and dramaturged its world premieres of Octavio Solis’ Se Llama Cristina, Linda McLean’s Every Five Minutes, Christina Anderson’s PEN/MAN/SHIP, and John Kolvenbach’s Sister Play. As resident producer for Magic Theatre’s developmental programming, Ms. Jacob’s credits include 2011-2015 Virgin Play Series, the 2012 Asian Explosion Reading Series, and the 2013 Costume Shop Festival. Further Bay Area dramaturgy/producing/casting credits include: Assassins at Shotgun Players, Marilee Talkington’s The Creative Process at SOMArts, Laura Schellhardt’s The Comparables, and Elizabeth Hersh’s Shelter in Place at Playwrights Foundation. Ms. Jacob previously served on the executive board and literary committee for the National New Play Network, is a current member of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, and is a graduate of U.C. Santa Cruz and N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts.

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  • ​Laura A. Brueckner

    ​Laura A. Brueckner

    Literary Manager & Resident Dramaturg

    Laura A. Brueckner has been supporting productions and playwrights with her dramaturgical work for over 20 years, with an emphasis on digital dramaturgy, world premieres, and commissions. During this time, she has been proud to count among her collaborators artists such as Marin Theatre Company’s playwright in residence, Lauren Gunderson; Christopher Chen; Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig; Mina Morita; Marissa Wolf; Idris Goodwin; Lachlan Philpott; and Dominique Serrand, as well as groundbreaking companies Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Crowded Fire Theater, The New Harmony Project, Playwrights Foundation, and, now, MTC. As an artist, she is committed to theatre as a path of social action, critical inquiry, discovery, and delight. Her journalistic writing on artistic process and audience engagement has been published by HowlRound and Theatre Bay Area; her dramaturgical writing has been published by Berkeley Rep, California Shakespeare Theater, and Crowded Fire. A member of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, she holds a B.A. in English Dramatic Literature (magna cum laude) from U.C. Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Dramaturgy from U.C. San Diego. 

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* Denotes member of Actors Equity Association
+ Member, United Scenic Artists
^ Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

Reviews

  • ★★★★★ Racism reaches boiling point in MTC’s ‘Native Son’

    Marin Theatre Company artistic director Jasson Minadakis says he planned the company’s 50th anniversary season around its current production of “Native Son,” a bold new adaption on Richard Wright’s seminal 1940 novel by Chicago playwright Nambi E. Kelley.

    It’s a devastating gut punch of a play. “Native Son” is the story of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man furious at how limited his options in life are in white-dominated society. Shortly after getting a new job as a chauffeur for the rich white Dalton family, he helps staggering drunk daughter Mary Dalton to bed but accidentally kills her while trying to keep her quiet to avoid being caught in her room. Thus begins a feverish cover-up, as he knows no one’s going to listen to any extenuating circumstances. 

    This isn’t the first stage version of the novel. The author collaborated with Paul Green on a “Native Son” play that debuted as early as 1941, directed by Orson Welles. In 2006, Seattle’s Intiman Theatre premiered a new version by Kent Gash, who has also directed at MTC (“Seven Guitars,” “Choir Boy”). It’s also been made into a couple of movies, the first of which (in 1951) actually starred Wright. 

    Director Seret Scott helmed the world premiere of Kelley’s version in Chicago in 2014, and she’s brought a lot of her team from that production with her to Marin, including costume designer Melissa Torchia, lighting designer Marc Stubblefield, sound designer Joshua Horvath, and actor Jerod Haynes in the lead role of Bigger Thomas.

    Haynes is riveting as Bigger, tense and volatile, his simmering rage never far beneath the surface but deliberately suppressed around white folk. His discomfort when white liberals try to act chummy with him is excruciating, because he knows better than to try to respond in kind.

    Rosie Hallett is cringeworthily condescending as Mary Dalton, a dilettante leftist who’s positively giddy to meet a real live black man. She and her boyfriend, a communist activist (absurdly earnest Adam Magill), are eager to show off how much they want to connect with “your people.” Mary’s blind mother (nervously chatty Courtney Walsh) also makes a big deal of how liberal-minded and charitable the family is. After all that, the straightforward racism of the private detective (a casually badgering Patrick Kelly Jones) is almost refreshing. 

    C. Kelly Wright is forceful as Bigger’s no-nonsense mother, and Dane Troy is an energetic presence as a confusing hybrid character combining his adoring little brother and a taunting friend. Ryan Nicole Austin fades into the background as Bigger’s little sister but commands the stage as the boozy girlfriend he doesn’t particularly like. 
    Scott’s staging is tense and dynamic throughout. Stubblefield’s stark lighting conspires with Giulio Cesare Perrone’s skeletal set of steps and platforms to lend a stripped down sense of urgency. Horvath’s suspenseful sound design mixes jazzy trumpet with dogs and sirens to suggest hot pursuit. 

    Kelley makes a number of striking changes beyond the usual paring down of plot and characters. She omits the last section of the novel entirely, which focuses on Bigger’s interactions with his lawyer. Starting with the death of Mary, the narrative skillfully jumps backward and forward in time, often shifting between Bigger’s interactions with his family and with the Daltons in the same scene. 

    Most crucially, Kelley creates the new character of the Black Rat (a coolly observing and advising William Hartfield), who acts as a kind of sinister Jiminy Cricket, providing the mocking commentary that Bigger can’t say aloud and prodding him to do whatever he needs to do to survive. But he isn’t just a devil on Bigger’s shoulder; he’s as likely to talk him out of doing something rash as he is to insist on violence when necessary. He’s not really outside of Bigger but part of him, embodying the cold, hard calculation necessary to navigate through a world that’s always, in one way or another, out to get him. 

    It’s a brilliant device that keeps us deep in Bigger’s head when we need to know not just what Bigger does but what drives him, because the society around him is all too ready to believe the worst about him. That’s just one of the reasons why it’s so sobering to revisit this story now, because that readiness to demonize doesn’t seem to have changed much.

    — By Sam Hurwitt, Marin IJ Read full review
  • ★★★★★ 'Son' Rises Richard Wright's masterpiece hasn't lost its power

    Beauty isn't always pretty.

    Richard Wright's 1940 masterpiece Native Son—among the most important and powerful American novels ever published—has been alternately praised and condemned, drawing kudos and criticism for the very same things—mainly, the brutal honesty, realism and shocking violence of Wright's supremely crafted depiction of life as a poor, undereducated black man in mid-century America.

    Powered by a poetic, elegant script by Nambi E. Kelley, the Marin Theatre Company brings Wright's explosive novel to the stage, with an extraordinary cast giving perfectly tuned performances under the steady guidance of director Seret Scott. The result is a remarkable theatrical experience that is at once astonishing, beautiful, visceral, vibrant and inescapably ugly. Kelley, succeeding where countless others have fallen short, strips Wright's epic-length novel to its bones, then dresses it back up again in brilliant theatrical ideas, enhancing rather than diminishing the power of Wright's ingeniously crafted, ethical puzzle-box of a story.

    Bigger Thomas (a superb Jerod Haynes) is barely scraping by, living in a rat-infested Chicago slum with his mother (C. Kelly Wright), sister Vera (Ryan Nicole Austin) and brother Buddy (Dane Troy). Bigger is, for obvious reasons, a frustrated man, a combustible blend of anger, hopelessness and fear.

    Bigger's violent internal struggles are brilliantly illustrated through his conversations with the Black Rat (William Hartfield), the playwright's impressively wrought illustration of Bigger's conflicted inner battles. The Rat represents the way society sees him, a view that is constantly in conflict with how Bigger sees himself.

    Even the possibility of a decent job, chauffeuring for a wealthy, liberal white woman (Courtney Walsh), is rife with danger. Her daughter, Mary (Rosie Hallett), and her communist boyfriend, Jan (Adam Magill), attempt to show Bigger how open-minded they are, clueless about how their public shows of "equality" are putting him in danger.

    As the story moves ahead with ferocious speed—told in a single, 90-minute act—Bigger steps back and forth from present to past, with flashbacks underscoring his rising fear and fury with heartbreaking power.

    The story may be set in the 1940s, but that so little has changed is clear. That, along with the ugly beauty of his storytelling, is why Wright's brutal masterpiece continues to have such resonance after more than 75 years.

    — David Templeton, North Bay Bohemian Read full review
  • Native Son: Marin Theatre Company Takes on Richard Wright’s Classic Novel

    It’s not surprising that Marin Theatre Company artistic director Jasson Minadakis has centered the company’s fiftieth anniversary season on Native Son, a new adaptation, by Nambi E. Kelley, of Richard Wright’s 1940 best-selling novel. In his eleven years with this excellent Bay Area company, Minadakis has made a particular effort to showcase plays with African American themes, by African American playwrights. And he’s brought us some terrific new work.

    One of the first plays I saw at MTC, back in 2010, was Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s In the Red and Brown Water, the first in his Brother/Sister Plays trilogy (the other two were produced that season at theaters in San Francisco and Berkeley, respectively). Five years later, MTC presented McCraney’s terrific Choir Boy. Now he’s getting a ton of attention for Moonlight: A major Oscar contender, the movie is based on McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue; McCraney himself is up for an Oscar, with director Barry Jenkins, for best adapted screenplay.

    In the past few years, MTC has also brought us Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man (the company’s third-best-selling production ever), Danai Gurira’s The Convert, and Will Power’s Fetch Clay, Make Man, not to mention three of the late famed African American playwright August Wilson‘s ten plays. All were superbly done and got rave reviews.

    In my opinion, MTC is the most consistently excellent theater company in the Bay Area. Audiences have come to expect outstanding acting, directing, set and costume design, sound and lighting in any production we see here in Mill Valley.

    Native Son director Seret Scott, who directed the play in its world premiere in Chicago, brought much of her team, including the leading man, with her. Jerod Haynes plays Bigger Thomas, who dreams of being a pilot but feels his every option limited by racism: “When you look in the mirror, you only see what they tell you you is.”

    The story takes place during the Great Depression, when options for so many are few and even more curtailed for blacks. Tough to begin with, Bigger’s life derails when he’s hired by a liberal white family as their chauffeur. On his first night, he is to drive their rebellious, entitled daughter, Mary, to a university class; instead, she not only forces him to take her to meet Jan, her young Communist boyfriend, she makes Bigger sit between them in the car, drink with them, and show them someplace “you people” like to eat. The two even sing one of “his” people’s songs with egregious Southern accents. Their patronizing cluelessness—they have no interest in Bigger as an individual—is more painful to watch, and more interesting, than the flat-out racism he normally encounters.

    When they get back, Mary is so drunk, he has to practically carry her to her room, where, trying to keep her quiet, he accidentally smothers her. Then he has to get rid of her body. Then he has to run. Then, led by his inner self and survival instinct, The Black Rat (“you only see what they tell you you is”), he kills again.

    The novel makes every step Bigger takes inevitable, the product of society’s horrendous racism and his poverty. The play tries to take us inside Bigger’s mind by portraying “a split second...when he runs from his crime, remembers, imagines, [on] two cold and snowy winter days in December 1939 and beyond.” This imaginative conceit shuffles time, characters, and events, giving us tumbled shards of Bigger’s life rather than a straightforward rendering. This approach makes a plot that seems rather simplistic—certainly when compared to the plays mentioned above—appear more complex. And yet, with the murder taking place near the beginning of the play, the crime’s inevitability is muted. The action that follows is somewhat heavy-handed. And since we’ve already seen Bigger pull a knife on his little brother and lose control when bashing the rat that’s scaring his family, our empathy is muted as well.

    Even so, the play is gripping, thanks to its intensity, pacing, and fine acting: William Hartfield as The Black Rat; Dane Troy as Bigger’s little brother and in some smaller roles; C. Kelly Wright as Bigger’s mother; Ryan Nicole Austin as Bigger’s alcoholic girlfriend (she also plays his sister); Rosie Hallett as Mary; and Courtney Walsh as her mother. Patrick Kelly Jones is properly despicable as various racist police and others, though Adam Magill, so memorable in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, is given far less to do as the earnest Jan.

    Native Son is a play worth seeing—and a novel well worth reading.

    — Pamela Feinsilber, Huffington Post
  • ★★★★★

    Collapsing a novel that is often listed in the top 100, most significant novels of the Twentieth Century not only into a play but also into a split-second-long setting within the main character’s racing, panicked mind is no small order and fraught with possible missteps.  However, playwright Nambi E. Kelley has handed a tight, tense adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son, to Director Seret Scott; and the result for Marin Theatre Company is a sweat-producing, heart-pounding production that starkly reminds us that the harsh, damning truths of 1940’s White America are in many ways not that different than those echoed by Black Lives Matter in 2017.

    Ms. Kelley’s script incredibly captures in ninety minutes almost the entirety of the original, gripping novel that laid out in raw terms the racial divide of America that remained seventy-five years after the Civil War.  A young African-American man, Bigger, living in rat-infested poverty in Chicago’s West Side of 1939, finds himself as the chauffeur for one of the city’s richest families -- the same Daltons who own the shabby, one-room apartment building where he lives with his mom Hannah, sister Vera, and brother Buddy.  A first-night assignment to drive the rich family’s daughter Mary to university is hijacked by the socialite’s other plans to go out with her Commie-leaning, handsome boyfriend, Jan, for a night on the town.  

    They choose to hit the South Side’s black establishments, dragging uneasy Bigger into their night of boozing and carousing – all the time telling him “We are on your side.”  But too much drink eventually leaves Mary both unable to walk and totally amorous toward the beautiful Black man who must now take the half-passed-out beauty back to her room in his arms.  When the blind Mrs. Dalton comes in unexpectedly to check on her daughter just as Bigger decides to give in and kiss the pretty redhead, he panics and covers her head with a pillow to suppress any drunken sounds from her.  

    The rest of the story follows a too-familiar story that still plays out today for young, urban, African-American men.  There is little chance for him to do anything but make all the wrong, ever-more-damning choices as the society around him comes to the all, too-quick conclusions based on its long-held, deeply believed stereotypes and prejudice.

    The power of this re-telling of Native Son comes to bear in the split-second, fast-paced, tension-filled direction of Seret Scott.  Interlocking scenes play out on a sparse, multi-level, wooden-famed labyrinth (designed by Giulio Cesare Perrone) where Bigger often physically moves between time periods of his life with spoken phrases from one incident being either finished or echoed in another scene and time period.  Ms. Scott creates through astute, imaginative direction Bigger’s inner-brain, thought patterns that range from nostalgic memory to agitated anger to near-hysterical madness.  

    The large, figured shadows against black walls; blindly sharp spots at times centered on a lone Bigger; and a mixture of light and darkness playing throughout the maze of the set’s wooden slabs and steps are just some of Marc Stubblefield’s contributions to enhance Ms. Scott’s direction.  Background, pinpointed effects of sound designed by Joshua Horvath set the tones needed to round out a picture the Director creates that portrays the contrasts of the slums and alley-crossed streets of the South Side with the homes of the upper crust of the same Chicago – the latter differences further enhanced through the costumes of poor and rich by Melissa Torchia. 

    The inevitability of doom for this man whom society has branded from the beginning as a loser is underscored by scores of decisions the director makes in taking the suggestions of the playwright’s inspired script and bringing them to life in ways that often appear as if a multi-screened movie is being shown before us.  One of the most powerful images of the play and the novel occurs near the beginning when Bigger slaughters a foot-long rat before his first grateful and then horrified family.  In Ms. Kelley’s version, the rat is played by a smartly dressed man in three-piece suit and hat, a presence who shadows Bigger throughout his dream/nightmare and who reminds him repeatedly, “When you look in the mirror, you only see that they tell you is a black rat son-of-a-bitch.” 

    As The Big Rat, William Hartfield exudes the ever-present premonition of the inevitable as he plays Bigger’s inner voice that eggs on, challenges, advises, and even tries to protect Bigger’s too-bound path toward self-destruction molded by the society around him.  While he is on one hand through his growly, gravelly voice the personification of The Black Rat in the referred mirror, he is also dressed in business best and carries himself with the tall, proud stature of the Man that Bigger might have been if not pre-ordained otherwise.

    As Bigger, Jerod Haynes never is out of our sight and from whom it is difficult to turn our attention even for a few seconds from his achingly powerful performance.  While the character remembers in fever-pitched sequences all the event events leading up to his arrest and then projects in his dream the certain conclusion beyond, we see so many aspects of this complex character come to life in Mr. Haynes’ stellar performance.  We watch him with amusement “Play White” with his brother where one is JP Morgan and the other is a poor, black worker.  Or we watch as he looks to the sky mimicking planes flying high above, hearing his deep disappointment mixed with increasingly hate-filled resentment, “Man, I’d love to fly ... White folks don’t let us do nothin’.”  

    So tight and taunt Bigger is that, like a stretched rubber band, he often appears about to snap two. The sudden anger that does suddenly erupt -- especially to family members like when he requires his brother to lick a switchblade -- lets us know that here is a man who is gradually losing all control and judgment even as he fights always to look downward, answer ‘yes’m,’ and never contradict whenever the white folks around him.  Mr. Haynes’s wide range of emotional constraints and outbursts, his wide-eyed moments of both anger and terror, and his animal-like moves and instincts hell-bent on survival balance against those moments when we see him just trying to be a man like other men, taking a few minutes to play pool, to joke with a pal, to love -- even to dream. Together, Messieurs Hartfield and Haynes portray a Bigger that must be causing Richard Wright to be smiling in awed satisfaction from somewhere in the Great Beyond.

    And surrounding the two sides of Bigger in his dreamed sequences is a cast where each person leaves a merited mark on his and our memory. C. Kelly Wright is magnificent as the tortured mother who cannot understand why her son cannot just love Jesus, work hard, and be a good boy. As Hannah, she also rises in indignation when the White Man comes to seek his revenge on her just because he assumes she is guilty and worthless by association with her son.  

    Dane Troy is the kid brother Buddy, fully convincing in his wanting to be noticed and included by his older brother’s good and bad ideas but also heart-wrenching when he becomes the brunt of Bigger’s tirades.  Doubling as Sister Vera and Girlfriend Bessie, Ryan Nicole Austin is appropriately sweet and silly, seductive and sultry.  

    Courtney Walsh is the blind Mrs. Dalton whose aristocratic dignity and societal status makes room for her somewhat feeble, but seemingly well-meaning attempts to show Bigger that she trusts him, no matter that he “a Negro.”  Even more so, her flighty, laughing daughter, Mary -- with red-hair flinging in ways to taunt and tantalize (played by Rosie Hallett) -- and Mary’s left-leaning boyfriend, Jan (Adam Magill), together bend over backwards in almost cartoonish manners to ‘equalize’ Bigger to their white status.  But as these mixed-up scenes play out in Bigger’s memory, it is clear that he begins to see the outreaches of Jan s having some deeper, truer sincerity, believably conveyed by Mr. Magill’s portrayal.  

    Rounding out the cast is Patrick Kelly Jones as the one-person representative of the white police force -- a detective named Britten who comes with all the power clearly on his side to push, provoke, and penalize Bigger and his family in any way he sees fit and just.

    For more than three-quarters of a century, Native Son has jarred the thinking and awareness of both black and white America.  As the stage adaptation arrives in a must-see production at Marin Theatre Company, the story of Bigger is shockingly still too familiar in a present-day America that has yet to figure out how to call a halt to the seemingly inevitable destruction of too many of her young, African-American men.

    Rating: 5 E

    — Eddie Reynolds, Theatre Eddy's Read full review

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