December 9, 2001
Calvin Presents The Piano Lesson
Calvin College will present The Piano Lesson in February 2002, featuring a first for the local college: the entire cast will be African American.
"It's about time," says Calvin Professor Debra Freeberg who notes that talented actors of color will allow the school to present theatre from a wider range of writers and traditions than it has in the past. "Calvin has often drawn from a narrow pool of actors," says Freeberg, "which meant we were limited as to what we could perform. As our pool of actors gets broader and more diverse it allows us to look at broader and more diverse plays as well. Being able to present The Piano Lesson is an exciting step for our theatre program."
The play will be produced as part of a Calvin Interim class Freeberg is team-teaching in January 2002 with Harvey Johnson, professor of theater and speech at Geneva College in Pennsylvania.
The Piano Lesson, by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson, is about the conflict between a brother and sister who fight over a symbol of their family's past. Do they keep an ornately carved upright piano, engraved with the story of their family from slavery to freedom, or do they sell it to purchase land upon which their family once worked as slaves?
"It illustrates the choices that African Americans have been forced to make," says Freeberg. "Do I cut myself off from the past for a future? It's about a person finding out who they really are and what it takes to be a whole person."
Johnson will play one of the two older male roles with the other being filled by Michael Travis (former director of multicultural student development at Calvin].
Calvin senior Jena Cooksey (pictured above) plays the leading female role. She's excited about the play and her part.
"This is an opportunity for me to do something that is exclusively made for me," she says. "I am an African-American woman and I play an African-American woman. That is something I can be comfortable with. And I identify with the issues of keeping family together and the whole idea of destroying things that have kept her family oppressed. That is something I can really relate to and that doesn't always happen in a role."
The play, which will be performed January 31 to February 2 and February 7-9, has a strong message for all audiences says Freeberg.
"In some ways it deals with issues that are exclusive to African-Americans but it also can speak to the whole human experience," she says. "It's about the search for self and identity and the dignity of a human being and the incredible need for God in the midst of incredible brokenness."