Racially charged The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King opens at EST/LA

Feb 7, 2012
The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King

Simon Case says things most white people won't admit to even thinking. Doesn't he care that everyone else in his family is black? Rod Menzies directs the world premiere of an Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA production. The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King by Andrew Dolan, a play as provocative as its title, runs March 17 - April 29 at Atwater Village Theatre.

The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King explores racial issues in a bold and dangerous way. Set in a university town, the politics of academia weave through the narrative as egos collide, relationships buckle, and the content of character is put to the test. Broadway actor Philip Casnoff (Chicago, Shogun, Chess, Devil's Disciple) stars as Simon Case, a white sociology professor who has married his much younger African American graduate student, Lashawna (OBIE award-winning actress Tracey A. Leigh). Theo Perkins (Broadway's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) is her ne'er do well brother, Anquan, who's come to live with them. Carlos Carrasco (The National Health on Broadway, former co-artistic director of L.A.'s Classical Theatre Lab) and Ovation Award-winning actress Judith Moreland (for Miss Julie at The Fountain Theatre) round out the ensemble as African American professors Augustus and Janine Fryer.

"I've always been fascinated by how people discuss race in America," explains Dolan. "It's the defining social issue in our history. I've seen many plays that address it, but I've always left profoundly dissatisfied because they almost universally pander to the expectations of liberal theatergoing audiences. I wanted to write a play that is not necessarily a reflection of the liberal perspective, and I wanted to write it without apology."

Menzies first directed a reading of The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King for EST/LA's Festivity/LA new play festival, followed by a workshop production at the Berkshire Playwrights Lab. "Andrew treads very bravely into extremely risky thematic material," he notes. "But what attracted me to the project is the quality of the writing. It's a solid family drama with great parts - a true ensemble piece for actors. I could tell right away that this was a playwright who has acted - the scenes are well-structured, the characters beautifully drawn, and the dialogue is electric."

Set design for The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King is by Tom Buderwitz; lighting design is by J. Kent Inasy; sound design is by John Ballinger; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; the stage manager is Rachel Manheimer; production manager is Amanda Weir; and the producers are Gates McFadden and Laura Hill.

Andrew Dolan is an actor who, aside from his many television and film roles, has performed on and Off Broadway, at the National Theatre in London, and in many regional theaters. His first play, That Good Night, won him Marin Theatre Company's David Calicchio Award for Best Emerging Playwright, was read at EST/LA and New York Stage & Film, and will premiere this spring at the Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood. His baseball play, 04: A Muse of Fire, premiered last March at Mile Square Theatre's 7th Inning Stretch Festival. He has sold two screenplays and is presently developing several television projects. He is a graduate of Bowdoin College and the American Conservatory Theater.

Rod Menzies is an EST/LA member and recently appeared as Bowen Varro in the critically acclaimed world premiere production of Tom Jacobson's House of the Rising Son. Directing credits in Los Angeles include Susan Merson's The Marriage Suite (EST/LA); Ingmar Bergman's Nora, adapted from Ibsen's A Doll House (Pico Playhouse/Blue Angel); and Lee Blessing's Two Rooms (McCadden Place/Theatre Junkies). New York directing includes Susan Merson's White Birches for the American Avant Garde Arts Festival. He has developed and directed more than a dozen solo shows in New York and Los Angeles, many of which have toured nationally. Regional directing includes Shakespeare's Pericles and Beaumont and Fletcher's The Maid's Tragedy (Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, DC), and Cheryl King's Not a Nice Girl (Bas Bleu, Fort Collins, Co).

Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is one of Los Angeles' premier developmental and producing theaters and an offshoot of the renowned New York company that developed many of the most accomplished voices in the American theater, including Christopher Durang, Richard Greenberg, David Mamet, Marsha Norman, Jose Rivera, Shel Silverstein, John Patrick Shanley and Wendy Wasserstein. Through its developmental programs and full productions, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is poised to launch the next generation of new American plays and theater artists.

Last year, under the leadership of artistic director Gates McFadden, EST/LA spearheaded the development of a multi-stage performance space at Atwater Village Theatre. The company kicked off its residency in 2011 with three critically acclaimed mainstage plays and one late-night offering, of which all four were named to "Best of 2011" lists. House of the Rising Son (written by Tom Jacobson and directed by Michael Michetti) landed on four "Best of" lists and has been nominated by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle for a Production award, and House of Gold (written by Gregory Moss and directed by Gates McFadden) was recognized in the Los Angeles Times by F. Kathleen Foley as "the best thing I saw this year" and by Charlotte Stoudt for "boldest programming." The Los Angeles theater site Bitter Lemons named Atwater Village Theatre the "New Hot Spot."