RED BANK: SECOND-STORY CONFESSIONS AT 99

The upstairs “Studio 99” rehearsal facility at the Count Basie Theatre is the venue for the Dunbar Repertory production of BUTTERFLY CONFESSIONS, going up this Friday for the first show of a two-weekend stand.

Seasoned explorers of Red Bank’s cultural scene know that the second story often plays host to a whole other story — for proof, take it upstairs to any of the art opening events at Salon Concrete or McKay Imaging — or dig if you will such special events as tomorrow night’s Red Bank Blooms fashion show upside Teak.

When it’s not bumper-to-bumper busy booking some of the biggest names in show business on its storied stage, the Count Basie Theatre can be found hosting activities that can extend from the street-level Carlton Lounge and back-scenes patio, to the “Studio 99” rehearsal rooms on the landmark building’s second floor. It’s there that one of the area’s best-kept-secret theatrical companies has found a home for many of its projects — and there that Dunbar Repertory Company will present the play Butterfly Confessions for a two-weekend engagement that begins this Friday, April 21.

Running a total of six performances through April 30, the production marks a return to the Count’s topside for Dunbar Rep, the grass-roots, below-radar troupe founded by educator Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. as a vehicle for presenting new and classic works with African American themes. The company has led something of a “hermit crab” existence, working with Shore area venues that have included Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre (where Willis and company recently staged Lorraine Hansberry’s milestone A Raisin in the Sun) and the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College.

At the Basie, where Willis has served as a member of the nonprofit arts organization’s board, Dunbar is best known for its large-scale stagings of Black Nativity, the Langston Hughes perennial that’s scheduled to make its bi-annual return to the Count’s mainstage this coming holiday season.

Not every project can be expected to fill the spacious Basie auditorium’s seats, however, and that’s where Studio 99 comes in, as the more intimate space has served as an appropriately scaled setting for productions like 2012’s Green Honey Love. Credited to producer-author Yetta Young (as a collaborative effort that features the input of some one dozen creators) — and presented locally for the first time anywhere — Butterfly Confessions is described as “a love letter to women of color that reveals heartfelt emotions about intimacy, sexual responsibility and overcoming adversity.” According to Dunbar’s notes, the play “blends humor and heartbreak with education, empowerment and inspiration while bringing awareness to domestic violence and HIV/AIDS.”

Willis (who recently delivered a presentation on Red Bank’s own Count Basie, as part of Joe Muccioli’s annual Talkin’ Jazz series at the theater’s Performing Arts Annex) co-directs the show with his longtime lieutenant in Dunbar Rep, Asbury Park’s Mark Antonio Henderson. Performances of Butterfly Confessions are at 8 p.m. on April 21, 22, 28 and 29, with 4 p.m. Sunday matinees on April 23 and 30. Tickets ($20 all seats) can be reserved by phone at (732)995-4616.

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