Observers of the Red Bank arts scene could tell you that some of the most interesting stuff often happens one flight above street level (think of a place like McKay Imaging Gallery) — and the same notion applies to the Count Basie Theatre, where the landmark building’s second-floor “Studio 99” rehearsal space represents a hidden-in-plain-sight venue for events that are intimately scaled in relation to the venerable venue’s famous auditorium.
It’s a place that’s hosted past offerings from Dunbar Repertory Company, the African American community stage troupe founded by Brookdale Community College faculty member (and participant on the Basie board) Darrell Lawrence Willis Sr. This Sunday, Studio 99 presents the first of three “professional staged reading” theatrical presentations from the Dunbar fold in spring 2015.
Written by Sandra Seaton, directed by Willis and featuring a cast that includes Monmouth County actress, writer, dancer and storyteller Lorraine “The Wisdomkeeper” Stone — The Will takes place in Tennessee during the post-Civil War era, putting its focus on an African-American family named Webster and drawing inspiration from such real-life figures as 19th-century opera singer Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.
According to Dunbar, the Webster sons return from service in the Union army expecting to be treated as full citizens, “but they find that victory at home is more elusive than victory on the battlefield. Their father Cyrus Webster is determined to pass on not only his worldly possessions but also his courage and wisdom to his descendants. Cyrus’s son Israel does not share his father’s faith. His demand to be treated with the respect due a returning soldier puts his own life at risk. When the newly-constituted Ku Klux Klan comes to the house looking for Israel, Eliza, Cyrus’s wife, refuses to disclose his whereabouts. The rebellion of Israel against racial injustice forces Cyrus to act to protect his inheritance in all its dimensions.”
Tickets for the 4 pm performance on March 29 are $9, and can be reserved in advance by calling (732) 370-8982.
The series of staged readings continues at Studio 99 on Sunday, April 26, with a 4 pm presentation of the Mark Alan Davis play The Last Blues of the Empress — a “drama with song” based on the life of blues icon Bessie Smith.
The spring series concludes on Sunday, May 24 with Beauty of the Week, a “lively dramedy” (and an original work by longtime Dunbar contributor Mark Antonio Henderson of Asbury Park) that takes place in a Philly barbershop, during “the soulful 70s.”