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RED BANK: DIRDEN ROLLS A LUCKY ‘SEVEN’

BrandonJDirdenA familiar face on the Two River Theater stage, Brandon J. Dirden returns as a first-time director, with a production of August Wilson’s SEVEN GUITARS that opens the new Two River season this weekend. 

Last time the Drama Desk at redbankgreen looked in on Brandon J. Dirden, the actor was preparing for his starring turn in the Two River Theater world premiere of writer-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine; a project that capped a busy year on the Broadway stage (where he won acclaim as Martin Luther King Jr. in the Tony winning All The Way), the TV screen (a recurring role as Agent Aderholt in the FX series The Americans), and — with wife and frequent co-star Crystal A. Dickinson — the ongoing adventure of new parenthood.

When the native Texan helps Two River Theater Company inaugurate its new season this Saturday, September 12, it will be without Santiago-Hudson, the collaborator who previously directed him in the August Wilson plays Jitney (in Red Bank) and a 2012 production of The Piano Lesson that earned the actor an Obie award. It will, however, be in the spiritual company of the late great African American playwright, whose ten-play “Century Cycle” receives continued exploration by TRTC, with a limited engagement of Seven Guitars that runs through October 4 — and that represents Brandon J. Dirden’s first foray as director.

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RED BANK: ‘BLUES’ ONE MORE TIME, AT TRTC

BLUES_Press_4Charles Weldon (left) counsels Brandon J. Dirden in YOUR BLUES AIN’T SWEET LIKE MINE, entering the final weekend of its world premiere run at Two River Theater. (Photos by Michal Daniel)

By TOM CHESEK

“I’m through with the interracial dating thing,” says the black homeless advocate Zeke (Brandon J. Dirden) to the white well-to-do writer Judith (Merritt Janson), in Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine. “OJ stupid-ass messed it up for the rest of us.”

Confrontational by nature (but not so consumed with anger that he can’t win an audience over with some pithy observations and well-placed laugh lines); at odds with American social attitudes (but not so beaten down by the system that he can’t sport a peacock-proud wardrobe), Zeke is an intriguingly inscrutable original — a fact not lost on Judith, whose interest in the educated former professional extends beyond a simple donation of clothing to the local shelter.

Their uneasy transaction sounds the keynote for Blues, the play written and directed by Tony-winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson that wraps up its world premiere run this week at Red Bank’s Two River Theater.

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RED BANK: ‘BLUES’ WITH SOMETHING EXTRA

McGreeveyMayorEdRubenFormer New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, former Asbury Park Mayor Ed Johnson and actor-director-playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson take part in an April 26 panel discussion on Creating Social Change, an event keyed to Two River Theater’s world premiere of Santiago-Hudson’s YOUR BLUES AIN’T SWEET LIKE MINE.

From materials furnished by Two River Theater Company

With its world premiere engagement at Two River Theater, Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine marks the Red Bank return of Tony winning actor, director and August Wilson authority Ruben Santiago-Hudson — this time at the helm of his own original script; one that “brings an unlikely group together, spawning a passionate and explosive debate on America’s relationship to race.”

The second of three shows to make their world premiere at Two River this spring, the production also comes loaded with “extras” that range from downloadable playlists of vintage blues and jazz music mentioned in the script — to a series of on-site offerings that begin on Thursday, April 23 with a special exhibit of items from the Gene Alexander Peters Collection of Rare and Historic African American Artifacts.

On display in the theater lobby between 6 and 8 pm, the exhibit chronicles five critical periods for African Americans within the history of America: slavery; segregation and “Jim Crow;” the Civil Rights Era; the Black Power/Black Student Movement; and the Black Panther Party. Peters, a cultural history consultant and noted collector of rare African American artifacts, will speak about the collection from 7:15 to 7:45 pm, and will be available to answer questions. Take it here for additional information on the exhibit.

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RED BANK: ‘BLUES’ WITH SOMETHING EXTRA

McGreeveyMayorEdRubenFormer New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, former Asbury Park Mayor Ed Johnson, and actor-director-playwright Ruben Santiago-Hudson take part in an April 26 panel discussion on Creating Social Change, an event keyed to Two River Theater’s world premiere of Santiago-Hudson’s YOUR BLUES AIN’T SWEET LIKE MINE.

From materials furnished by Two River Theater Company

Opening its world premiere engagement tonight, April 17 at Two River Theater, Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine marks the Red Bank return of Tony winning actor, director and August Wilson authority Ruben Santiago-Hudson — this time at the helm of his own original script; one that “brings an unlikely group together, spawning a passionate and explosive debate on America’s relationship to race.”

The second of three shows to make their world premiere at Two River this spring, the production also comes loaded with “extras” that range from downloadable playlists of vintage blues and jazz music mentioned in the script — to a series of on-site offerings that begin on Thursday, April 23 with a special exhibit of items from the Gene Alexander Peters Collection of Rare and Historic African American Artifacts.

On display in the theater lobby between 6 and 8 pm, the exhibit chronicles five critical periods for African Americans within the history of America: slavery; segregation and “Jim Crow;” the Civil Rights Era; the Black Power/Black Student Movement; and the Black Panther Party. Peters, a cultural history consultant and noted collector of rare African American artifacts, will speak about the collection from 7:15 to 7:45 pm, and will be available to answer questions. Take it here for additional information on the exhibit — and take it ’round the corner for more.

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‘BLUES’ ON RED BANK’S UPPER WEST SIDE

BrandonJDirdenActor Brandon J. Dirden returns to Red Bank as star of YOUR BLUES AIN’T SWEET LIKE MINE, the drama by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson that begins its world premiere engagement this weekend.

It’s been quite a year-and-change for Brandon J. Dirden, an Obie award winner whose previous projects for Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company include August Wilson’s Jitney, and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, in which he starred alongside his brother Jason. The 35-year-old actor made a big impression on Broadway – as Dr. Martin Luther King, no less – in the Tony-winning smash All The Way. A role on the FX series The Americans found him becoming a regular presence as FBI Agent Aderholt – and somewhere along that timeline, he and his wife, actress Crystal Anne Dickinson, became the parents of a baby boy.

When Dirden returns to Red Bank this weekend, he’ll be reuniting with his Jitney director — Tony winning actor (and August Wilson authority) Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who also steered Dirden to that Obie in a 2012 production of Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. The vehicle for their collaboration this time is Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine – an original script by Santiago-Hudson that stands as the second of three shows making their world premiere on Bridge Avenue this spring.

Merritt Janson co-stars as Judith, a well-to-do Manhattanite whose encounter with homeless-shelter staffer Zeke (Dirden) sparks an Upper West Side dinner party invitation that “brings an unlikely group together, spawning a passionate and explosive debate on America’s relationship to race.” Andrew Hovelson, Roslyn Ruff and Charles Weldon complete the cast, and the Drama Desk at redbankgreen caught up with Dirden as Your Blues prepped for its first preview this Saturday, April 11. Here’s a condensed version of the interview.

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RED BANK: THE PLAYWRIGHT’S THE THING

RubenTonyMadeleineTwo River Theater welcomes five playwrights to the stage — including, from left, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tony Meneses and Madeleine George — to discuss what it takes to bring a script from paper to production, in a free event Wednesday.   

They’re the people from whom it all springs — the bravura performances, the award-winning costumes and sets, the audience-dazzling technical effects — although a good half the time you won’t even find them lurking around the catering tables on opening night.

But if playwrights privately grouse that they often get even less respect than a Rodney Dangerfield rap record, there exists in Red Bank at least one local cubby of culture where the Word is given its due. And on Wednesday, a diverse and distinguished group of dramatists will gather to discuss the never-easy process through which the scripted idea becomes a fully realized moment.

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RED BANK: PACKING UP THE ‘GUEST ROOM’

Guadalupe 1Charles Socarides and Socorro Santiago are transfixed by the world of their favorite telenovela in GUADALUPE IN THE GUEST ROOM. (Photo by T.C. Erickson)

By TOM CHESEK

“We’re just a couple of quiet neighbors,” says Guadalupe (Socorro Santiago), a middle-aged Mexican woman who has recently lost her adult daughter Claudia. “We don’t have much to say to each other, even if we could.”

The “neighbor” she refers to is her American son in law, newly widowed Steve (Charles Socarides). But while these two characters find themselves thrust together by tragic circumstances (and kept apart by an awkward language barrier), it’s a shared guilty pleasure that draws them closer in Guadalupe in the Guest Room, the play by Tony Meneses now entering the final weekend of its world premiere engagement at Red Bank’s Two River Theater.

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