EgoPo’s ‘Wine in the Wilderness’ invites audience to become part of the experience

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Philly’s EgoPo Classical Theater is returning to the stage for an in-person run of Alice Childress’s “Wine in the Wilderness.” The show, which has been called “groundbreaking,” is part of the theater company’s 2021-2022 Season of Awakenings and Transformations and will be playing from Jan. 19 to the 31.

The theater’s description reads: “Childress’s 1969 classic examines issues of race, class and gender in this incredible intimate look into how the black community defines and affirms itself at a moment of seismic change. Set amidst the 1964 race riots, Bill, a Harlem painter, struggles to complete the final painting of his triptych on Black Womanhood. He is introduced to Tommy, a force of nature whose home has been burnt down in the riots, and she becomes his inspiration. As artist and muse collide, they discover each other — and themselves — anew.”

Damien J. Wallace, an EgoPo regular (he most recently directed Beckett’s “Rockaby” and co-created and starred in “Underground”) is directing the production. Wallace is also known for his work as artistic director for Lawrence Theatre, with his most recent production for them being “Life Isn’t Fair” at the Met Philadelphia. With “Wine,” Wallace aims to explore the timeless themes of Childress’s world to the one in which we live today.

“One could easily see how the oppressed today have and continue to be devalued and marginalized, particularly when dramatized in the historical backdrop of the ‘64 race riots. It’s our responsibility to tell stories that will assist in making that message permeate throughout society as we continue to reinforce that Black Lives Matter. My hope is that my vision of creating a living portrait onstage not only engages the audience aesthetically but emotionally. We’re also celebrating African American women playwrights and Childress’s Wine in the Wilderness helps us to understand the dynamic that exists between the sexes and how their divide is often influenced by damaging external factors that are both archaic and destructive,” Wallace said in a statement. 

EgoPo is known for its enveloping work that loops audiences into whatever they’re doing — and this show helps exemplify that notion. “Wine in the Wilderness” will invite audiences into an installation-like setting as if they were walking into the beautiful chaos of a 1960s Harlem artist’s studio loft-in-progress, surrounded by vibrant multicultural artwork, according to a news release.

“The experience of ‘Wine’ will feel much like walking into the New Orleans lair in our 2019 production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens.’ We are physically entering someone else’s personal and psychic life. Right now, I want theater to really envelop the audience, to take them on a physical journey to a new place so that they can stand in another’s shoes for a while. Damien is a fantastic storyteller and he’s going to really immerse us in this world” says Lane Savadove, founding artistic director of EgoPo Classic Theater, in a statement.

Along with Wallace directing, “Wine in the Wilderness'” will also feature Marie Laster (set design), Tiffany Bacon (costume design), Tim Martin (lighting design), Chris Sannino (sound design), Avista Custom Theatricals (properties), Kirstie Floyd (dramaturgy), and Liandra Marcano (stage management) on the creative team.

Making their EgoPo debuts, the cast of this production includes Andre G. Brown (Plays & Players, Garry Marshall Theatre), Ontaria Kim Wilson (Lawrence Theatre, First World Theatre Ensemble), Brennen S. Malone (Wilma Theater, Theatre in the X), Cynda Purnell (Temple University) and Monroe Barrick (Philadelphia Artists Collective, Hedgerow Theatre).

“Wine in the Wilderness” performances begin next Wednesday and run through Jan. 30 at the Louis Bluver Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks St. in Philadelphia. As the release states, tickets for all performances are now available and can be purchased online or by calling 267-273-1414. “Wine in the Wilderness” is also available as part of EgoPo’s 2022 Subscription Package, which includes all shows for the remainder of the season at a discount.

For more information visit egopo.org.

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