EgoPo Classic Theater and Theatre in the X join forces for ‘The Ways of White Folk’

The Ways of White Folk
Pictured are Faye O. Wooten (left) and Ontaria Kim Wilson.
Provided

South Philadelphia’s EgoPo Classic Theater and West Philadelphia’s Theatre in the X welcome MLK Weekend with the world premiere staging of Langston Hughes’ 1934 American classic, “The Ways of White Folk.”

Using Hughes’ poetic words and conceived for the stage with EgoPo founder Lane Savadove, the play is co-directed by Ontaria Kim Wilson and Dane Eissler and takes place at the Mansion at Glen Foerd on Grant Avenue through Jan. 22.

Binding together EgoPo and Theatre in the X is nothing new, as each company worked as one on “South Africa.”

“Since the summer of George Floyd’s murder, we’ve refined EgoPo’s mission to make sure of our inclusivity and re-instate work cast out of the classics canon,” says Eissler, EgoPo’s Artistic Producer.

“My agenda, when it comes to Langston Hughes, is to make sure that his stories remain clear and that EgoPo and Theater in the X’s shared vision comes to life,” says co-director Wilson. “This is an epic moment, and I wanted to be a part of it… paying homage to Langston’s work at the level of excellence it deserves.”

The 14 short stories of “The Ways of White Folk” were carefully trimmed to eight tales for its EgoPo/X theatrical iteration, all for the sake of physical approach and immersive staging.

“There were a lot of ‘what-ifs,’ as the stories as they were initially written were as narratives, and we had to stage those narrations as conversations,” notes Wilson, in how Hughes’ book becomes a play. “Dane and I went into each story with our own directorial style.”

Eissler calls the nearly ego-less journey of the pair’s wildly collaborative directorial process “a giving of grace… one where we propose with vigor and let go with ease.”

The prose of the tragicomic short stories of Hughes’ “The Ways of White Folk” brought actors Joseph Xavier-Mack and Taylor Harlow their own set of challenges.

“It is a different kind of language that we’re approaching,” says Harlow of the theatrical staging of Hughes’ absurdly tragic interactions “between white and Black people across systemic divides” circa 1934. “Reading the script deepened my understanding of this period and what its characters were after… and how we can tie our current American moment to the moment when Hughes’ stories were written and find what parallels emerge.”

Xavier-Mack, a musician by trade, heard rhythm and melody in the text of “Ways of White Folk.”

“I could hear cadence and flow. I could hear Langston’s lyrical voice as if they were musical notes on the page. His words have subatomic effects on the mind and the body, on a cellular level… something not on the page, something next level. I wanted to be a part of that.”

“The Ways of White Folk” also makes its colorful, immersive staging an integral part of the theatrical process at Glen Foerd Estate along the Delaware, one where you can live in each character’s private world.

“The Ways of White Folk” will be staged at Glen Foerd, 5001 Grant Ave., through Jan. 22. For information and tickets, visit glenfoerd.org/events

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