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‘Reparations’ at The Billie is ‘a provocative examination of race in America’

Brooklyn Eagle Staff

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A new play about the ripple effects of America’s legacy of racism will make its world premiere at The Billie Holiday Theater in Bedford-Stuyvesant next week. “Reparations,” which opened for preview performances Oct. 25, is writer James Sheldon’s sixth play and is directed by Tony-Award nominee Michele Shay. 

Starring Lisa Arrindell, Kamal Bolden, Alexandra Neil and Gys d Viliers, “Reparations” is the story of a recently widowed white book editor who spends the night with a younger black writer. After a romantic evening, things turn tense when the writer threatens to expose a dark secret from the editor’s past. At a lunch the following day on the Upper East Side, family friends watch as the young writer struggles to extract “reparations” from his one-night stand. 

“We continue to peel back the layers of the status quo in the arts and to tackle issues of race, identity, equity and equality through the creative process,” said Dr. Indira Etwaroo, artistic and executive director of the Billie Holiday Theater. 

The play is part of the theater’s “New Windows” Festival, which is devoted to performances spotlighting intersectional identities and diverse perspectives. A “Designing Justice” exhibit with thought-provoking posters from artist and designer Luba Lukova will be on display at the theater as part of the festival beginning Nov. 4. 

“With ‘Reparations,’ we have created a provocative examination of race in America and of the lenses through which we see each other,” said Shay, director of “Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway and “The Old Settler,” which ran at The Billie last year. “I was drawn to ‘Reparations’ because it is disruptive in the best way possible,” he added. 

Opening night for “Reparations” is Nov. 6. The play will run through Nov. 24 at The Billie Holiday Theater, 1368 Fulton St. in Brooklyn. General admission is $40, and $25 for students and seniors. 

Additional thoughts from Dr. Indira Etwaroo, executive director of the Billie Holiday Theater

Dr. Indira Etwaroo

As is the case with life, each experience alters and informs the way we consider the world and our relationship to it. The 2020 presidential campaign has further illuminated a conversation brought to the national stage in 2014 by American journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates in his article titled “The Case for Reparations”, which discussed the continued effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

It was not a decision made lightly to produce the world premiere of James Sheldon’s much-needed and highly-relevant Reparations, the first work by a writer of non-African descent produced by The Billie Holiday Theatre in our 47-year history, as the centerpiece to the New Windows Festival. New Windows goes beyond race to explore the intersectionality and complexity of identity and to spotlight voices and perspectives that have not historically been presented at The Billie. We are at a moment in our nation’s history that is demanding brave and daring storytelling – hence brave and daring storytellers, as is the case with the extraordinary company of Reparations helmed by the simply transcendent Michele Shay – that centralizes themes of race, social justice, and equity within the human struggle for understanding and truth.

It is not lost on me that The Billie is launching New Windows during the 400th commemorative year of the beginning of slavery in America. We present this season with a profound understanding that the African American story is at the very core of the American story…so we throw open new windows to welcome those who perhaps have never been to The Billie before; those who – like The Billie – are forged in the kiln of liberation movements (we do talk to our actors ya’ll); those who are committed to the sustainability of a world-class theater in the largest African American community in the nation: Central Brooklyn; and those who look to face our past with great hope for a future in which “all people can flourish.” 

Why produce Reparations here and why produce it now? History has taught us that African Americans have – for centuries – led this nation through the complex, tumultuous, and often dangerous terrain that is race in America. In 2019, theater remains a predominately racially segregated experience. This centuries-old sacred space – the theater – remains a frontier for faith “the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not yet seen”: faith in a better, more just world; faith that artificial compartments of race, born out of a racist past, will one day no longer exist to perpetuate systems of oppression; and faith that when the lights come up after the last artist takes her bow, that we will look and see one another anew and that our hearts will discover ways to ask new questions of one another and ourselves. Isn’t that, after all, why we are here… breathing the same air, sharing the same space? Even if only for this moment.

About The Billie Holiday Theatre

The AUDELCO and Obie Award-winning Billie Holiday Theatre is devoted to the discovery of world-class storytelling with a focus on stories for, by, about, and near people of African descent. The Billie presents, promotes and sustains art that reflects the definitive issues of our time in and through all of its forms of expression.  The Billie Holiday Theatre has been a significant platform for many Black theater artists, including Samuel L. Jackson, Ruby Dee, Omari Hardwick, Debbie Allen, Wendell Pierce, Roger Robinson, John Amos, Sonia Sanchez and more.

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