NEW LONDON — Emerson Theater Collaborative begins its 11th season this week with a production of "Vivian’s Music, 1969," a play fantasia about race, music and family by Monica Bauer.
The play, being staged as part of Black History Month, is directed by Glory Kadigan, produced by Theresa Broach, and will feature the original off-Broadway cast of Russell Jordan and Kailah S. King.
Inspired by a real event, the play tells the story of a 14-year-old black girl who was shot in the head at point-blank range by a white policeman in 1969, an event that set off one of the worst American race riots of the 1960s, said Lisa Giordano, one of the playwrights in residence at Emerson. All that was known about the girl at the time was that her name was Vivian Strong.
In this adaptation of Bauer’s award-winning play for a larger cast, "My Occasion of Sin," two actors will bring to life both black and white characters in a segregated city on the brink of a race riot. Vivian is a 14-year-old black girl just learning about life and Lewis "Luigi" Wells is an aging jazz drummer who may — or may not — be her father.
In the play, the audience meets Luigi, who has returned to his hometown of Omaha, Neb., for his "Momma’s" funeral. Begrudgingly, he takes a job in a music store on the white side of town, desperate to save his mother's legacy,the Dreamland Ballroom.
They also meet Vivian, a bubbly, bouncy teenager who falls in love with music, in and out of love with a Black Panther named Dwayne, and struggles to piece together her link to the great Lewis Wells.
"All the ingredients for a race riot simmer in the summer sun," said Giordano in a statement.
Jordan is a two-time Planet Connections Theatre Festivity outstanding actor award recipient whose recent credits include television roles on "The Blacklist" and "Bluebloods" and off-off-Broadway appearances in Doric Wilson’s "Street Theater."
King, a recent graduate of New York University, has appeared in staged readings of "Vivian’s Music, 1969," and "Chosen Child," also by Monica Bauer; "Last Night and The Night Before," at The Labyrinth Theatre; "The One-Minute Play Festival at The New Ohio Theatre"; "Napping Pods" for NY Summerfest; and the EstroGenius Short Play Festival.
"Vivian’s Music, 1969," was awarded three "Best of 2018” awards for Best Writing, Best Low Budget/Fringe Production and second place for Best Overall Production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.