Arts Society & Culture

Oedipus myth set on a plantation in University Theatre’s ‘The Darker Face of the Earth’

University Theatre - Darker Face 2012 Dane Alexander and Sarah Newby Halicks-v.action
Dane Alexander

Athens, Ga. – As a part of the University of Georgia’s nine-day Spotlight on the Arts festival, University Theatre will present Rita Dove’s “The Darker Face of the Earth,” directed by UGA associate professor Freda Scott Giles, Nov. 1-11 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Theatre.

Dove, a former Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, set “The Darker Face of the Earth” on a pre-Civil War plantation in South Carolina. She loosely based the plot on the Greek myth of King Oedipus, an abandoned son who unwittingly returns to his birthplace, kills his father and marries his mother. The play grapples with the historical reality of American slavery to confront still-urgent questions about freedom, reconciliation and prejudice.

In a twist on the traditional crime of white male slave owners’ sexual use of female slaves, the play’s plantation owner is a married woman, Amalia Jennings, played by senior theatre and Spanish major Sarah Newby Halicks of Peachtree City. Amalia’s affair with slave Hector, played by master of fine arts in performance student Moses McGruder of Augusta, produces a beloved child who she reluctantly gives up. Unable to love freely and openly in defiance of strong social norms, over time Amalia grows bitter and becomes a savage “master” who rules her plantation with absolute power. Hector loses his mind and retreats to a solitary life in the woods.

Twenty years after Hector and Amalia’s affair, recently enslaved Augustus, played by senior theatre major Dane Alexander of Atlanta, arrives at the Jennings plantation. He is a bold and poetic man who speaks of Greek gods and goddesses and fears nothing. He tries to recruit the young slave Phebe, played by master of fine arts in performance student Danielle Mills of New York City, as a revolutionary leader and ignores the warnings of Scylla, played by master of fine arts in performance student Vallea Woodbury of New York City, a soothsayer among the slaves who warns Augustus of impending doom.

“Rita Dove has given us a poetic evocation of that past that encourages each of us to find a more clear understanding of its resonance in our present and of our need to face it as we step into our collective future,” said Giles, an associate professor in the department of theatre and film studies and associate director of the Institute of African American Studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

The University Theatre production, with its cast of nearly 20 actors, retains a sense of a classical Greek chorus. Athens drummer Ryan “Manito” Wendel will provide live percussive accompaniment designed to evoke rich African tradition.

“We are incredibly excited to be presenting this mesmerizing play by one of America’s most celebrated writers, a play that draws on timeless tragic themes to pose distinctively American questions about race, freedom, power, and love,” said David Saltz, head of the department of theatre and film studies.

Tickets are $16 for the general public and $12 for students. For tickets, see http://www.drama.uga.edu/box-office, call 706/542-4400 or see the Performing Arts Center box office. Tickets also may be purchased at the door before the show.

For more information on the UGA department of theatre and film studies, see http://www.drama.uga.edu/.

Other cast members-who are all in the chorus as well-are sophomore theatre and mass media arts major Bree Preuitt of Ventura, Calif., as child Phebe; junior theatre and mass media arts major Jennifer Latimore of Mableton as Psyche; sophomore theatre and psychology major Jazmin Mullen of Snellville as Ticey; junior theatre and English major Clarissa Raybon of Valdosta as Diana; sophomore broadcast news major Kristen Robinson of Stone Mountain as the narrator; junior English and linguistics major Sean Polite of Brunswick as Alexander; junior theatre major Jayln Fleming of Decatur as Scipio; junior theatre major Cantrell Williams of Warner Robins as the rebel leader; freshman political science major Brandon Brown of Marietta as Benjamin; junior theatre and digital and broadcast journalism major Jeffrey McNair of LaGrange as Henry; and, as general chorus members, senior theatre major Angelica Malcom of Monroe and sophomore theatre major Arleshea Wright of Atlanta. Cast members not included in the chorus are junior theatre major Jase Wingate of Albany as Louis and master of fine arts in performance student Wyatt Geist of Lumberton, N.C., as the doctor and Jones.

UGA Spotlight on the Arts
The Spotlight on the Arts festival is presented by the UGA Arts Council, of which the department of theatre and film studies is a participating unit. More than 50 events are scheduled during the nine-day festival in November. For more information, see arts.uga.edu.