With Hair running on the Wilson Stage and the Fringe Festival on the Fielding Stage, Geva’s Rehearsal Hall is being prepped for the beginning of Thurgood rehearsals, which start next week. This play, written by George Stevens, Jr., is a tour de force for one actor, as the audience engages directly with former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. And before we dive into rehearsals, we’d like to introduce you to the team bringing Marshall to life onstage.
Directing Thurgood is Lou Bellamy, an icon in American theatre. In 1976, Bellamy founded Penumbra Theatre Company in a community center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over the course of the next four decades, Bellamy grew the company into what is today a highly respected African American theatre. It was under Bellamy’s direction that August Wilson received the first professional production of his career. (Believe it or not, it was a musical adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata!) In 2006, when Bellamy was chosen as a McKnight Distinguished Artist, he reflected on his vision for the company, writing, “Because I am the artistic director of a producing theater, my artistic philosophy is consistent with that of the organization I lead. Over the past 30 years, Penumbra Theatre’s raison d’être has been the production of artistically excellent, thought-provoking, well-appointed shows that probe the human condition with stories told from an African American perspective. This philosophy has been constantly refined and refocused. I believe that theater in the community must function as a sounding board, where comments concerning community values, aspirations, and clarifications are made lovingly—yet critically.” Bellamy has also directed at theatres across the country, as well as performing and for 38 years, serving as associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Minnesota. He retired from Penumbra in 2017, handing direction of the theatre to his daughter, Sarah Bellamy.
Of course, a one-man show is impossible without the man…and we are thrilled that veteran actor Lester Purry will portray Thurgood Marshall. An actor since his high school days, Purry began performing in summer stock theatre as a young actor. Then, with $13 in his pocket, he moved to Minneapolis, and his acting career took off. Purry is a longtime company member at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has spent the last 30 years performing in theatres across the country.
Stage manager Timothy Toothman will supplement Geva’s production staff, joining us for this production. Toothman was Geva’s first Equity Stage Manager in the 70s, and was the Production Stage Manager here from 1974-79, and returned a few years ago for the production of Wait Until Dark. This production of Thurgood is a welcome return to Rochester! Toothman has recently retired after 15 years as the artistic associate at Arizona Theatre Company, where he stage managed over 20 productions. Toothman will be joined in the rehearsal room by assistant stage manager, Aubrey Sirtautas, currently in her first season at Geva.
Dramaturg Jean Gordon Ryon will round out the team in the rehearsal room. Ms. Ryon is the New Plays Coordinator at Geva, and has served as dramaturg on twenty productions at Geva, in addition to directing throughout Rochester. She is also artistic director of The Geriactors, a traveling troupe of mature actors.
Designers include scenic designer Vicky Smith (Geva productions of Wait Until Dark, Pumpboys and Dinettes, Tuesdays with Morrie); costume designer Casey McNamara (Geva’s productions of Million Dollar Quartet and Erma Bombeck: At Wits’ End); lighting designer Don Darnutzer (Geva productions of Wait Until Dark, Pumpboys and Dinettes, Tuesdays with Morrie); sound designer Justin Ellington (Broadway: Other Desert Cities, off-Broadway: The House That Will Not Stand, Fetch Clay Make Man); projection designer Rasean Davonte Johnson (Geva’s presentation of the Kitchen Theatre production of Smart People).
Full bios of all artists can be found here.