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Stirring odyssey ‘Paul Robeson’ by Phillip Hayes Dean presented by Ebony Rep

Ebony Repertory Theatre (ERT-Founder/Producer Wren T. Brown) presents Phillip Hayes Dean’s (Drama Desk-winner for “The Sty of the Blind Pig”) powerful and moving play “Paul Robeson” opening March 14, 2014. Dean also stages the ERT production, which will mark his Los Angeles directorial debut. Two-time Emmy Award-winner Keith David (Fox’s new series “Enlisted”) will star in this one-man play, with music.

Keith David (center) with Byron J. Smith (background).
Keith David (center) with Byron J. Smith (background).Craig Schwartz

“We are excited to work with the seminal playwright and director, Mr. Phillip Hayes Dean, whom I consider firmly in the pantheon of the great American dramatist. His vast body of work not only fits squarely into our mission, I feel it examines the human condition in a way that sheds tremendous light on who we are and who we have been as a nation,” said Brown. “In addition, having the magnificent award-winning actor of stage, screen, and voice-over, Mr. Keith David, portraying the great American artist/activist Paul Robeson adds immeasurable joy. The coming together of this production, after gestating for five years, brings real satisfaction.”

Playwright and director Dean added, “I've waited a long time to work with Keith David on Robeson, now the time has come. One of the many things that has impressed me about Keith, beyond his wonderful talent, is that, like Robeson, he has a strong connection to people and their plight.”

"At the beginning of 2014, my first project will be Paul Robeson with Ebony Repertory Theatre, headed by my friend Wren T. Brown and directed by the playwright Phillip Hayes Dean,” said David. “I have wanted to do this play since 1978 when I first saw James Earl Jones do it on Broadway. I feel blessed and privileged to be able to start my year honoring this great man in this great play. This is not a job, it's a gift!”

A powerful chronicle of the life of Paul Robeson, Dean’s play takes the audience from his childhood in New Jersey to his adult life around the world. An All-American athlete and a lawyer with Columbia Law School credentials, Robeson faces the racism prevalent in society in the early part of the twentieth century. He strives to rise above, and it is his triumph in that struggle that turns Robeson into a modern day hero.

Realizing the racist system would not allow him to practice as a lawyer Robeson turns to singing, something he had learned well in the church choir. His singing leads to acting and his acting, with all the accolades due a master, leads him around the world. But every place he visits he sees the strains of racism in its many forms. The more he sees, the more he speaks out, using his influence and stature to try and enlighten those around him. After some time in Europe, he returns to the United States to perform and speak out about the injustices in the country he loves. Confronting racism again, he sticks to his values, adhering to no party line, but is accused of being a Communist, an agitator and much more. He is blacklisted and his passport is revoked, but he goes on speaking out whenever he can.

For eight years Robeson fights to clear his name. Finally, the social climate begins to change and toward the end of his life, Robeson's passport is reinstated along with some of the glory and respect he earned along the way. There is still far to go, but Paul Robeson remains a beacon to those struggling to make this world a better place.

“Paul Robeson” reviews 8 p.m. March 13, opens 8 p.m. March 14 and performs 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through March 30. Tickets range from $30 to $60. Call 323-964-9766. Groups of 10 or more are available via email at groups@ebonyrep.org or 323-964-9766.

The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center is located at 4718 West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles.