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Avery Brooks Stars in Oberlin College’s Radical New Interpretation of Death of a Salesman, September 18-21, 2008

Set in 1950s Brooklyn, director Justin Emeka’s production uses nontraditional casting to infuse Arthur Miller’s classic American play with diverse cultural perspectives.

OBERLIN, OHIO — Avery Brooks, the distinguished stage, film and television actor known for his celebrated performances in roles from the classics to science fiction, will portray one of the American theater's most tragic figures, Willy Loman, in a radical new interpretation of Arthur Miller's modern classic, Death of a Salesman, presented by Oberlin College at Hall Auditorium in Oberlin, Ohio from September 18 to 21, 2008.

Directed by Justin Emeka, an assistant professor of theater and African-American studies at Oberlin, this Death of a Salesman — performed with a mixed-race cast — intends to bring new light to Miller's powerful portrait of how the American dream turns into a nightmare for one man and his family.

Oberlin's Death of a Salesman will step beyond the margins of standard-issue color-blind casting, boldly embracing nontraditional casting that incorporates the race and ethnicity of the actor into the role he or she is playing. All members of the Loman family are African-American; the woman with whom Willy has an affair is white; and the characters of Charley and Bernard are depicted as Jewish immigrants who fled Eastern Europe during the rise of the Third Reich. 

Mr. Emeka — who has set Salesman against the backdrop of a black family's struggles in a multicultural, multiethnic Brooklyn, New York during the 40's and 50's — states, “If the American theater seeks to be more inclusive and representative of our country's diverse population, we must learn to explore the classics of American theater through diverse cultural perspectives.”

Mr. Emeka considers his interpretation of Salesman to be the evolution of the argument presented by the late August Wilson in his memorable 1996 address to the Theatre Communications Group National Conference, "The Ground on Which I Stand," in which he opposed the practice of casting black actors in plays written for white actors and having them, "play white," casting them "in the role of mimics." The production also gained inspiration from Calvin Hernton (1932-2001), a scholar, critic, poet, and member of the Oberlin African American studies faculty for 27 years, who mentored both Brooks and Emeka during their student days.

Joining Mr. Brooks in Death of a Salesman will be a cast comprised of professional actors and Oberlin college students.  Veteran New York actress Petronia Paley plays Linda Loman; Los Angeles-based Mark Jablon of “ER” portrays Charley; Justin Emeka plays Biff; and Oberlin student Raphael Sacks, fresh from his London debut in the English National Opera's Lost Highway, is Howard.  Jazz musician Ralph Jones, a former student of Oberlin Conservatory professor Marcus Belgrave and the new faculty-in-residence at Oberlin’s Afrikan Heritage House, will perform incidental music on stage during the play.

In the days surrounding the production run, cast and collaborators have scheduled special opportunities to discuss with the public their groundbreaking approach and its place in contemporary theater. On Saturday, September 20, at 4 p.m., director Justin Emeka will be joined by Arthur Miller scholar Enoch Brater and other cast members for “Arthur Miller’s Cross-Cultural Exchanges,” a discussion of diverse cultural perspectives in Miller’s plays. Emeka also plans to schedule a discussion of nontraditional casting at Cleveland’s historic Karamu House.

Public performances of Death of a Salesman are September 18, 19, and 20 at 8 p.m. and September 21 at 2 p.m at Hall Auditorium, located at 67 North Main Street in Oberlin, Ohio.  Tickets are $12 for the general public, $8 for seniors ages 55 and older, and $5 for students, and can be reserved by calling Oberlin's Central Ticket Service at 440-775-8169 or 800-371-0178, or by visiting the box office in the lobby of Hall Auditorium. Box office hours are noon-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.  Ticket order forms can also be downloaded at www.oberlin.edu/salesman

In addition, the cast of Salesman will perform a special matinee for area schoolchildren on Thursday, September 18, at 11:00 a.m. Schools and teachers interested in learning more should contact Alexander Birnie at 440-775-8171 or Alexander.Birnie@oberlin.edu by August 29th. A limited number of tickets are available.

Avery Brooks has had a long and illustrious career on stage, film and television.  While he is perhaps best known for his television roles as Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and as Hawk on Spenser: For Hire and its spin-off A Man Called Hawk,  theater-goers know him for his compelling portrayal of Paul Robeson on Broadway and in theaters across the country.  An accomplished classical actor, he played King Lear at Yale Rep, and Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, where he also recently played the title role in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine.  He played the lead role in the Anthony Davis opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm  X. Since completing his studies at Oberlin, Brooks has returned to campus several times: as the college’s first Artist-in-Residence, teacher of the Black Arts Workshop, and for performances including Paul Robeson. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary doctorate. A dedicated educator, he has also taught at Case Western Reserve and Rutgers universities and served as Artistic Director of the annual National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta.

Founded in 1833, Oberlin College was the first institution of higher education in America to adopt a policy to admit students of color (1835) and the first college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841) in a coeducational program.  The town of Oberlin was also an active member of the Underground Railroad. The town and college’s heritage is one of respect for the individual and active concern for the community, particularly for social equality.  Oberlin uniquely combines an outstanding professional conservatory of music with a leading undergraduate college of arts and sciences.

Many who studied at Oberlin have gone on to important performing careers, including Avery Brooks, Bill Irwin, Julie Taymor, Eric Bogosian, John Kander, James Burrows, Denyce Graves, and playwright Thornton Wilder.


Death of a Salesman
By Arthur Miller
September 18, 19, and 20, 8:00 p.m.
September 21, 2:00 p.m.
Hall Auditorium
Oberlin College
67 North Main Street
Oberlin, Ohio 44074
Tickets: $12; Seniors: $8, Students: $5
440-775-8169 or 800-371-0178

Avery Brooks ‘70, Willy Loman *
Petronia Paley, Linda Loman
Justin Emeka ‘94, Biff Loman *
Darryle Johnson ’07, Happy Loman *
Marc Jablon, Charley
Josh Sobel ’09, Bernard *
Abdullah Bey, Ben
Raphael Sacks ’09, Howard *

Justin Emeka, director

* Denotes Oberlin students and alumni

Media Contact:
Charlotte Landrum
Associate Director of Conservatory Media Relations
Oberlin College

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