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Release: July 5, 2002

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Cleage is pronounced "kleeg")

Photo: Pearl Cleage

Iowa Summer Rep 2002 offers change of pace with Cleage readings

The Iowa Summer Rep 2002 festival of plays by Pearl Cleage offer a change of pace with readings from "Mad at Miles" and "Late Bus to Mecca" at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

Iowa Summer Rep Artistic Director Eric Forsythe says, "these are very different from the rest of the season, and should provide a good context within which to view Pearl's overall work. They're also powerful and witty pieces."

Charmaine L. Crook and Amy Olson, UI Department of Theatre Arts graduate students who are members of the UI summer Actors' Equity company, will present four monologues from "Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman's Guide to Truth" under the direction of graduate student Liza Williams, and perform the one-act "Late Bus to Mecca" under the direction of Iowa Summer Rep company manager Willie Barbour.

The audience will be invited to remain after the performance for a "talk back," moderated by faculty member Tisch Jones, who was Cleage's colleague at Spelman College in Atlanta.

"Late Bus to Mecca" was produced off-Broadway by the Women's Project and the New Federal Theater in 1992. Ava Johnson, a young prostitute, is traveling to Atlanta to see the triumphant return to the ring of Muhammed Ali after three years of exile as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. While waiting for transportation, she paints her toenails and chats.

The short play has been anthologized in collections of contemporary monologues and audition pieces.

In 1982 Cleage co-founded the Just Us Theatre Company in Atlanta, where she performed monologues that became the 1990 essay collection "Mad at Miles," a response to comments about women in the autobiography of legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.

Critic Jerry D'Souza wrote, "Did Miles hate women? Did it have to do with the fact that he did not like his mother? One sees in his treatment of women, in particular Cicely Tyson, an undercurrent of the vicious, or at best an expectance of servility. As for white women, they were bitches, though to be fair to Davis, he was not beyond hurling that epithet at a black woman. Pearl Cleage takes an appropriate look at this facet … by being 'Mad At Miles.'"

Cleage has written plays that have been produced professionally for more than 20 years. But she was boosted to a new level of public awareness when Oprah's Book Club recommended her novel "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day" in 1997. Her most recent novel, "I Wish I Had a Red Dress," won the top fiction honor in the 2002 Literary Awards of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Inc.

The themes of Cleage's plays began to form early in her life, as the daughter of a minister and a school teacher. She recalled, "By the time I was eight or nine, I understood clearly that slavery and racism had created a complex set of circumstances that impacted daily on my life as an African-American. . . I also knew that as a person who had the advantage of growing up in a house where there were books, it was my responsibility once I achieved adulthood to work consciously to 'uplift the race,' or at least as much of it as I could, given limited resources, human frailty and the awesome implacability of the group itself."

Before dedicating her energies to writing, Cleage worked at a variety of jobs in the media, including host of a black-oriented interview program in Atlanta. In the mid-1970s, she served as director of communications for the city of Atlanta and press secretary for Mayor Maynard Jackson.

Cleage's essays have appeared in Essence, the New York Times Book Review, Ms., Atlanta Magazine, Pride, Black World, the Afro-American Review and other publications. She has been a columnist for the Atlanta Gazette, the Atlanta Tribune and the Atlanta Constitution, and she was the founding editor of Catalyst, a literary magazine.

Cleage's other books include the poetry collections "We Don't Need No Music," "Dear Dark Faces" and "One for the Brothers"; the essay collection "Deals with the Devil: And Other Reasons to Riot"; the short-story collection "The Brass Bed and Other Stories"; and the non-fiction work "Dreamers and Dealmakers: An Insider's Guide to the Other Atlanta."

Tickets to the Iowa Summer Rep 2002 afternoon of Pearl Cleage readings are $5. Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Free Iowa Summer Rep 2002 brochures are available, including Cleage's bio, information about the plays, a full festival schedule and order forms for series packages. The brochures are available for pick-up at the Hancher Auditorium box office or the Theatre Building lobby, and they may be requested from either the Hancher box office or the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. The Hancher box office may be contacted by phone at 335-1160 in the local calling area or toll-free at 1-800-HANCHER, or by e-mail at < hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu >. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology. Iowa Summer Rep individual tickets will be on sale on-line at < http://www.uiowa.edu/hancher >.

The department of theatre arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts. For UI arts information, visit < http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa > on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact < deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu >.

For many seasons Iowa Summer Rep has pursued a unique focus in American summer theater with its single-playwright festivals, but three seasons ago Iowa Summer Rep also became an Actor's Equity Company, elevating its status as a professional theater company. Iowa Summer Rep is made possible by the support of the University of Iowa Community Credit Union.