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This article by Nicole Plett was

prepared for the March 12, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All

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Season Ends at Crossroads

Crossroads Theater Company has chosen Joseph Edward’s

"Manchild in the Promised Land" as the fourth and final

production

of its 2002-2003 season of renewal. Working with a new "strategic

mission," the Crossroads board of trustees has moved the play’s

presentation from Crossroads’ bijou 265-seat theater at 7 Livingston

Avenue to the Lord Sterling School on George Street, the newest school

in the New Brunswick system.

The decision comes as Roberta Coleman, executive director of

Crossroads,

puts finishing touches on a "new vision" for the 1999 Tony

Award winning company.

"We have spent the past few months asking ourselves tough

questions

about artistic excellence, audience development and financial

stability,"

she says in an interview from her office. "What better way to

demonstrate this renewed commitment than by bringing the theater to

the community."

Coleman says the use of the state-of-the-art school’s 450-seat theater

is a reflection of Crossroads’ new direction.

"We’re extending our reach out to the community and trying to

improve access to the arts for non-traditional theatergoers,"

she says. The theater is currently in negotiations with the New

Brunswick

Cultural Center regarding its future use of the stage facility on

which it owes back rent. "Our plan for next season is to use the

theater here at Crossroads for our mainstage presentations," she

adds.

Manchild in the Promised Land" is a powerful stage

adaptation of Claude Brown’s autobiographical novel about growing

up on the streets of Harlem in the 1950s. Performances take place

Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 15, at 3 and 8 p.m.,

and Sunday, March 16, at 3 p.m. The Saturday matinee performance is

being offered free to New Brunswick students and their families.

Joseph Edward is an actor, playwright, and educator who most recently

appeared in the film "Bad Company" with Anthony Hopkins and

Chris Rock. He has presented "Manchild in the Promised Land"

at Trenton’s Passage Theater twice: first for its 2002 Solo Flights

Festival, and again this season, brought back by popular demand.

Crossroads acknowledges its collaboration with Passage to bring the

Edward show to the New Brunswick stage.

In 1965, Claude "Sonny" Brown opened a window onto the world

of America’s urban misery with his autobiographical novel,

"Manchild in the Promised Land." Writing a chronicle of one

Harlem boy’s life, Brown wrote, often in brutal terms, of how he

successfully navigated the treacherous path to adulthood. Working with

the author, Edward took up Brown’s story for the stage, trumpeting its

truth to new generations of Americans of all ethnicities. His solo

transformation of the epic novel into a 100-minute monologue sweeps up

its audience up in the challenges, hopes, and disappointments of a

young man caught in a web of violence and drugs.

Born into a culture of poverty and violence, Brown suffers his first

gunshot wounds at age 13, and lands in reform school. Here his

intellect and talents are awakened and he gets his second chance. Even

as he watches his beloved brother languish in jail, a broken man,

Brown discovers that, as a jazz musician, he can finally command

respect without violence.

Like Passage Theater, Crossroads sees in "Manchild" a positive

and uplifting coming-of-age story, one particularly well-suited to

its young audiences. It is a cautionary tale that some young people

may feel is an over-optimistic portrait of opportunity for today’s

black youth. Yet Edward’s towering conviction, both as an actor,

teacher, and a role-model, carries the day.

Crossroads, too, hurt by debt, is hoping for that second chance.

"It is important that our supporters know that this season was

simply a new beginning, not the end," says Marguerite

Mitchell-Ivey, president of the Crossroads board of trustees. "Not

only did we reduce our debt significantly and put on a well-received

season of productions without a major rise in debt, but we also

developed a viable plan for our future. This we truly feel is a

celebration of our spirit and resilience."

Coleman says the company’s "New Vision" model, to be announced

shortly after the season’s end, will include schools, faith-based

organizations, non-profit and arts organizations, and the business

community as company partners.

Crossroads is also acknowledging the efforts of departing interim

artistic director George Faison who helped coordinate this re-opening

season. Coleman reports that Faison succeeded in launching his own

theater in New York City in December, the Faison Firehouse. "We’re

so very happy for him. He was working on that project at the same

time he was lending his artistic support to our homecoming

season,"she says, "but he’s too busy to do both."

Coleman also expressed gratitude to Crossroads subscribers,

contributors,

patrons, and theatergoers. "We faced so many challenges and

overcame

numerous obstacles with the help and support of people who understand

and appreciate the importance of Crossroads and multicultural theater

controlled, produced, and presented by people of color," she says.

— Nicole Plett

Manchild in the Promised Land, Crossroads Theater,

Lord Stirling School, 101 Redmond Street, New Brunswick, 732-545-8100.

$15 & $25. Friday, March 14, 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 15, 3 and

8 p.m.; and Sunday March 16, 3 p.m.


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