WC Premieres “All Blues”
CHESTERTOWN, MD—A new work by the distinguished playwright Robert Earl Price, a play based on the story of a white newspaper reporter from Pittsburgh who traveled through the South in 1948 as a black man, had its world premiere at Washington College on Sept. 15, 2011
All Blues — named for the 1959 Miles Davis classic from Kind of Blue, one of the most influential record albums of the 20th century — was co-produced by the Washington College Department of Drama and the Atlanta, Ga., theater company 7 Stages, where the play opened with the same cast on Sept. 22.
Del Hamilton, co-founder and artistic director of 7 Stages, played the role of Ray Sprigle, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter who traveled through the South for 30 days in 1948 as a light-skinned black man named James R. Crawford. Sprigle’s guide was John Wesley Dobbs, an important political leader in Atlanta’s black community and an NAACP activist. Dobbs was played by Chestertown musician Bob Ortiz.
Sprigle had already won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking the story that Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and he was famous both for his hard-hitting stories and for his penchant for going undercover to get them.
All Blues is a compelling meditation on the moral complexities of Sprigle’s venture across the country’s racial and geographic divide, which the reporter learned in his travels to call not the Mason Dixon, but the Smith and Wesson line. Sprigle’s journey took place more than a decade before the publication of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin’s bestselling account of his own travels through the South as a white man passing himself off as black.
The lyrics and music of All Blues form a subtext to the play, which weaves light, movement, and a cast of characters that include the light and dark sides of Sprigle’s own soul into a moody meditation on race.
The cast of All Blues included acclaimed Kent County jazz singer Karen Somerville; Polly Sommerfeld, lecturer in the Washington College Department of Drama; and Washington College students Mike Zurawski ’12, Marta Wesenberg ’12, John Lesser ’12, Phaedra Scott ’14, Harris Allgeier ’14 and Zach Weidner ’14. Professor Dale Daigle directed the production.
The set designer was 7 Stages co-founder Faye Hamilton. The lighting designer was Josh Schulman ’00 of Cohesive Light in Philadelphia. Brigid Lally ’12 designed costumes. And the video designers were Marta Wesenberg ’12 and Corey Holland ’10, who worked on the staff of WC’s Multimedia Production Center.
All Blues was Robert Earl Price’s fifth premiere at 7 Stages during his 20 years there as playwright in residence. The award-winning playwright and screenwriter is also artist in residence in the drama department at Washington College, where he teaches creative writing and drama.