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Robert Earl Price Updates Toomer’s “Cane” with his musical “Red Devil Moon”
Location: Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theater
CHESTERTOWN, MD—Playwright Robert Earl Price, drama writer in residence at Washington College, had always wanted to do something theatrical with Jean Toomer’s 1923 masterwork Cane. But he says it never fell into place until the day he heard the depth and range of Chestertown-based singer/songwriter Pam Ortiz.
“I walked into Bob Ortiz’s furniture workshop nearly two years ago while Pam’s 2012 album was playing, and a light went off in my head,” he recalls. “I realized how well portions of Toomer’s work could be translated into a musical. Next came convincing Pam, and then my delight in the new music that she has composed.”
The resulting collaboration, a new musical titled Red Devil Moon, will have its first public introduction this weekend, November 15 and 16, at the Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theater. Described as a “theatrical concert performance,” the show features 14 original new songs by Ortiz, performed by her own band, the Pam Ortiz Band, and the acclaimed gospel trio Sombarkin. (Click here to hear Ortiz’s lively song, “Red Devil Moon.”) Price’s narration connects the songs into a storyline.
This weekend’s two performances are scheduled for Saturday, November 15, at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, November 16 at 3:00 p.m. The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre is located at 210 High Street, downtown Chestertown.
Advance tickets and reservations are recommended and may be obtained at The Garfield Center for the Arts, 210 High St., Chestertown, (410) 810–2060 or by visiting www.GarfieldCenter.org.
Cane is widely considered the first major text of the Harlem Renaissance. The central characters in both Toomer’s original story and Price’s musical are South Georgia sharecroppers, circa 1920. Price received permission from Yale University, which holds the rights to the novel, to reshape the story and describe his musical as “inspired by” Jean Toomer’s Cane. “We have attenuated the violence and increased the music, hopefully without compromising the story’s power,” he says.
Red Devil Moon tells the story of events that unfold on the night of the full moon during the sugarcane harvest in South Georgia. The enveloping scent of boiling cane syrup, the observant creatures of the night, the provocative moon, and conflicted characters conspire to set the backdrop for a love story that is both personal and universal.
Sombarkin, whose members are Karen Somerville, Lester Barrett Jr., and Jerome McKinney, is well known and admired for its deeply layered and finely wrought sound and vocal arrangements. The Pam Ortiz Band, whose members include Nevin Dawson (viola, violin and vocals), Philip Dutton (piano, keyboards and vocals), Ford Schumann (guitar and vocals), Bob Ortiz (percussion and vocals), and Pam Ortiz (guitar and vocals), will be joined by Tom Anthony on bass and Ray Anthony on drums.
“I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to collaborate with the accomplished artists in The Pam Ortiz band and the sensational Sombarkin,” says Price, who also serves as Artistic Director of the newly restored GAR Post #25 in Chestertown. “The entire process has been so unencumbered that I am a little nervous, afraid that this is somehow too easy! For in addition to the artists directly involved, we have also received broad community support for our efforts.”
The Red Devil Moon events are funded in part by grants from the Kent County Arts Council, the Hedgelawn Foundation, and the GAR Charles Sumner Post #25 with special sponsorship by the Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre.
Hear Price and Ortiz talk about their collaboration in this Spy interview.