Jessica Johnson appears as 'Rachel' at Quintessence Theatre. 

PHILADELPHIA — Quintessence Theatre Group, Philadelphia's professional classic repertory theatre, continues its 10th season of progressive classics with the Philadelphia premiere of Angelina Weld Grimké’s 1916 masterpiece, "Rachel."

All performances, running Jan. 29-Feb. 16, are at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Mt. Airy, Philadelphia.  To purchase tickets, visit www.QTGrep.org or call 215.987.4450.

"Rachel" details the saga of an African-American family at the turn of the 20th century as they strive to find life, liberty and happiness in a Northern city. Haunted by her family’s Southern past, Rachel, an ambitious high-school graduate, struggles to find a vocation, love and hope in the face of systemic racism, ultimately choosing to reject marriage and motherhood. Grimké’s American classic was produced by the NAACP as a response to the flamboyantly racist 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation." When the production opened in New York on April 25, 1917, it made history as the first play written by an African-American author with an all-black cast to be performed before an integrated audience.

With deep family ties to Philadelphia’s early abolitionist and women’s rights movements, Grimké was a pioneering poet and essayist, a forerunner of the Harlem renaissance who has been largely written out of history. The NAACP chose to produce Grimké’s work because of her extraordinary ability to portray the African-American experience through poetry and prose. Grimké’s work has been compared to Ibsen and Chekov, but was unproduced for nearly a century.

Philadelphia-based theatre artist Alexandra Espinoza will be directing the production. Her work aims to connect creative power to issues of community, identity, and action. Her work has been produced by Power Street Theatre Company and Juniper Productions. She has worked as an actor, dramaturg, and director with Orbiter 3, Inis Nua Theatre, Azuka Theatre, and PlayPenn. She practices community engaged dramaturgy with Simpatico Theatre and has facilitated the creative expression of people aged 7 to 70 in her work as a teaching artist. She was the 2018 recipient of the Barbara Wall Award for Feminist Praxis for her on introducing Brechtian aesthetics to Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.

“Rachel is a play that is both specific to its time and chillingly prescient for our current moment. Angelina Weld Grimké was a Black, Queer woman who wrote this play in 1915 as a direct repudiation of the white supremacist propaganda film Birth of a Nation. Her work is bursting at the seams of realism, in that the container of the play is stylistically straightforward but its underbelly is an aggressively subversive examination of what it means to be Black, to be a child, to be a woman, to be a man, to be, and stay, alive in America,” said Espinoza.

Jessica Johnson, who was celebrated for her performance of Sonya in Quintessence’s "Uncle Vanya," and won a 2019 Best Actress Barrymore Award for her performance in "The Color Purple" at Theatre Horizon, returns to play the title character, Rachel Loving. Zuhairah McGill plays the matriarch of the Loving family following her stand out performances in the Barrymore Award-winning production of  "Gem of the Ocean" at The Arden Theatre and most recently Dot at People’s Light. Travoye Joyner plays Rachel’s brother Tom. Walter Deshields makes his Quintessence debut as John Strong. Niya Colbert (Troy Foundry Theatre / Die Cast’s Yellow, Ego Po’s A Human Being Died That Night) and Nathan Alford-Tate (Tribe of Fools’ Fly Eagles Fly) complete this all-star ensemble, portraying Mrs. Lane and Jimmy respectively.

Founded in 2009, Quintessence Theatre Group uses the classics to explore the fundamental question of what it is to be human in today’s world. Through intimate, visceral, and innovative productions of epic theatre, Quintessence pursues its vision to become the Delaware Valley’s center for progressive humanism and an engine for radical empathy through the classics.

Celebrating its 10th season, Quintessence’s home is the historic Sedgwick Theater, an Art Deco movie palace designed in 1928 by William Lee and located in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

The Sedgwick Theater is readily accessible via SEPTA Regional Rail to either the Allen Lane Station (Chestnut Hill West) or the Sedgwick Station (Chestnut Hill East). The SEPTA 23/45 Bus also services the Sedgwick Theater, connecting South Philadelphia to Chestnut Hill. Free parking is available behind the theatre and in the municipal parking lot across Germantown Avenue.

Living Room Speaker Series

ARDMORE — The Living Room at 35 East in Ardmore announces a new speaker series, curated by Andy Blackman Hurwitz. The Living Room is an intimate, 40-seat boutique listening room.

This month The Living Room launches our new monthly speaker series, Real Talk, curated by Andy Blackman Hurwitz, of Narberth, who has spent his entire professional career in the music business and has worn every hat imaginable. He has worked as an attorney for Klehr Harrison and at Knitting Factory Records, Columbia Jazz, and his own label Ropeadope. In addition, he has worked as a college professor, manager, and entrepreneur.

The first event in this series is Real Talk Presents Your Kids on Weed with Dr. Ari Greis. Dr. Greis is one of the pre-eminent experts on medical marijuana and has been listed in both Philadelphia Magazine Top Doctors and Main Line Today Top Doctors. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. 

In addition, The Living Room has announced a Thursday night series for the month of January, entitled Renewal Thursdays. The Living Room will open its doors so you can experience soothing music and aromas. Lounge on the comfy sofas or, if you must, bring your laptop and use our complimentary Wi-Fi to work in a calming atmosphere. Invite your friends to join you as you renew your spirit or come alone and make new friends. We look forward to seeing you. Free admission.

Upcoming Schedule: 

Thursday, Jan. 16, Renewal Thursday, relax and unwind at The Living Room , 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 17, An Evening with Lauren Hart - Sold Out!

Saturday, Jan. 18, Jessica Graae and Marion Halliday, singer-songwriter/folk, 8 p.m.

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