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WBGO Radio: A deep and fun discussion about Two River Theater's upcoming production of "Wine in the Wilderness"

by Doug Doyle

Wine in the Wilderness, written by Drama Desk Award winner Alice Childress and directed by Obie Award winner Brandon J. Dirden (director of August Wilson’s Radio Golf and King Hedley II) launches Two River Theater’s 2022/2023 Season on October 15 and runs through November 6th.

Dirden and his wife Crystal A. Dickinson who portrays “Tommy” in the play joined WBGONews Director Doug Doyle for a panel discussion before a live audience at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ to talk about the seldom-produced masterpiece.

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Actress Crystal A. Dickinson shares a story during Two River Theater’s live panel discussion about the upcoming production of “Wine in the Wilderness”. Husband and director Brandon J. Dirden (right) and WBGO News Director Doug Doyle listen in

Wine in the Wilderness is set in 1964 during the race riots in Harlem. The play is a reflection on how art truly reflects life and focuses on artist Bill Jameson and his latest work, three paintings representing three types of Black womanhood. More than his artistic vision is challenged by the arrival of an unexpected muse (Tommy) who refuses to be bound by his shallow assumptions of all that Black womanhood can be.

Childress died in 1994. The novelist, playwright, and actress is acknowledged as the only African-American woman to have written, produced, and published plays for four decades.

Dickinson remembers when she was first inspired by the late playwright. She’s extremely excited to be a part of this production.

“Actually when I was in graduate school where Brandon and I met, my first year of graduate school, we worked on The Wedding Band, so I knew Alice Childress from that. You know young actors we have to find monologues when you first start out. It’s a thing. When I was in school it was hard to find monologues for Black women. You didn’t know where to go. You didn’t know what to do. I spent a lot of time in the library but I found Wine in the Wilderness and I was like this is so great, this sounds like people I know. This voice sounds like something I can understand. I thought this would be really nice to do this play one day. I don’t think I would have done as good a job back then when I was in graduate school. Now that I’m older, I think Tommy is self-assured, very sure as to who she is as a human being and I’m just getting around that.”

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Crystal A. Dickinson portrays “Tommy” in rehearsals for “Wine in the Wilderness” at Two River Theater

Dirden, who is directing his fourth play at Two River Theater (August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, King Hedley II and last season’s Radio Golf), says it’s the perfect time for audiences to see this play.

“I think people need it. We are at a time in our history that we’re still figuring this out, what are live in a harmonious society. I think the events of the past couple of years have taught us that what we have been doing has not been fruitful, not just to the less fortunate but even to the privileged. This doesn’t work. There’s something fundamentally unsustainable within our society. We can not keep operating in this fashion and expect us to get to that place of peace. Alice said I wrote about the answers 60 years ago.”

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Brandon J. Dirden directs cast members Crystal A. Dickinson andBrittany Bellizare during rehearsals for “Wine in the Wilderness” at Two River Theater

Dirden stresses that Childress packs so much knowledge into a short timeframe.

“In this hour and 15 minutes of story, there has to be no less than a thousand nuggets of gold to be mined out of it. One of the things that she (Alice Childress) mean to me today through her work, is the value of community. We have these incredible artists that have dedicated themselves to this one story and this story has given us so much more than we can ever give it. Today she just really whispered in my ear that the help that you need, it’s out there and ready for us and it’s built in community.”

The cast not only features Dickinson(Clybourne Park) as well as Brittany Bellizare (The Equalizer), Ricardy Fabre (The Christians), Korey Jackson (Two River’s The School for Wives), and Keith Randolph Smith (Jitney).

The creative team also includes intimacy coordinator Kaja Dunn, stage manager Alex Murphy, assistant stage manager Natalie Jones, wig designer Nikiya Mathis, scenic designer Richard H. Morris, lighting designer Kathy A Perkins, costume designer Karen Perry, and sound designer Kay Richardson.

Dirden and Dickinson are married and have appeared together onstage at Two River Theater in A Raisin in the Sun. Dirden will also be returning to Broadway this fall in the return engagement of Take Me Out.

You can click here for more information for tickets and more information about the show.