Wirtz Center’s present ‘Wine in the Wilderness’ to celebrate Black womanhood


Courtesy of Daphne Agosin Orellana.

Lighting design idea for “Wine in the Wilderness.” The play takes place in Bill Jameson’s Harlem studio.

Olivia Alexander, Reporter

This weekend, the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts will present Northwestern’s first all-Black directing cohort in a reading of the Alice Childress play “Wine in the Wilderness.”

The Zoom reading is the first of three in “Visions and Voices, a Black Playwrights’ Reading Series,” and will be available on-demand on Wirtz’s website the evening of Nov. 6 through Nov. 8. The series will feature three plays centering around themes such as anti-Blackness, police brutality and the celebration of Black lives.

“Wine in the Wilderness,” set during race riots in 1960s Harlem, tells the story of artist Bill Jameson as he creates a triptych. On the left, he painted Black girlhood, in the center, “Wine in The Wilderness,” an African queen, and on the right, he hopes to paint Black womanhood. Jameson believes Tommy, a “down and out woman,” will be the perfect model for his piece. But throughout the evening, she challenges all the assumptions he holds.

Director and first-year graduate student Jasmine Gunter said the play is all about first impressions and the assumptions we make about people.

“It’s a beautiful and empowering story about the spectrum of Blackness,” Gunter said. “We’re not all just a monolith, but we’re a spectrum that has no end, and this community holds a vast amount of identities that you can’t put in boxes.”

The play examines the intersectionality of race, gender and class to address the oppression of Black women. People are starting to understand the layers of their identities, Gunter said. The play highlights such thinking as well as today’s discussion of protecting Black women, who Gunter said are often undervalued as people.

First-year graduate student Elliot Marvin Sims plays Bill, an intellectual and narcissistic artist. He said the work has reminded him to cherish the Black women in his life.

“Black women are the backbone of my community and culture personally,” Sims said, “and there’s a respect and value that must be upheld to that.”

Sims called the play a “PSA” for himself as a Black man. Describing the story as one of empathy, he said it’s a reminder to be aware of the lens from which people view the world.

Jazzlyn Luckett, first-year graduate student, plays Tommy, a factory worker whose home has burnt down. According to Luckett, Black womanhood is not about being any one thing, but it’s possible to one day have “regalness” and to another day be a down and out woman, an idea emphasized in rehearsal by Gunter.

“I believe that in Tommy there are all of these things,” Luckett said. “There is Black innocence, there is a little bit of the ‘messed up chick,’ there is also Wine in the Wilderness, and when you have all of those things together in one individual, you get a fully fleshed out, three-dimensional human being. It’s when you start to separate those things that you get a stereotype.”

Luckett hopes to reach Black women in the audience who realize that those aspects of themselves are not mutually exclusive and hopes they see the beauty of all of these things.

Gunter said she wants the audience of the reading to walk away with a sense of admiration for Black women around them.

“Pay more respect and value to the Black women in your life,” Gunter said. “Whether you are a Black male, whether you’re a white male, or white female, we deserve the attention and respect and value of a human being that sometimes is not presented in real life or media.”

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