Smile Politely

“A dreamlike meditation on race, truth, and justice”

Starting March 23, The Celebration Company at Station Theatre will be hosting the production of Sleep Deprivation Chamber. This production follows the traumatic story of the Kennedy’s and their sons brutal and wrongful beating, at the hands of the police. Written by Adrienne and Adam Kennedy, the story interweaves Adam’s trial with Adrienne’s poignant letters in his defense, creating a gripping reality of the black experience in twentieth-century America. This is a story that manifests racist insanity, while alternating between the surreal and the “too real”, conveying both our inner and outer realties. Sleep Deprivation Chamber is a young play, only 21 years old, but with that youth it carries a strong message; a message the cast and director are eager to bring to the stage in Champaign-Urbana.

With such an important story, comes a cast inspired to tell it. Many of the cast members are accomplished performers at the Station Theatre and have been involved with several of the productions over the past few years. Thom Schnarre (playing Mr. Edelstein), is highly experienced with costume design, acting, and directing, including Mine (2015), 33 Variations (2015), and Mothers and Sons (2015). The 2016 performance of Dream Girls brings actors Rhonda Henderson (Suzanne Alexander), Preston Roseborough (Teddy Alexander), Prince Robertson (David Alexander Sr. & Singing Trio), and Cedric Jones (Uncle March & Singing Trio). Kimmy Schofield (Ms. Wagner) brings experience from her work on She Kills Monsters (2016), Bat Boy (2016), and Hand To God (2016). And Meaguell Gaines is a seasoned actor from performances in Hand to God (2016) and Bat Boy (2016). No performance is completed however, without the eye of the director, and in this case, the eye of Latrelle Bright.

Bright brings an impressive resume to the production with experience from many fields. She has served as a founding artistic director of The Renaissance Guild—San Antonio’s Black theatre company, Assistant Program Director for Heifer International, a world hunger relief and sustainability organization, and Director of Audience Development for Voices of the South. Her writing and directing have been recognized as a Young Leader of Color by TCG.

To find out more, I had the privilege of talking to Bright about the upcoming performance.

SP: How would you describe the story and message of Sleep Deprivation Chamber?

Bright: Adrienne and Adam P. Kennedy have written a piece of theatre that gives us a sense of what it feels like to be wrongly accused or have a loved one wrongly accused of assault by a white police officer: where reliance on memory seems to be one’s only defense.

SP: How did you first get involved with directing Sleep Deprivation Chamber? What inspired you to take this play on?

Bright: This play has been on my list for over a decade and is unfortunately still relevant. The Station Theatre has a season selection process where artists can submit titles of shows to direct. This is rare so when I have opportunities to choose what I want to work on as a director, I often refer to my list. 

SP: What have you found to be the most challenging while directing this play? The most rewarding?

Bright: The story is not told in a linear fashion. This is challenging, but I prefer challenging scripts that require something of me, texts that offer up something to “figure out”. Adrienne Kennedy is not a writer of traditional plays; she creates experiences and staging those experiences can take many shapes. The most rewarding are the “aha” moments from cast members as connections are made and moments gel. In addition, I think I’ve been asked this question before so I’ll answer it again: the real challenges are the challenges of being artists after hours for little or no money in a culture that loves to experience art but not pay for it… not a living wage anyway. We’re tired. We have other responsibilities and sometimes other priorities.

SP: What can the audience expect to see and experience while watching? 

Bright: A dreamlike meditation on race, truth and justice.

Sleep Deprivation Chamber will be performed from March 23-April 8, all shows will start at 8pm. Tickets are $10 on Wed, Thurs, Sun, and $15 on Fri and Sat. Tickets can be reserved by calling (217) 384-4000 or at the Station Theatre website.

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