By Alec Clayton
This is monumental — historic — a first for Olympia. Goldfinch Productions and KGY Radio will present “Rachel” by Angelina Weld Grimké, performed as a radio play.
“Rachel” is the first play written by an African American and featuring an all-Black cast. First performed in 1920 at Myrtilla Miner Normal School (a teacher’s college in Washington, DC) Grimké wrote the play in response to D.W. Griffith’s filmic celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, “Birth of a Nation.” Subsequent productions took place at the “colored branch” of the YMCA in New Castle, Penn, and Theater Ensemble of Color in Portland, Main.
The play is about a young, idealistic woman, Rachel Loving (Randee Wilhelm) who, despite her best attempts, realizes that her vow to protect children from racism might not be possible. Ten years earlier, her father and one of her brothers were lynched. Rachel now takes care of young Black and Brown children and falls in love with John Strong (Jalen Penn, who played Orlando in “As You Like It” opposite Weston-Smart).
Wilhelm is said to be excited to be making her way back to the stage, (despite there not actually being one.) She performs in local cabarets, live-streams performances and is known for curating various musical acts through her business, Emani Enterprises. “As a young black woman, Randee is proud to continue the tradition of sharing black stories,” says Weston-Smart.
Penn explains that John Strong is a hardworking and caring individual who sees himself as a provider to all of those who are around him. “Rachel is beautiful to John, but I think he finds everything about her exciting and new; adding something good to look forward to in a society that is working against them. In a world so ugly, riddled with racism and hate, Rachel is always able to shine light on the beautiful.”
Penn continues: “This show comes as a series of firsts for me. This is my first time being in an all-Black show, with an all-Black cast, with a Black director, and I could not be happier with the experience.” Penn says what he admires that Weston-Smart did was intentional in their casting. “She advertised and reach out to communities abroad to obtain her cast,” he says. “I believe that opportunities like these should be available more often because representation does matter.”
Other performers are Jordan Hall as Tom Loving, Deborah Baker Hampton as Mary Loving, and Michelle Gipson as Mrs. Lane.
The radio broadcast of the first play ever written by an African American woman seems a fitting finale to Black History Month.
Meet the cast:
Rachel – a Radio Play
Sunday, Feb 28, 3 p.m.
Online at kgyfm.com/player