Shelita Burns, an African-American editor, publishes Bee-luther-hatchee,
the autobiography of a reclusive 72-year-old black woman named Libby Price.
Shelita has never met Libby, and when the book wins a prestigious award she
decides to deliver it to her in person. To her profound shock, the actual author of the book is not whom Shelita expected. A fascinating and provocative look at cultural appropriation and who has the right to tell someone’s story.
We are so immensely honored to receive the endorsement of the Sheri and Les Biller Foundation and to be in such esteemed company. Our production of Bee-luther-hatchee will be greatly enriched by the programming and community engagement now possible through your generous gift.
Our thanks to Sarah Lyding, Mark Dederer and the Billers for their efforts to support live theater.
Most recently directed Prayerville at the SciFi Festival, Intimate Apparel at Ensemble Theatre Company, Breath and Imagination at Virginia Stage, For Colored Girls at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Flyin’ West at International City Theatre, What I Learned in Paris and Breath and Imagination at the Colony Theatre which received numerous Ovation and NAACP Theatre nominations. Other directorial credits: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, The Fantasticks, In the Continuum, Spunk, Electra, The Women of Plums, Death of a Salesman, Antigone, Dark of the Moon, A Modest Proposal, Harriet’s Return.
A veteran actor, she has performed in numerous television shows, films and onstage- on and off Broadway: Seven Guitars, Bubbling Brown Sugar, The Colored Museum, Pericles, Zooman and the Sign, For Colored Girls… Regional: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Look Homeward Angel, Oklahoma!, Queenie Pie, Stop-Kiss, Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, From the Mississipi Delta, Joe Turners Come and Gone, Wedding Band, Porgy and Bess; at such notable theatres as Kennedy Center, The Shakespeare Theatre, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Alliance Theatre, Alley Theatre, Philadelphia Drama Guild, Two River Theatre, Musical Theatre West, Syracuse Stage, McCarter Theatre, A.R.T., Spoleto Festival, New York Shakespeare Theatre, 2nd Stage, N.E.C., New Federal Theatre, Classic Theatre Company, Hudson Guild, Billie Holiday Theatre, Coconut Grove, Antaeus Theatre Company. Her one woman show, Barbara Jordan: A Rendezvous With Destiny at National Black Theatre Festival.
Currently, she is writing a children's books series, Peepo and the Magic Talisman with illustrator/scenic artist, Orlando de la Paz.
I have had the privilege of seeing several productions here at SMP and have been very impressed. So much so, that when the Artistic Director, Christian Lebano, offered me the opportunity to direct this season, I was beyond thrilled. But when he mentioned the name of the play, I held my tongue, ashamed to ask ... 'be Luther who?' As a veteran actor for over 40 years, with numerous credits on and off Broadway and in regional theatre's across the country, I had never heard mention of this title before. And I thought I knew almost all the plays in the African American canon. But then I read the script, Bee-luther-hatchee, a drama by Thomas Gibbons... I was thoroughly intrigued!
Shelita Burns, a young African American editor and Princeton graduate at a small publishing house, has made it her life's work to reclaim profound works of literature that have been "ignored, ridiculed, and belittled." As the play opens, Shelita is accepting a prestigious Non-Fiction Award on behalf of a reclusive 72 year old Southern black woman, Libby Price. In a tapestry that criss-crosses time and space, the author deftly weaves folklore and drama to tell a story that poses a thought-provoking and insightful question, while at the same time offering no resolution and no answers. As the director, I am reluctant to go into any further detail regarding my vision of the play, the plot structure or the characters, because I wish for you to take the journey with an open mind. Why? Because it is my sincere wish and that of my design team that each audience member will be drawn into the debate after the curtain comes down.
On a personal note, I believe Gibbons’ play rests upon an ideology that many black artists, like myself, take issue and wrestle with i.e. who has the right to tell our stories. Especially since stories by people of color rarely receive the recognition they deserve. We are often stereotyped by the media and our accomplishments in literature and science blatantly overlooked in the history books. For example, the simple mention by First Lady, Michelle Obama, at this year's Democratic National Convention about waking up in house built by slaves was, surprisingly, received with outrage and disbelief, sending some pundits on Fox News scrambling to fact check and undermine her statement. The true significance of respect and homage she was paying to our African American ancestors, lost in the shadows of history, was almost totally overlooked!
Therein lies the true paradox the play exposes in our culture - we live in parallel universes. Bee-luther-hatchee, a strange yet fascinating title, is described in the play as the last stop on the train after Hell. Here, across the racial divide, souls like stars, can see each other, but are forever separated by light-years of darkness, never able to communicate....
By Saundra McClain