Banyan Theater stages Philip Hayes Dean 'Sty of the Blind Pig'
When "The Sty of the Blind Pig" first appeared on a New York stage in 1971, it was roundly acclaimed as one of the best plays of the year. Its playwright, Philip Hayes Dean, was thought to be one the America's great new playwrights.
It's story about a blind street singer who enters into the home and lives of a mother and her adult daughter, awakening the daughter's dormant passions and becoming a catalyst for confrontation resonated even with predominantly white audiences. Dean received a Drama Desk Award for Most Promising New Playwright. "Poignant" was one of the adjectives critics used most often to describe the play.
Jerry Finn, artistic director of Sarasota's Banyan Theater Company, saw the play 1971. He was as impressed as the rest of the theater world was. "The Sty of the Blind Pig" will be the next up for Banyan. It opens today in the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
Director Mark Clayton Southers is making this Banyan debut with this show. He's a fan of both Dean and the play.
"I'm a playwright also, and August Wilson was my mentor," he said. "Philip Hayes Dean was a predecessor of August Wilson. It's very clear. Its language is very rich. He deals with issues that other people might shy away from, like the male identity."
One of the intriguing aspects of "The Sty of the Blind Pig," he said, is that it examines a very different time in America, the 1950s.
"It was pre-civil rights," he said. "People were just settling into the war being over. Never in their wildest imagination would they think there would ever be a president who was of color."
Southers is from Pittsburgh, but area audiences may have seen his work before. He directed two August Wilson plays, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "The Piano Lesson," for American Stage in St. Petersburg.
Playwright Dean's career took an odd turn a few years after "Sty," when he created a work called "Paul Robeson" that starred James Earl Jones as the legendary actor, singer and activist. A group of prominent African-American intellectuals objected to the play's "perversion of the Essence of Paul Robeson." Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and Coretta Scott King all signed it.
A group of theater luminaries, including and Edward Albee and Lillian Hellman, then signed an open letter in support of Dean. Even though "Paul Robeson" had three decent New York runs, and Jones reprised his performance in a public television production, Dean's career never recovered. He never staged another play. He died in April of this year.
Details: July 17-Aug. 3, Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28.50. Information: 941-351-2808, banyantheatercompany.com.