There's Chuck Smith and there's Charles Smith. They're both theater heavyweights from Chicago, and they're both major forces behind the upcoming production at Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.
It's a drama called "Knock Me a Kiss." Charles Smith wrote it and Chuck Smith is directing the WBTT production.
Chuck and Charles Smith are old friends, and Chuck has directed "Knock Me a Kiss" several times before, including its Off-Broadway run.
"I directed the world premiere in 2000 at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago," Chuck Smith said.
He also directed a 2011 staging of the play at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C. WBTT artistic director Nate Jacobs saw that production.
"It was actually at that festival twice," Chuck Smith said. "Nate came back when we did it again in 2013 and he brought his board with him."
Soon after, Jacobs phoned Chuck Smith and asked him to come to Sarasota to direct the play here. Chuck Smith loves the play, and he no doubt welcomed the chance to come to Florida during the height of the Chicago winter so he eagerly agreed.
Charles Smith's play is a fictionalized account of the marriage of Yolande DuBois, the daughter of civil rights activist and intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, to Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen.
Yolande was in love with the great jazz bandleader Jimmie Lunceford, but her father pushed her into marriage with Cullen.
"Her father wasn't too keen for her to marry a bandleader," Chuck Smith said. "She married Cullen, and soon after, they were divorced. We see the reason they were divorced. It's a love story."
Besides exploring Yolande DuBois' divided affections, Charles Smith's play is about class conflicts and about a secret that interfered with the marriage between Dubois and Cullen.
"It's set in Harlem, during the Harlem Renaissance," Chuck Smith said. "But it deals with issues that still resonate today. It's a good, solid play, and it's based on truth. Five of the characters are actual people. The sixth is one that Charles
The other Smith, playwright Charles, has won Emmy Awards for his teleplays "Fast Break to Glory" and "Pequito." He's currently head of the Professional Playwriting Program at Ohio University.
Director Chuck Smith works primarily with Chicago's Griffin Theatre. "Knock Me a Kiss" -- the title comes from the name of song by Lunceford, whose music permeates the show -- is his first show at WBTT.
"I love it here," he said. "They do good work, and they do the kind of work everyone wants to see. They got a great formula here. I cant see them doing anything but growing."
Details: Jan. 9- Feb. 8, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Show times: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $29.50 general admission $16.50 students. Information: 941-366-1505, westcoastblacktheatre.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist , can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.