There's just a single character in a play being staged this weekend in Modesto, but what a punch that one person packs.
Sankofa Theatre brings "Coretta: the One-Woman Stage Play" to the State Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 10, about the wife of the late civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Directed and presented by the Bay Area's Dee Dee Simon, the play stars Kimberly Smith Chatman in the role as Coretta Scott King, a force herself within her husband's historic civil rights legacy.
It was important to bring the Black History Month-timed production to Modesto "in light of what is going on throughout our nation as it relates to how many women have been demeaned and subjected to sexual harassment, abuse and assault," said John Ervin, co-founder of the Modesto company.
"We wanted to remind our community that women are the foundation and backbone of our society," he said in an email interview. "Although throughout world history women have been relegated to the shadows of society, it is long overdue that women assume their proper place in society as an equal contributor as men."
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The story of Coretta Scott King "needs to be heard and visualized," Ervin said, and her work needs to be seen for the role she played in the civil rights movement.
It's a timely story for today, even beyond that female empowerment component.
"With the resurgence of the attitudes and mindsets indicative of the civil rights movement we felt her story would intrigue and appeal to a broad audience," Ervin said. "We liken it to the recent appearance of Delores Huerta (in Modesto) at the MLK Commemoration recently. Ms. Huerta was always in the shadow of the farm workers movement, but is now viewed in my opinion, as an equally formidable force in the movement she helped start with Cesar Chavez and others."
Dee Dee Simon is a Steve Harvey National Singing Competition winner, a songwriter, producer, actress and director. Actress Kimberly Smith Chatman also lives in the Bay Area.
Sankofa is the region's first and only African-American theater company. Since its inception, Sankofa has produced plays from prominent artists that highlight the African-American experience. They have included August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Piano Lesson," "Looking Over the President's Shoulder," "The Freedom Riders," "The Exonerated" and last year's "Colored People's Time."
The all-volunteer community theater group has attracted a diverse following for its shows.
"We would like people know that Sankofa is honored, humbled and thrilled about the support we received from theatergoers," Ervin said. The company is committed to showing the African-American life, culture and experience to the community through its theatrical productions, he added.
A portion of the proceeds from Saturday's performance will support local Black Student Unions that are participating in the production. Youth performers will offer black hero monologues, jazz, music and poetry as part of a pre-show presentation.
Ervin said members of Sankofa "would like audiences to be educated, inspired, entertained and moved to action with the performance of this truly inspirational woman."
"We want the audience to understand, that although Ms. King was perceived to be in the shadows of the civil rights movement, her insight, support and activism speaks volumes for the success of the movement — in her role as wife, mother, supporter, leader and activist."