Nellie Jackson's house features features, left to right, Jasmine Williams as Sandy, Teresita Brown as Na Rose, Kristian Stovall as Marla and Tish Samuel as Ree Ann. (Photo: Ben Ailes)

‘Follow Me to Nellie’s’ continues West Coast premier at Univ. Theatre through Nov. 24

  • September 10, 2013

“Follow Me to Nellie’s,” a play by writer-actress Dominique Morisseau about African Americans coping in different ways with their segregated existence in 1955 Mississippi, continues its its West Coast premiere engagement with three more shows this weekend in the University Theatre on Cal State East Bay’s Hayward Campus, 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd.

Morisseau’s inspiring tale, told with plenty of blues music, will be on stage for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances Nov. 22 and 23, along with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Nov. 24. Tickets range from $10 to $15, with CSUEB student tickets priced at $5. Tickets can be purchased online at www.csueastbaytickets.com. This show is presented for an adult audience and may be unsuitable for children under 12.

“Follow Me to Nellie’s” won the annual Premiere Stages Play Festival Competition recently in New Jersey, earning glowing reviews. 

Morisseau based her story on her own family’s past.

“Aunt Ainee, as we called her, was about to take a boat trip, and I was surprised how many people came down to see her off,” the playwright remembered from her childhood. “When I asked my cousin about it — my older cousin who always loved to take any opportunity to teach me about life — she said, ‘Ainee’s a madam.’ Somehow — I don’t know how — I knew what that meant.”

That gave new meaning to the phrase – ‘Follow Me to Nellie’s’ – printed on the T-shirt that Morisseau’s aunt had given her at a young age.

Morisseau’s story takes place in the home of the infamous Nellie Jackson, where a young starry-eyed blues singer is looking for a way out, while a brave freedom fighter is looking for a way in. The house is full of downtrodden ladies of the evening looking for a new day. 

The setting is the mid-50’s South, an era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, when the price for the women to attain their dreams could cost them everything.  The play takes a powerfully moving look at those who risked everything so that all Americans could be afforded the opportunity to vote.

“With the 50th anniversary of the ‘March on Washington’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, along with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation earlier this year, doing this play seemed like a great way to honor the sacrifices so many people made for racial justice,” said Darryl V. Jones, director of CSUEB’s production of “Follow Me to Nellies” and associate professor of theatre and dance. 

The Cal State East Bay production stars special guest artist Cathleen Riddley as Nellie Jackson.  Riddley has been featured in other Bay Area productions, including those at TheatreWorks, ACT and Marin Theatre Company. 

Jones expressed confidence that Riddley, a seasoned professional, will bring Nellie to life with a “passion, depth and complexity that will inspire the students to do outstanding work and leave audiences truly moved by their powerful performances.”

Additional information is available online at www.csueastbaytickets.com or by calling (510) 885-3118.

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