Aesthetically Speaking

Penumbra coup: Film star Ernie Hudson headlines King Headley II

When it comes to bringing in a ringer, Penumbra Theatre Company artistic director Lou Bellamy does not kid around. He signed Soon Tek Oh for the regional premiere of Silas Jones’ absurdist gem Canned Goods… When it comes to bringing in a ringer, Penumbra Theatre Company artistic director Lou Bellamy does not kid around. He signed Soon Tek Oh for the regional premiere of Silas Jones’ absurdist gem Canned Goods and bagged Jennifer Holiday for December’s retooling of the annual Black Nativity extravaganza. To close Penumbra’s 25th anniversary, all August Wilson mainstage season, Bellamy highlights the area premiere of King Hedley II by importing film and television star Ernie Hudson.

Hudson’s, inarguably, is the strongest coup. Oh, a familiar, fairly famous face from his days as a villain on “Magnum P.I.” and a likeable Korean doctor on “MASH”, drew acclaim for solid work in a strong play. Holiday, who had parlayed her Broadway success in Dream Girls and Your Arms Too Short To Box With God into enduring prominence, was well received. Hudson, though, promises to register on the Richter scale. His marquee value is as good as it gets. After all, we’re talking instant, nationwide, high-profile recognition. An abbreviated list of his vast accomplishments in film lists Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and the forthcoming Halfway Decent. Television work includes, but is far from limited to “Oz” (HBO), “Michael Jordan: An American Hero” (FOX),“Roots II” (ABC) and, airing this fall, "10-8" (ABC). Importantly, Hudson is a proven, Dramalogue Award winning stage, having performed in Lonnie Elder III’s Ceremonies In Dark Old Men, Eugene O'Neill’s The Emperor Jones and Richard Wright’s Daddy Goodness.

The proverbial coupe de gras: this premiere craftsman is Elmore in Penumbra company member and two time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s most recent Broadway triumph King Hedley II. To paraphrase an old saying, with the stuff he uses, Bellamy just can’t lose. Bet money it will be the upset show of the Twin Cities theatre season.

Actually, this marks Hudson’s return to the area stage: some three decades back, he galvanized audiences as Jack Jefferson in Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope (Theatre In the Round Players). FYI: not long before, My Kingdom Come, scripted by Hudson and directed by Horace Bond with Lou Bellamy in the lead role, was the inaugural production of the University of Minnesota's now vaunted Rarig Center.

Bellamy, who directs King Hedley II, considered other big names for this production, including Billy Dee Williams, but, as he says, "I wanted a very strong Elmore and was talking with Claude [Purdy] and we were gong over the list. He said, ‘What about Ernie, man?’ I said, ‘Aw, yeah!' So, I called him up and he said he’d love to do it."

Researching his portrayal of dyed in the wool hard-case Elmore, Hudson cut close to the bone. "My Uncle Ernest, my Uncle Charles, that’s how they came up, y’know, from Alabama, Arkansas, the South", he reflects. "They tell stories, which August captures that whole way of life very well. Really, it’s a matter of going back to my childhood. Elmore is not that different in some of his choices than they were. Part of it’s an extensions of Black culture or we’re extension of that culture. So, for me, it’s a matter of going back."

Authenticity and artistic excellence constituting the signature of genuine theatre, one can’t help but anxiously await Hudson taking the Penumbra Theatre Company stage in August Wilson's King Hedley II.

Hudson acknowledges that, star status completely withstanding, he’s not the end all and be all of the production, humorously noting, "This is not Ernie Hudson and the Four Tops. We’re playing off each other." The "we" of which he speaks entails an ensemble of time-tested professionals: Rhodessa Jones, in her own rite a theatre legend; consummate thespian Lester Purry, Tonia Jackson, David Alan Anderson and the profoundly gifted James Craven. Your friend

May 26, 2003
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