Coronado Playhouse (CHP) proudly presents “Harlem Duet,” the critically acclaimed play by Djanet Sears, streaming on-demand from March 19-April 18. “Harlem Duet” received Canada’s highest literary honor for dramatic writing, the Governor General’s Literary Award, in 1998. That year it also received the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award.

In what could be a prelude to Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Djanet Sears’s ​“Harlem Duet” recounts the story of Othello and his first wife, Billie (before Desdemona). Their history is told through the lives of three couples during eras of special significance in the Black American Experience. This is a weighty play that leaves the viewer with no easy answers.

Set in contemporary Harlem at the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Boulevards, the tale tows the line of racial identity, sexual politics, and mental illness in the Black community. Sears’s script diffuses the action through three timelines: the 1860s, 1928 and the present.

Director Kandace Crystal was introduced to this show 15 years ago and fell in love with it. “At that time, I didn’t see many leads who looked like me” said Crystal, who is a first-time director at CPH. “Having an all-Black cast that wasn’t an August Wilson play was refreshing and necessary.” Harlem Duet’s themes transcend race. “It’s a commentary on humanity.  Every single person has experienced heartbreak in some form or another as well as loss and grief.  We also see an exploration of declining mental health, Black Love, and the proximity to Whiteness.  The Shakespearean tie-in and the non-chronological structure present a unique directorial challenge and take on an ancient text. A remix of sorts.”

Crystal’s vision was simple–to follow the playwright’s model. “How would Othello look through the eyes of a Black Woman? Moving the narrative from the white, male gaze allows us to, in essence, take back our story and tell them through our own lenses.” This allows Crystal a unique opportunity to explore relationships–romantic or platonic–and how they affect interactions with others in life.

Crystal is artistic director of American History Theatre and Associate Artistic Director of Trinity Theatre Company. Crystal implemented an online discussion series examining historical American events on the mental health of marginalized communities. With Trinity, she has built a partnership with Kitabu Club Adventures for our youngest audiences to see themselves in the books they read. Additionally, in response to the disproportionate murder of black and brown people at the hands of police, Kandace developed a podcast/oral documentary with Cloudcast Media entitled “8:46-The Catalyst for Change” as a means of documenting feelings and responses to the current epidemic. Her directorial credits include: “The Mountaintop” (AHT/TRTC), “Donna Orbits the Moon” (Scripps Ranch Theatre), and “Clybourne Park” (Trinity Theatre Company). 

To adhere to current COVID-19 protocols, this show will be recorded on stage and streamed to patrons on-demand during the run of the show. Rehearsals and filming are also adhering to current protocols and restrictions.

Please note, “Harlem Duet” contains adult language and themes.

Community Partner – Rachel’s Women’s Center

Community Theatre is made by, with and for the community in which it is performed. Coronado Playhouse is committed to pursuing community theatre in the truest sense of the words by giving back to the people of San Diego County and Coronado and using our public platform to raise awareness and help those in need.  

During the run of “Harlem Duet,” CPH is honored to be partnering with Rachel’s Women’s Center. Rachel’s Women’s Center provides a safe, supportive, sober environment and opportunities for women with few or no resources to gather, begin, and continue self-help efforts.

Please visit https://ccdsd.org/homeless-womens-services/ to see how to volunteer or donate to this important cause.

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