Sept. 23 2015 01:58 PM

Bayard Rustin's life chronicled at La Jolla Playhouse

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Michael Benjamin Washington in Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin
Photo by Jim Carmody

What better time than now, with certain wannabe presidents re-energizing racism and intolerance, to remind ourselves of the heroes—some of them unsung—who fought so hard for civil rights? One of those unsung heroes was Bayard Rustin. It was Rustin who, at the behest of civil rights icon A. Philip Randolph, organized the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He did so while in the midst of great personal sacrifice and with his detractors trying to use against him—and the march—the fact that Rustin was gay and had early ties to the Communist Party. This makes for a gripping story.

Michael Benjamin Washington wrote and stars (as Rustin) in that story: La Jolla Playhouse's world-premiere production of Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin, directed by Lucie Tiberghien. In recounting the genesis of the 1963 march, the turbulent days leading up to it and the day itself, Washington is, one could argue, overambitious. The first half-hour of the one-act Blueprints is talky and theatrically rather static, a history class in the stage lights. But director Tiberghien, who was at the helm of the Playhouse's stupendous Blood and Gifts a few years ago, opens up the action and adds sweep to the history, thanks in part to Neil Patel's inspired scenic design and a supporting cast including stentorian-voiced Ro Boddie as Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. and Mandi Masden as committed march organizer Miriam Caldwell.

But Blueprints, which was developed during the Playhouse's DNA New Work Series last year, is very much Washington's showcase. It is clear from both the intelligence of the script and the quiet relentlessness of his performance that Rustin and his story are a part of him. Like the history of civil rights itself, Rustin often took one step forward only to suffer two steps back. But also like those in the movement, he never gave up, even when weary heart and body must have tempted him to do so. For its joyous moments as well as its sorrowful and dangerous ones, Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin should be experienced, discussed and remembered.

Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin runs through Oct. 4 at La Jolla Playhouse, $20 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org.


Opening:

Cell: A world premiere play about a corrections officer who begins to fraternize with the illegal immigrants she's supposed to be overseeing. Presented by Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company, it opens Sept. 24 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in the East Village. moolelo.net

The Vortex: Noël Coward's scandalous comedy about an aging socialite and her son who are forced to confront some hard truths about themselves when their respective lovers leave them. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens Sept. 24 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com

Sylvia: A romantic comedy about a couple of empty nesters whose marriage is tested with the arrival of a stray dog. Presented by the SDSU School of Theatre, it opens Sept. 25 at the Experimental Theatre in the College Area. ttf.sdsu.edu

Orange Julius: The world premiere play from Basil Kreimendahl tells the story of a dying Vietnam vet trying to reconnect with his lesbian daughter. It opens Sept. 26 at the MOXIE Theatre in the College Area. moxietheatre.com

Full Gallop: Broadway vet Mercedes Ruehl plays a fashion editor scornfully plotting a comeback after being fired from Vogue magazine. It opens Sept. 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat: The classic tale of a mischievous cat trying to corrupt two youths with help from Thing One and Thing Two. It opens for two performances Sept. 27 at the California Center for the Arts' Center Theater in Escondido. artcenter.org

Healing Wars: A multisensory production that blends dance, spoken word and multimedia in order to explore how soldiers cope with the physical and emotional wounds of war. Presented as the centerpiece production of the upcoming Without Walls Festival, it opens Sept. 29 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org

Now Playing:

The Diary of Anne Frank: The stage adaptation of the inspirational true story of a young girl hiding from Nazis in WWII Amsterdam. It runs through Sept. 27 at Vista's Broadway Theater. broadwayvista.com

The Comedy of Errors: Shakespeare's mischievous comedy about mistaken identity and long-lost twins. It runs through Sept. 20 at the Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

Moon Over Buffalo: Ken Ludwig's comedy about two aging theater actors who may get one more chance to perform on Broadway. Directed by Margo Essman, it runs through Sept. 20 at the Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com

Big Fish: A musical about a southern salesman who spins tall tales to his son throughout his life. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the motion picture by Tim Burton, it runs through Sept. 26 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com

Mixtape: The Greatest Hits of the ‘80s: The homegrown musical about the ‘80s features songs from some of the biggest pop stars of that time including Duran Duran, The Cure, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and more. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 27 at the Horton Grand Theatre in the Gaslamp.

I, Joan: A one-woman play about a young, militaristic French girl who has a special relationship with God. You can probably guess who that is. Written by Peter Mitsopoulos, It runs through Oct. 3 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. joan.ticketleap.com

Race: Two lawyers have to defend a wealthy white executive accused of sexually assaulting a black woman in David Mamet's biting drama. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Oct. 3 at Swedenborg Hall in Hillcrest. differentstages.biz

Amazons and Their Men: The West Coast premiere of Jordan Harrison's comically subversive play about German film auteur Leni Riefenstahl. Directed by Matt M. Morrow, it runs through Oct. 4 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org

Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin: This world premiere drama set in 1963 centers on the redemptive story of civil rights hero Bayard Rustin. Written by Michael Benjamin Washington, it runs through Oct. 4 at the La Jolla Playhouse's Potiker Theatre. lajollaplayhouse.org

The Fox on the Fairway: A country-club president bets on a golf tournament but loses his ringer to the other side in this Caddyshack-esque comedy. It runs through Oct. 11 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org

Master Class: Terrance McNally's acclaimed dramedy about a once-famous opera singer who's having a hard time adjusting to teaching. Presented by ion Theatre, it opens in previews at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com

A Night of Dark Intent: A thriller about six women attempting to solve a years-old murder mystery in the very house where the crime was committed. Written by L. Don Swartz, it runs through Oct. 18 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org

Master Class: Terrance McNally's acclaimed dramedy about a once-famous opera singer who's having a hard time adjusting to teaching. Presented by ion Theatre, it runs through Oct. 17 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com

Thoroughly Modern Millie: A young girl fresh off a Kansas farm taps and flaps her way through ‘20s New York City in this highly popular Broadway musical. It runs through Oct. 18 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com

In Your Arms: A world premiere “dance-theatre musical” created by a who's who of Tony and Pulitzer winning Broadway vets. Directed by Christopher Gattelli, it runs through Oct. 25 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

Hay Fever: Noël Coward's classic comedy about a retired stage actress, her writer husband, their eccentric children, and a weekend get-together gone awry. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 8 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com

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