Page To Stage at Kennedy Center: THE HAMPTON YEARS Continues on its Path

An exciting Labor Day weekend of programming at Theater J wrapped up on Monday with a large turn out at 3 pm to see the stage reading of Jacqueline Lawton’s THE HAMPTON YEARS. For the record, this was draft #7 of the play. Back in January, at our first Locally Grown full length reading, we were on draft #3. Just this morning, we’ve received draft #8 from the playwright! That’s how inspiring, and useful, yesterday’s reading was for all of us.

We’re eager to hear from anyone who saw the reading yesterday. What a fascinating collection was there to witness the work! One of the most diverse crowds we’ve ever assembled for a Theater J reading; on a par with the readings we presented two years ago at The Lincoln Theatre. Our playwright discusses how that “Backstage at The Lincoln” series inspired her to conceive of this play for Theater J. How powerful the subject matter is — the emergence of a new generation of young African-American artists, coming of age during a time of trenchant segregation, under the tutelage of a Jewish refugee educator and artist whose family is in the process of perishing in Europe. The intertwined aspirations, aggrieved emotions, mutually appreciated struggle, and the inevitable tensions, jealousies and conflicting expectations and strategies make this drama an especially rich one; a play that continues to hone in on its dramatic core; its conflictual pay-dirt, while becoming more and more colorful with new research and humanity. Really proud we’re associated with the birth of this work.

And keen to hear the feedback from others, below. Look for updates on the playwright’s blog as well. Check her website for the latest. More to come, as we move onto the next round of workshops for the play in October!


5 thoughts on “Page To Stage at Kennedy Center: THE HAMPTON YEARS Continues on its Path

  1. I very much enjoyed the Page to Stage performance of The Hampton Years at the Kennedy Center, and would love to see the play in its final form. The play’s focus on the power of art will become even sharper when paired with physical art onstage and the opportunity to watch its creation.

    The characters were compelling and flawed: the art professor who believes that all African American students are haptic artists; Samella, the visual artist who proves him wrong and is overcome by jealousy of a peer’s success; John, the deeply emotional artist immersed in the image of a dying soldier. The play portrays a fascinating cross-section of Jewish culture and African American culture during World War II, honing on the characters’ fears channeled through art.

    The most powerful elements of the play, for me, revolved around Professor Viktor Lowenfeld’s interactions with his students as they struggle to create art that will speak to others. They close their eyes and envision the emotion or particular instance that triggers the need for re-creation; a Creole woman singing as she passes out pastries, a mother and child laughing in a park. The play brings the art to life as a character in itself, demanding a prominent voice in a time period when creativity was funneled into propaganda toward the war effort. Watching the characters’ efforts to express their views or challenge the social status quo through art, only to be rebuked or dismissed, is a heartwrenching experience.

    I would like to see the play delve more deeply into John’s experience with depression while serving in the military; watching him begin to overcome his despair through painting would be incredibly powerful to watch on the stage.

  2. Jacqueline E. Lawton’s reading of The Hampton Years was my first experience of a theater reading involving the whole cast and I thoroughly enjoyed the script, conversation style, and emotion that was showcased throughout the production. I thought the opening introductions and small inserts of detail given by the narrator was a great way to keep the audience on track, while also providing conversational visuals that made the play come to life.

    From my perspective, the underlying principle of the play was conveyed in a very powerful way and it left the audience pondering the many hardships that African Americans had to overcome and are still dealing with today. Lawton expressed these inequalities through various examples, but one that stuck in my mind was the mural that John was asked to paint during his time in the service. Although he produced an authentic and truthful work of art that represented the disparity between the labor roles of blacks and whites on duty, his painting was rejected because the reality of the scene was one that society preferred to not to acknowledge. Lawton encompassed this scene and the underlying reality of society in a line that stated, “Art reflects society even if society is not ready to address it.” I found this quote to be quite moving and relevant to works of art that we see in today’s society and generations before.

    In all, I thought The Hampton Years reading was a very inspiring work of art for all ages and races. Even though it is focused on the life of two aspiring African American artists, many young adults can relate to John and Samella in some way, and their perseverance and determination is a great example of how following your dreams can sometimes trump right or wrong.

  3. Even in the absence of a set the actors in The Hampton Years, written by Jacqueline E. Lawton, made the production come to life. All of the actors seem to have perfectly embodied their characters and whom they were supposed to represent during the WWII era. I also felt the characters were balanced well across the spectrum of the viewpoints on racism during WWII.

    From this production I developed an understanding that one can always express themselves through art. Some people may try to hinder your ability to express and present your emotions, but never let them sway you. It is important to stay true to who you are and let the truth and your emotions run through what art you may create. One must remember that a plethora of art has taught us about our true history that some books may have left out because it was an inconvenient truth. The production shed light onto some of the harsh years for men during the draft of WWII, a truth that is often forgotten or buried, which leads us to a perfect example of an inconvenient truth.

    An interesting twist that lay hidden under most of the plot of the production was that Professor Lowenfeld and his wife Margaret were also under persecution for their race. However, the couple had escaped their oppression and made it to the US where they could better fulfill their life goals in a safer environment, but as we later found out, their family in Europe was not so fortunate. It was a small form of success against racism during WWII that the professor and his wife could begin a new life without the confinements that they had experienced in Europe.

    Overall, I thought it was a very witty production and I am very hopeful for the final presentation of the art itself.

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