William Oliver Watkins, left, Nedra Snipes and Vin Knight rehearse for “Perseverance.” Photos by Mical Hutson

Kicking off the 2021-22 Portland Stage Mainstage season is a New Work co-commissioned by Portland Stage and the Maine Suffrage Centennial Collaborative titled “Perseverance,” written by celebrated Maine playwright Callie Kimball.

The live in-theater dates are Sept. 29 through Oct. 17; and digital streaming is available Oct. 13-31.

Perseverance illuminates the complexities at the heart of the suffrage movement and highlights the contributions of African American women who were sidelined by white suffragists while following the parallel stories of the two fictional characters: Perseverance Turner, a Black suffragist and teacher in 1920, and Dawn Davis, a white woman running for office in 2020. Perseverance is determined to elevate her students above the circumstances in which they were born while also working as a lecturer on civil rights.

Davis is running on a platform of education reform while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. By juxtaposing past and present, Kimball reveals both the bravery and the profound divisions that still shape the course of social movements across the ages. “Perseverance” fills a notable gap in the American theater canon: there are currently no significant theatrical works on women’s suffrage, and certainly none that approach the movement from an intersectional perspective. Anita Stewart, executive and artistic director of Portland Stage, says in a news release from the theatre, “Callie’s play has the potential to greatly enrich the field of theater and America’s cultural heritage.”

Perseverance’s first public reading was a scene performed at a “Suffrage Tea” hosted by Governor Janet T. Mills at the Blaine House in Augusta, Maine, on Women’s Equality Day, Aug. 26, 2019.

“Perseverance was commissioned to commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage which coincided with our state’s bicentennial,” said Stewart. “Callie found a way to include both events in her play. Because of the pandemic, Portland Stage was forced to postpone the production, but we’ve taken advantage of the extra time to continue the development process. It has been extraordinary to watch as Callie has so deftly wrapped ideas and conversations motivating American society today into a play even more relevant to our community.”
Four actors arrived from New York City to perform the roles of “Percy” (Nedra Snipes), “Judge” Elmer (Vin Knight, seen in Portland Stage’s 2014-15 season production, Our Man in Havannah), Leland “Moss” Tarker (William Oliver Watkins), and Cooper “Coop” David (Brandan D. Hickey). Local actors perform the roles of Dawn Davis (Catherine Buxton) and Dilly (Sally Wood, directed Portland Stage 2019-20 Almost, Maine).

Maine-based playwright Kimball is an Affiliate Artist at Portland Stage, an Affiliate Writer at the Playwrights’ Center, Playwright-in-Residence at Theater at Monmouth, and a former MacDowell Fellow. She won a Ludwig Vogelstein grant to research her play Sofonisba (performed this summer at the Theater of Monmouth). Her themes range from historical dramas and classical adaptations to socio-political comedies and futuristic dystopias. Many of her plays feature characters balanced at the intersection of language and power, who struggle to break free from societal assumptions around gender, class, and race.

Tickets cost $20-$63, discounts available for seniors. Digital streaming is available for $25.
Box office hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and two hours before performance times.
For tickets, or more information, call 207-774-0465, email [email protected] or visit portlandstage.org.


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