On weekends through Nov. 24, the LA-based nonprofit theater troupe Company of Angels (CoA) presents nat&EM, a new play by LA playwright Julie Taiwo Oni at the historic Alexandria hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Directed by CalArts alumna Deena Selenow (Theater MFA 13), the imagined love story between Nat King Cole and Emily Dickinson transcends time, space and logic to examine the topic of race identity in America.
In the story, the characters find themselves in a strange landscape, conversing with a limited vocabulary of the words that made them famous. The piece explores past eras “in the fight against a cycle of racial misunderstanding.”
In an email, Selenow discussed how she relates to Oni’s piece on a personal level:
Julie wrote this play two years ago in CoA’s playwright’s group and then totally gutted it four weeks ago, almost entirely rewriting it after realizing the real story she was trying to tell was her own experience of mixed identity and her imagination of how her parents met.
Julie’s bravery in allowing herself to share her personal experiences of (multi)identity is the heartbeat of this piece. We are both mixed race and yet have different experiences of what this means and how we relate to our mixed-raceness. This is at the core of nat&EM. There is no simple answer or definition for one’s identity. Identity is plural. The characters of nat and EM are American icons, and yet also frightened young parents. The character of Scribe, who witnesses and records their interaction, is also a little girl desperately trying to connect with parents who are not ready to accept the new America they are creating.
The production includes CalArts actors Melissa Donaher (Theater BFA 12), Emma Zakes Green (Theater MFA 13), Christopher Hampton (Theater BFA 10) as well as scenic designer Art Betanzos (Theater 12) and costume designer Jackie Gudgel (Theater BFA 10).
Company of Angels—Los Angeles’ oldest nonprofit repertory theater company established in 1959—develops the work of emerging artists that reflects and responds to the richness, diversity and complexity of the LA community.