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The Billie Holiday Theatre presents "Reparations" through different lenses

The Billie Holiday Theatre and Hollis King

The Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn presents the world premiere of Reparations, by playwright James Sheldon and directed by Tony Award-nominated Michele Shay.

Reparations tells the story of a recently widowed white book editor who invites a younger black writer to her apartment, only to find that a night of tenderness and passion turns into a complex and unforeseen morning-after when he threatens to reveal a dark secret.

Sheldon, Shay and cast member Kamal Bolden sat down at The Billie recently with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about the show that is the major highlight of the iconic theatre's current season and the center piece of its inaugural New Windows Festival.

Credit Nina Flowers for WBGO
WBGO's Doug Doyle at the Billie with "Reparations" director Michele Shay, playwright James Sheldon and actor Kamal Bolden

With Reparations, The Billie has created a provocative examination of race in America and of the lenses through which we see each other.

Sheldon says he's honored to bring his story to the Billie Holiday Theatre.

"These are four characters from different races, different nationalities, different age groups and yet all together they find a way to kind of crack open the avoidance of their past and confront some of the dark  secrets that they've all been sitting on for many, many years.  So to me that seemed another way to reframe or rephrase the more familiar debate about reparations, be it slavery reparations, American slavery or Nazi genocide or apartheid of South Africa, those bigger issues I certainly touch on in terms of the moral message of the play.  But this is a story about four characters who struggle to confront the injustices of their past."

Director Michele Shay, who has done several projects at the Billie, and was excited to work on Reparations.

"Reparations interested me James is writing about stuff that we haven't heard about in this particular way before.  It has been thrilling to work as long as we have together.  We met last year and we've been collaborating on this play since that time, trying to make it the best it can possibly be and the evolution of it has been thrilling and I think it's going to offer audiences in the whole tri-state area an experience they have not had before."

Credit Hollis King
Kamal Bolden stars as "Reg" in James Sheldon's "Reparations"

Kamal Bolden shared that excitment about the play.  He says his character "Reg" is a complex one.

"He's (Reg) first of all a fantastic writer. He hasn't found the success yet but I love what James set up in terms of him being a novelist.  He's written this amazing black New York detective that goes to a whole other country to track down this killer, to exonerate someone who has been disenfranchised like himself growing up.  And that reminded me of one of my favorite characters in all novels, "Easy" Rawlins from the Walter Mosely series like many people remember the movie Devil in a Blue Dress.  So I was excited to see that this novelist had written a character similar to him.  There's going to be so many twists and turns.  Once you think you know someone there's going to be another layer of that onion that's peeled back and that's what attracted me to this play." 

Joining Bolden in the cast are Lisa Arrindell, Alexandra Neil and Gys De Villiers.

Reparations runs through November 24 at the Billie.  For more information you can go to www.thebillieholiday.org.

Click above to hear the entire interview about Reparations.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.