Playwright hopes dinner theater draws new audience

Friday, March 5, 2004 at 1:00am

Nashville playwright George Darden's new work Sister Midnight, which opens Saturday night at John Henry's, is something unexpected and unusual in local theatrical circles. It's a dinner theater play approached from an African-American perspective.
Sister Midnight opens at 8 p.m. Saturday at John Henry's, 1036 Jefferson St. A $25 charge includes dinner.

"In our research we couldn't find any examples of recent or historic dinner theaters for the black community," Darden said. "We feel Nashville is diverse enough and its audience receptive to new things, and that's what we're doing with Sister Midnight, both in the structure and the subject matter."

Darden's play takes place at a fictional radio station, where the lead character Stacy Storm hosts a show called "Let's Talk Love." She counsels and advises listeners about love and romance, and the show can be heard in three states. But Storm suddenly finds herself involved in a thorny personal situation when she confronts a caller known as Ben from Buckhead.

"She catches heat from management, and there are some interesting developments," Darden said. "The play builds to a surprising climax because the audience finds out there's a shocking secret. [The lead character] also discovers something about herself that she thought would never occur."

The two-act play is directed by William Jenkins, and stars actors Dorothy Spann, Marlon Styles and Chandra Walton. It's the first of what Darden hopes will be an ambitious and edgy group of productions for both the stage and screen, operating in territory that's previously been explored by works from such area playwright/actors as Barry Scott and Jeff Obafemi Carr.

"I want to write original pieces for a broader, more intelligent audience that I truly believe is out there but is frequently ignored by mainstream producers," Darden said. "The black community both here and across the nation is long overdue to get challenging material, and I have lots of ideas."

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