University of Pittsburgh
October 11, 2001

Kuntu Repertory Theatre Launches 2001-2002 Season with Rob Penny's "Murderer on the Hill District"

Contact:  412-624-4147

October 12, 2001

PITTSBURGH—The University of Pittsburgh's internationally renowned Kuntu Repertory Theatre launches its 2001-2002 season of mystery dramas on Oct. 18 with Rob Penny's Murderer on the Hill District.

Running through Nov. 3, Murderer on the Hill District is a crime drama featuring Detective Kumako Victorious, an African American of Maroon lineage, who must prove whether a minister murdered his young wife's lover. When Victorious investigates the murder, which takes place in the parking lot of Pittsburgh International Airport, it leads him back to the city's Hill District, where he has five possible suspects, all connected to the victim and the Holy Judgment Church. Is it a hate crime or crime of passion?

Penny is a poet, playwright, and associate professor of Africana studies at Pitt who also grew up in the Hill District. In 1969, he began teaching in the Africana Studies department, and he served as its chair from 1978 to 1984. Penny is a playwright-in-residence at Kuntu Repertory Theatre. In 1968, Penny and playwright August Wilson cofounded the Black Horizon Theatre in Pittsburgh, and they established the Kuntu Writers Workshop in 1976. Among Penny's plays are Little Willie Armstrong Jones, Who Loves A Dancer?, Diane's Heart, Boppin' with the Ancestors, and Nefertari Rising. Kuntu Repertory Theatre, the New Federal Theatre in New York City, ETA in Chicago, and the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn have produced his plays.

Kuntu's managing director, Eileen J. Morris, directs Murderer on the Hill District. Morris also directs for New Horizon Theatre. She has directed Indigo Blues, Flyin' West, Miss Dessa, and Liftin' for Kuntu.

"Everyone loves a good mystery, one that holds the attention, one that makes you put on your thinking cap, and one that surprises you at the end," Morris said. "Rob Penny has given us an opportunity to, for a minute, become amateur detectives and help solve the crime. Murderer on the Hill District is a real drama that has passion, intrigue, mystery, and love all entwined."

The cast includes local actors Art Terry, Jonathan Berry, Leo Beatty, Camille Locust, Vanessa German, Teri Bridgett, and Danielle Irvin. The set design is by Kenneth Ellis, lighting by Jason Peroney, sound by Jen Frisch, costumes by Tracy Reed, and property design by Renee Sorrell.

Additional Kuntu Repertory Theatre productions scheduled for the 2001-2002 season are:

Whispers Want to Holler (Jan. 24-Feb. 9)

Written by Marta Effinger and featuring original music by jazz saxophonist Billy Harper, this dramatic musical is about a Black woman on the verge of "succumbing to urban renewal." Several unexpected guests visit and cast spells over her home. She hears calls so mysteriously and sensually divine, "whispers want to holler." Suddenly her basement is filled with the sounds of children's laughter, women's wails, and men's testimonies. Simultaneously engulfed by the rhythmic stories of the past and the present, and already coping with personal tragedy, she doesn't know if she is losing her mind or finding salvation.

Killing Me Softly and Sun Rising on the Hill District (Mar. 21-Apr. 6)

These two plays will run in repertory on alternating dates. Killing Me Softly, by Gloria Browne, is set in a Black law firm in mid-America. The forceful attorney John Power Sr. is murdered, and his lover, jazz singer Veronique Stone, is the prime suspect. His son, mayoral candidate John Power Jr., is missing. Handyman Jestuh Jackson hated the elder Power's elitist ways and threatened to kill him. The churchgoing secretary Dixie Cross longed for Power's attention. Newcomer attorney Rita Davis is thrown into the arms of her old lover, the deadly ambitious Detective Armstrong, and into a murder investigation where she, too, becomes a suspect.

Sun Rising on the Hill District, by Rob Penny, tells of a young cyberologist who is in a new city without her two children because she is on the run from her abusive husband and in hiding for fear of her life.

The Conjure Man Dies and Sherlock Holmes and the Hands of Othello (May 23-June 8)

These two plays also will run in repertory on alternating dates. The Conjure Man Dies, by Rudolph Fisher, tells of the well-known and mysterious psychic and former African king, N. Frimbo, who is found dead one night in his chair at the conjure table. Detective Perry Dart of the Harlem police force and Dr. John Archer, his friend, investigate what appears to be a murder. Archer had been the physician summoned by Frimbo's clients when one of them found he was speaking to a dead man. The plot becomes more complex when Frimbo's corpse disappears and returns as Frimbo, living. Declaring that he has control over his mind to such an extent that he can return from the dead, Frimbo was attacked by someone and the detective and doctor attempt to find out why.

Sherlock Holmes and the Hands of Othello, written by Alexander Simmons and produced off-Broadway, is a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery centering on the haunting of the family of Ira Aldridge, the famous black Shakespearean performer in Victorian England.

All performances are held at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays in the Seventh-Floor Auditorium of the Masonic Temple, 4227 Fifth Avenue, Oakland. For tickets and group sale information, call 412/624-7298 or visit Student and senior discounts are available.