Q&A About Simply Heavenly with Director Darryl Davis
Q: Tell us what happens in this play.
A: Simply Heavenly is the story about a Harlem man, Jesse, and his quest – along with his neighbors and other locals – to find happiness. Of course, happiness is different for everyone. And for Jesse, happiness involves figuring out the right course with his lady friends: Jesse and his wife are long separated, but Jesse doesn’t have the money for a divorce. His new girlfriend, Joyce, won’t marry him unless the divorce is final, and adding to the complexity is Zarita, a very flirtatious character trying to attract Jesse’s attention.
Q: How does the music add to the story?
A: The blues and jazz music adds so much to the experience! In addition to just being fun, the music gives the characters a chance to express their deepest emotions, and it allows the audience to share those emotions.
Q: What is the audience going to relate to most about this play?
A: I think everyone is going to relate to these characters because they are hard-working, everyday people. They’re good folks. I think people will definitely have the most fun with Zarita! And I think that after the play ends, people will continue thinking about Jesse and Joyce’s journey to find happiness.
Q: How does this play compare to Langston Hughes’ other works?
A: There are poetic elements in this play and the audience will recognize that in connection with Langston’s poems. His energy and creativity really comes through in the conversations between characters, the way it flows, the imagery, and more.
Q: What is your favorite part of the play?
A: I really love the atmosphere of the bar – the community, family feeling. It’s a big group of “regulars” who all know each other. Back in the 1950s, Harlem apartments were very small (hot plates instead of kitchens, washing clothes in the sink, etc.), so people gathered in the neighborhood bars to socialize, hang out, relax.
Darryl Davis is originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a graduate of Calvin College with a B.A. degree in Communication, B.A. degree in Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University, M.F.A in Acting from the University of Florida, and an M.F.A in Theatre Directing from Wayne State University. He has directed many plays in the academic arena and is an accomplished actor.
Who is Jesse B. Semple?
kb saine, Producing Artistic Director of Sycamore Rouge answers: Jesse B. Semple (otherwise known as Simple) emerged during WW II, when The Chicago Defender featured weekly columns of Langston Hughes’ writing, which encouraged black Americans to support the Allies. Jesse Semple initially appeared as a “Harlem everyman” who needed encouragement to support the racially segregated U.S. armed forces. Semple’s humorous and often sentimental dialogue and behavior helped him star as the Harlem everyman. In 1950, a collection of the columns and short stories about Jesse Semple was published with the title Simple Speaks His Mind. Langston Hughes wrote two more books about Jesse B. Semple – Simple Takes a Wife and Simple Stakes a Claim – and then created Simply Heavenly, the musical tale of Semple’s saga, which ran on Broadway in 1957. The short stories, books and play all received critical acclaim.
Meet the Cast of Simply Heavenly:
Kamau Akinwole (Watermelon Joe)
Winter Bailey (Mamie)
L. Roi Boyd, III (Jesse)
Nancy Callaway (Arcie)
Diana Carver (Madam Butler/Mrs Caddy)
Toney Q. Cobb (Bodiddly)
Valerie Davis (Zarita)
Brandon Johns (Gitfiddle)
DeMauray McKiever (John Jasper)
Thomas E. Nowlin (Boyd)
ShaVaughn Peterson, (Character, Policeman, Ali Baba)
Larry Akin Smith (Hopkins)
Shalandis Wheeler Smith (Nurse)
Shola Walker (Joyce)
“Jesse Semple’s behaviors are so human, so real and so honest that we find ourselves laughing even as we roll our eyes and groan. The great thing about Jesse is that he’s just so likeable; you laugh with him, not at him, and you recognize yourself through that laughter. It’s so easy to get caught up in his stories.”
~ kb saine, Producing Artistic Director
If you want to see Simply Heavenly:
When: Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m.
Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.
September 23 through October 16
Where: Sycamore Rouge
21 West Old Street in Petersburg
Price: $18 – $22
Group rate of 10 or more: $15