Four Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance Meet in “Telling Tales Out of School” by Wesley Brown, Directed by Woodie King, Jr.

L-R: Petronia Paley (Nellallitea “Nella” Larsen), Richarda Abrams (Jessie Fauser), June Ballinger (Nancy Cunard), Elizabeth Van Dyke (Zora Neale Hurston). Photo by Lia Chang.

Above: L-R: Petronia Paley (Nellallitea “Nella” Larsen), Richarda Abrams (Jessie Fauser), June Ballinger (Nancy Cunard), Elizabeth Van Dyke (Zora Neale Hurston). Photo by Lia Chang.

New Federal Theatre (NFT) will present “Telling Tales Out of School,” a new play by Wesley Brown, from May 2 to 7 as a work in progress at Castillo Theatre/ASP, 543 West 42nd Street. The play offers a unique perspective on the Harlem Renaissance by providing a character study of four of its most-noted female prime movers, revealing their ambitions, longings and resentments and illuminating the feminine energy they brought to the movement. Director is Woodie King, Jr., founder and Producing Director Emeritus of NFT and an iconic figure of Black Theater. King and NFT received a 2020 Tony Award for Excellence in the Theatre and the Off-Broadway Alliance named him a “Legend of Off Broadway.” 

In the play, it’s June, 1954 and a memorial service for Alain Locke, architect of the Harlem Renaissance, is being held at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Among the attendees are Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset and Nancy Cunard. Not having seen one another in over twenty years, they gather at the Hotel Theresa after the funeral. Over tea, an afternoon of boundless praise of Locke unravels into disturbing revelations about the great man and the four women who have come to honor him. 

These four leading women of the Harlem Renaissance will be played by four distinguished actresses of Off-Broadway. Richarda Abrams plays Jessie Fauset, June Ballinger plays Nancy Cunard, Petronia Paley plays Nella Larsen and Elizabeth Van Dykeplays Zora Neale Hurston.


Wesley Brown is the author of three published novels, a collection of short stories, “Dance of the Infidels,” and four produced plays that include: “Boogie Woogie and Booker T” (NFT, 1987 starring La Tanya Richardson, Reuben Santiago Hudson and Marie Brown; winner of four AUDELCO awards), “Life During Wartime (1992, also winner of four AUDELCO awards), and “A Prophet Among Them (2001).  He is Professor Emeritus in English at Rutgers University and a former Visiting Professor in the Arts Division at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He wrote the narration for a segment of the 1997 PBS documentary, “W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography in Four Voices” and is co-editor of the “Methuen Anthology of American Women Playwrights: 1970-2020”.  A new edition of his first novel, “Tragic Magic” was published by McSweeney’s in 2021.  


Woodie King, Jr. (Director) is founder and Producing Director Emeritus of NFT. He has directed for Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater and film. In 2021, Woodie King, Jr.’s New Federal Theatre received The 2020 Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre. In 2020, the Off-Broadway Alliance named Woodie King, Jr. a “Legend of Off Broadway.” In recent years, he has been the subject of biographical documentaries including “The King of Stage: the Woodie King, Jr. Story” directed by Juney Smith and TCG’s “Legacy Leaders of Color” video project. His numerous other awards include an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement, TCG’s Peter Zeisler Award, AEA’s Paul Robeson Award, AEA’s Rosetta LeNoire Award, an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Wayne State University, a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the College of Wooster and Honorary Doctorates from Lehman College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In 2012 he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and received the Innovative Theatre Award’s Sustained Excellence in Theatre. 

In 1985, he was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for “Boseman and Lena” and in the 1987/88 season he won an NAACP Image Award for directing “Checkmates” at Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles. In 1988, he directed “Checkmates” on Broadway. Other directing projects include Charles Dutton in “Splendid Mummer” at American Place Theatre, “God’s Trombones” at the Ford’s Theatre, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at Detroit Rep, “A Raisin in the Sun and “The Member of the Wedding” at GeVa., Robert Johnson’s “Trick the Devil” (AUDELCO Awards for Best Director and Best Play of the Year), “Checkmates” at St. Louis Black Repertory Theatre,”And the World Laughs with You” at Crossroads Theater Company in New Brunswick, “Mud Tracks” by Regina Taylor at Ensemble Studio Theatre, “A Raisin in the Sun” starring Esther Rolle and Kenny Leon at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Samm-Art Williams’ “Home” at Brooklyn College, “Ali” at the Crossroads Theatre, “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” and “2010 Men in White” at Ohio State University, “The Piano Lesson” at Tennessee Repertory Theatre in Nashville and Seminole State College and “Sowa’s Red Gravy” with Lonette McKee. He has been a visiting professor at numerous universities. 

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