June 15 – July 17 · Howard Family Stage
Djanet Sears‘ Governor-General’s Award-winning drama explores the complicated relationship of a Black couple in three key periods in the American Black experience: 1860, before the US Emancipation Proclamation; 1928, during New York’s Harlem Renaissance; and in post-civil rights 1997. Each setting reframes the story of the woman, her deep love for her partner, and her sacrifices – and resilience – in the face of his betrayal. With connections to Shakespeare’s Othello, Harlem Duet explores important contemporary questions about race, privilege and relationships.
“…an era-spanning epic that comments on what it is to be black then and now in North America.” – The Globe and Mail (2018)
Directed by Cherissa Richards (Stratford and Shaw Festivals)
Production run time: 2hrs 40 min, including intermission (Act 1 – 1hr 20 min | Act 2 – 58 min)
Photo Credit: Donald Sales as Othello & Marci T. House as Billie Photo & Image Design: Emily Cooper
Harlem Duet is the story of the complex relationship of a Black couple, played out against the backdrop of three different periods in the American Black experience: in 1860, before the US Emancipation Proclamation; in 1928, during New York’s Harlem Renaissance; and in the post-civil rights world of 1997. Each setting reframes the story of the woman, her deep love for her partner, and her sacrifices, pain, revenge, and resilience when she is betrayed by him. Each era’s cultural and social backdrop plays a unique part in how each couple’s story develops – and ends. And, as in Shakespeare’s Othello, a strawberry-embroidered handkerchief plays a significant part in each story.
First, a note about names. In 1997, the lead characters are Billie and her partner Othello. In 1928, as vaudeville players, the two characters are called “She” and “He”. And in 1860, as servants, they are “Her” and “Him”.
The majority of the action occurs in 1997. Billie and Othello have been together for nine years, living in an apartment in Harlem. Billie is a graduate student and Othello is a professor who has recently achieved tenure over a white man named Chris Yago. Othello has fallen in love with a colleague, a white woman named Mona, and has recently left Billie for her.
Also part of the 1997 story are Billie’s friends: her landlady, Magi, her sister-in-law Amah (married to Billie’s brother), and her estranged father, Canada, who turns up unexpectedly. Billie is in deep pain over Othello’s choice to leave her for Mona, and everything that represents – and she makes a plan to make him pay.
The two other time periods are seen as a series of flashbacks throughout the unfolding of the 1997 events. When the action shifts to 1928, “He” is a classically trained actor, playing in blackface in a minstrel show. Again, “He” is involved with a white woman – a director named Mona – and “She” responds out of her pain and despair. And in the scenes set in Harlem in the early 1860s, the couple are servants in a white household. They have made a plan to go north to Canada in search of a freer life. But at the last moment, “Him” decides he can’t leave his white mistress. And once again, the consequences of that choice are devastating.
Cinematography & Video Editing by The Art Left
As a young Black theatre student, eagerly searching for plays that spoke to my cultural identity, Djanet Sears was one of the first Black Canadian playwrights I discovered. At that moment, I fell in love with her writing and her gorgeous storytelling about people who looked like me – and consequently I devoured everything “Djanet Sears” that I could get my hands on! To see yourself in plays and in the characters on stage is essential for all theatregoers, and I am so proud to bring this story and these complicated, full Black characters to life on the Bard stage, in this very special 25th anniversary of Harlem Duet!
Djanet so perfectly described her play as “a rhapsodic blues tragedy, exploring the effects of race and sex on the lives of people of African descent. It is a tale of love. A tale of Othello and his first wife, Billie. Set in 1860, 1928 and contemporary Harlem at the corner of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Boulevards.”
This story is timeless. It is a story about love and betrayal and more specifically it is a story centred on Blackness. Stories about Blackness, Black love, Black hurt, Black triumphs, Black lives, have been historically overlooked and under-produced in our Canadian theatrical landscape. And while this play is centred in Blackness, it is also universal. By opening up our scope to other cultures, other storytelling – we learn about ourselves and connect as humans though our differences.
In this story we see Billie fighting to find a way to end the cycle of generational trauma by invoking traditional black magic. We join Billie on her journey through the pain of Othello’s betrayal and subsequent devolution of her mental health. In Djanet Sears’ forward to this play she writes,
“I have a dream. A dream that one day in the city where I live, at any given time of the year, I will be able to find at least one play that is filled with people who look like me, telling stories about me, my family, my friends, my community. For most people of European descent, this is a privilege they take for granted.”
Please join me in this celebrating this iconic play – and all the talented theatre artists gathered to bring the best of themselves to this work in such a deep and brave way.
– Cherissa Richards, Director | April 2022
Critics & Patrons Say
“The production is terrific, the direction – by Cherissa Richards – is sensitive and the acting superb. A little bit of Lady Macbeth and a little bit of Othello (including the ripe strawberry-embroidered handkerchief) make it a good fit for Bard. A touch of Medea makes it timeless. And a whole lot of Martin Luther King Jr. makes it politically relevant.”Jo Ledingham Theatre Reviews
“One of the most powerful and riveting plays that I’ve ever seen! It should not be missed.”James, Bard Patron
“Featuring a superb central performance by Marci T. House, Harlem Duet dives directly into provocative arguments about race.”The Vancouver Sun
“An impressive production. A MUST SEE!”Leslie, Bard Patron
“Rachel Forbes set design grabs your attention as soon as you enter.”On The List (Jayminter.com)
“A wonderful play with incredible actors. I loved every word of it. It was an eye opener!”Deborah, Bard Patron
“This was phenomenal. Very strong and talented cast… clever staging, and the live music pair were great.”Judy, Bard Patron
Cast & Creative Team
This is Cherissa’s second season at Bard on the Beach (Timon of Athens dir. Meg Roe, 2018, Assistant Director). She has done directing apprentice programs at Bard on the Beach, the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival. Directing credits: The Power of Harriet T (Manitoba Theatre for Young People), The Game (Sarasvàti), VOICE (Prairie Theatre Exchange), Meet Me At Dawn (Theatre By The River), The Last days of Judas Iscariot (Canadian College of Performing Arts). Directing Residency: National Theatre School of Canada, 2021. Directing Fellowship: This Gen-Why Not Theatre, 2021. RBC Rising Star Emerging Director Prize: Crow's Theatre, 2021.
Marci T. House
Select credits: Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, and Lysistrata (Bard on the Beach); Sweat, Clybourne Park, Disgraced, and Intimate Apparel (Arts Club); The Madness of George III and Dracula (Shaw Festival Theatre); You Will Remember Me (Ruby Slippers Theatre/Gateway Theatre); Glengarry Glen Ross (Classic Chic Theatre); The Ladies Foursome (The Grand Theatre); Doubt (Rose Theatre); The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot (Pound of Flesh Theatre); In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) (Tarragon Theatre/MTC); RUINE D (Obsidian Theatre/Nightwood Theatre); Hamlet (Honest Fishmongers Co-Op); The Miracle Worker (Playhouse Theatre); and *AFUWA*.
Originally from the United States and with a background in professional dance, Donald now calls Vancouver home and can be seen in a myriad of television productions. Most recently, you’ll see Donald in Ryan Reynold’s Netflix feature, The Adam Project, directed by Shawn Levy; opposite Margaret Qualley in John Well’s limited series, Maid; and as a very memorable character in Kung Fu. He’s also played a recurring role on A Million Little Things, to name just a few.
Liza completed formal theatre training at Studio 58 and attended the National Voice Intensive and vocal training at the Banff Centre. She is also an Expressive Art Therapist, Life Coach and vocalist. Recent credits include principal roles on Wendy Williams: The Movie, Motherland: Fort Salem and as Inez in Realwheels' theatre/film hybrid adaptation of No Exit. She is an executive board member for UBCP/ACTRA and Chair of their Mental Health and Addiction Committee.
Originally from Haiti, Marsha has grown up in Port-au-Prince and Ottawa. Marsha is thrilled to be making her Bard on the Beach debut! Marsha’s theatre work includes productions with the Arts Club Theatre, the Grand Theatre, the Company Theatre, and Canadian Stage. Most recently, Marsha has worked on Jocelyn Bioh’s off-Broadway premiere production of Nollywood Dreams at MCC Theatre. Marsha has also gathered numerous TV and film credits over the years. MFA from Actors Studio Drama School. www.marsharegis.com
Tom has appeared in numerous Vancouver theatre productions and makes his seventh season appearance at Bard. His recent film/TV credits include the Tailor on The Good Doctor (ABC); The 27-Hour Day (Hallmark); and Christmas Time Is Here (GAC Family). Tom received a Jessie Richardson Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role of Sam in “Master Harold”… and the Boys (Pacific Theatre, dir. Morris Ertman). Tom hails from Berkeley, California, and now resides in Tsawwassen, BC.
Alexander Boynton Jr.
If silky smooth is your preferred musical texture, then Alexander's got just the audio flow. An established American/Canadian smooth jazz artist, he is a bassist, composer and producer who has played with some of the most well-known musicians around the world. And with his first solo album Doo Bee Doo Bop, he is primed to take listeners on a jazz-filled journey where fresh melodies lead to intimate connections. He has opened for the likes of Bryan Adams, Super Tramp and Duran Duran, but has never lost his R&B gospel roots, infusing his music with the sounds that shaped his soul.
Marlene (she/her) is a musician, actor and writer. Select credits include Fucking A (Signature Theatre); Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (Firehall Arts Centre & WCT); Once (US national tour and Arts Club Theatre); Beau (ATF Theatre Festival and upcoming feature film); and Bad Hats Theatre’s Peter Pan (CTYP, Jessie Richardson Theatre Award). While she has enjoyed baking, watching reality TV and snuggling her cat nonstop for the past two years, she is delighted for the opportunity to perform live music again.
Set & Costume Designer
Rachel is an award-winning set and costume designer creating for theatre, dance, opera and film. Her work has seen stages all across Canada. She is especially invested in the development of new works and interdisciplinary explorations. Selected credits for costume design: The Brothers Size (Soulpepper, Dora Mavor Moore Award winner) and White Girls in Moccasins (Manidoons/BIBT). Set Design: Calpurnia (RMTC, NAC); Trouble in Mind, Victory, and 1837: The Farmers’ Revolt (Shaw Festival); and The Bridge (2b/ Neptune, Robert Merritt Award winner).
John "Adidam" Littlejohn
Composer & Musical Director
John is a violinist, composer and acoustic hip-hop artist who has toured the world performing as a soloist and one-third of Infinitus, the beatboxing string trio. John is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory (Johns Hopkins University) and the University of Michigan and has earned an undergraduate and two graduate degrees in violin performance. Music critics have referred to his compositions as “distinctive” (Baltimore Sun), “extremely original” and “magnificently arranged” (VH1).
Malcolm is an award-winning composer, sound designer, recordist and collaborator working in theatre, film, podcast and music production. He is honoured to be joining the team of Harlem Duet as the Sound Designer for his sixth season at Bard. Malcolm studied music production and audio engineering at Douglas College and is a part time instructor at Langara’s Studio 58. He has received three Jessie Awards and several nominations for his work in the Vancouver theatre community.
Sophie is an award-winning lighting and set designer working in theatre, opera and dance. She has worked with companies including Stratford Festival, PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Electric Company Theatre, Arts Club Theatre, Bard on the Beach, Citadel Theatre, Theatre Replacement, and more. Recent credits: Do you mind if I sit here? (Theatre Replacement); Being Here: The Refugee Project (Belfry Theatre); The Rez Sisters (Stratford Festival); and At the Statue of Venus (City Opera). www.sophieyufeitang.com
Lisa is honoured to be joining Bard this year as a committed advocate for equity, safety and consent-based work from rehearsal hall to the stage. Lisa apprenticed with Intimacy Directors International before completing her certification with Intimacy Directors and Coordinators. Her Intimacy work has appeared at Pacific Theatre, Firehall Arts Centre, Urban Ink and Gateway Theatre. Lisa also works as an actor, choreographer and producer. She is a graduate of Studio 58.
Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg
This is Tara’s ninth collaboration with Bard. An award-winning creator, choreographer, performer and Artistic Director of Tara Cheyenne Performance, Tara is known for her unique hybrid of dance, comedy and theatre. When not creating innovative movement for theatre companies, she performs full-length solos and ensemble works internationally, including Body Parts, bANGER, Goggles, Highgate, Porno Death Cult, and How to Be. Originally from Calgary, Tara now lives here with her family, on the unceded territory of the xwməθkwəəm, səl̓ ílwətaʔɬ, and Swwú7mesh Úxwumixw. taracheyenne.com
Alana Hawley Purvis
Voice & Text Coach
Alana is a Vancouver based actor and a vocal coach. Proud to be a Canadian artist, she has worked with institutions across North and Central America including The Stratford Festival, University of Alberta, Es Artes!, Douglas College, On the Mic, and the Citadel Banff Professional Program. She has performed with various theatre companies including Shakespeare Theatre Company, The Stratford Festival, Canadian Stage, Citadel Theatre, and Theatre Calgary. Alana is the creator of the Your Voice program at The LGBTQ+ Wellness Centre specializing in trans vocal care and is a graduate of the Academy for Classical Acting (MFA) and The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training. She is extremely grateful to be able to collaborate with Bard. alanahawleypurvis.com
Voice & Text Coach
Pat studied Voice and Speech at York University. She has taught Voice at University of Alberta, Concordia University College and Canada's National Voice Intensive. Pat is an award winning artist and a graduate of the University of Alberta's BFA Acting and MFA Directing programs.
Rebecca is returning to Bard for her seventh season. Most recently for Bard: Assistant Stage Manager on Done/Undone. Favourite credits elsewhere: Bunny and The Father (The Search Party); As dreams are made (Music on Main); Anywhere But Here (Electric Company Theatre); Topdog/Underdog and The Shoplifters (Arts Club); La Traviata (Vancouver Opera); and Fall Away Home (Boca del Lupo). Rebecca holds a BFA in Theatre Production and Management from UVic.
Assistant Stage Manager
Tanya is over the moon to be at Bard! Selected credits: Chelsea Hotel (Western Canada); Noises Off, The Birds and the Bees, Mom’s The Word, Mamma Mia!, and Topdog/Underdog (Arts Club); Talking Sex on Sunday, Chelsea Hotel, and Circle Game (Firehall);Peter Pan and Charlie Brown (CTYP); and The Winter’s Tale and Much Ado About Nothing (Bard on the Beach). Tanya is Manager of Agriculture at the PNE. She received her BFA from the University of Alberta. Adam, “I miss you”.
Apprentice Stage Manager
Mariana is a BIPOC bilingual interdisciplinary artist based in Vancouver, BC. She continues to work as a performer and stage manager in the city with recent credits at rice & beans theatre with the production of Peace Country, Neworld Theatre with Clean/Espejos and East Van Panto with Alice in Wonderland, all as an Apprentice Stage Manager. Mariana holds a bachelor’s degree in performing arts and is a proud alumnus of Studio 58.
Lighting Design Assistant
Hina is an emerging lighting designer and lighting board programmer/operator who is from Japan. Her recent lighting design credits include Wabi-Sabi (Kokoro Dance); Kwê (Jeanette Kotowich); and Summer Bucket List (Collectivus Theatre). Her assistant lighting design credits are Bad Parent (vAct, LD: Gerald King); Wabi-Sabi (Kokoro Dance, LD: Gerald King); and Othello (University of Victoria, LD: Michael Whitfield). She holds BFA in Theatre from the University of Victoria.
Set Design Assistant
Jenn is a multidisciplinary theatre artist. Design credits include Hamlet (Honest Fishmongers Co-op); Selfie (Théâtre la Seizième); Wilderness (Studio 58); Wet (Itsazoo ); Redpatch (Hardline); and Blond Eckbert (Vancouver Opera YAP). Film credits include Edward and Adventures in Public School. She studied at Studio 58 and recently completed her Masters in Theatre Design and Production at UBC. Jenn is a member of the Associated Designers of Canada (IATSE659). www.jenniferannstewart.com
Costume Design Assistant
Margaret is a multi-medium artist based in Vancouver. When she's not acting (Travelers, 2016 and C.A.R.E: A Guide to Bystander Intervention, 2019), you can find her creating custom wardrobe pieces for drag artists in the city, organizing community events and making everything from coasters to wigs to candles. Margaret is a proud graduate of Studio 58 and credits her time there for having developed a strong artistic process.
Cameron is a Brampton-based theatre creator. New to directing, he has assisted Nina Lee Aquino on the cecil hotel (Theatre Erindale) and among men (Factory Theatre), where he is also part of the Factory Foremen training program for directors (2021/2022). Cameron also works as an actor, artist educator and playwright and is currently an Artistic Leadership Intern at The Performing Arts, City of Brampton, supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Stephen is a dramaturg and director who has helped to make over 60 shows and has taught/directed at Memorial University, Douglas College and UBC. He has an MFA in Directing from UBC and is currently pursuing an MA in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy from the University of Ottawa where he is researching contemporary Canadian Shakespeare adaptation. He is in charge of New Works and Professional Engagement at the Arts Club.