“Welcome To Braggsville” Where Race, Identity & Politics Clash

Welcome to Braggsville

Racial tension, identity politics and political activism are full frontal this June.

Book-It Repertory Theatre presents a world premiere stage adaption of T. Geronimo Johnson’s national bestseller “Welcome to Braggsville.”

When four freshman students enter a discussion circle at UC Berkeley, little do they know that their conversations and actions would spark a media storm of racial controversy and injustice.

Their adventure begins in history class. D’aron Davenport who happens to be white (no relation to John Waters’ heroine Dawn Davenport), reveals that his hometown–Braggsville, Georgia, population 712–hosts Civil War re-enactments that celebrate the Confederacy. Horrified, the students decide the town needs to be taught a lesson. So the band of friends, calling themselves “the Four Little Indians,” head South to stage a protest–a guerilla theater intervention.

Welcome to Braggsville Naa Akua

Naa Akua (Poet). Photo by John Ulman.

D’aron (Zack Summers) is a smalltown Southern boy trying to fit in at multicultural Berkeley; Charlie (Dimitri Woods), a preppy black football player, sees himself as an up-and-coming Barack Obama. Louis (Justin Huertas), a Malaysian student “who looks Chinese to some and Indian to others,” is an aspiring “kung-fu comedian” and fancies himself “the next Lenny Bruce Lee;” and Candice (Sylvie Davidson), a blonde from Iowa, claims to have Native American blood.

As this culturally diverse group plots their protest, they decide Louis and Candice should dress as slaves and fake a lynching. Meanwhile, D’aron and Charlie will interview townspeople and faux-Confederate soldiers about the drama. Add to the scenario, the folksy, good-ole- boy sheriff of Braggsville.

A political prank–what could go wrong?

If you’ve read the book, you already know. But if you have not, you can experience it live on Book-It’s stage. And you should also know the production contains strong language, racial slurs, and some violence.

Critics have described Johnson’s satirical novel as dazzling, upsetting, brilliant, tragic, hilarious, funny, fearless, and frightning The New York Times Book Reviewer wrote “. . . organic, plucky, smart, ‘Welcome to Braggsville’ is the funniest sendup of identity politics, the academy and white racial anxiety to hit the scene in years . . . . Johnson knows just which dark corners to expose, which cultural buttons to push, which ironies to illuminate and how to whirl an affecting yarn all the while.”

Winner of the 2015 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in Fiction, “Welcome to Braggsville.” was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal.

Johnson’s fiction and poetry have also appeared in “Best New American Voices,” “Indiana Review,” LA Review,” and “Illuminations,” among others. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he has an M.A. from Berkeley in language, literacy, and culture, and teaches writing at UC–Berkeley. He was a 2013 PEN/Faulkner finalist for his first novel, “Hold It ‘Til It Hurts.”

Welcome to Braggsville group

Welcome to Braggsville, Book It Theatre. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

“From page to stage,” Book-it Repertory Theatre adapts literature into live theater. “Welcome to Braggsville,” is adapted for the stage by Josh Aaseng and Daemond Arrindell, and directed by Josh Aaseng, Book-It’s literary manager. This is Arrindell’s debut as an adapter for Book-It.

If you are a Book-It patron, you have probably seen Aaseng’s work. He has directed several Book-It shows including, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Jesus’ Son,” “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (associate director). He is also a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, and a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Arrindell, a poet and performer, was a teaching artist at Book-It’s first Twain Talk in 2013 during the run of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Uncensored.” An adjunct faculty member at Seattle University, he has performed across the U.S. and has been repeatedly commissioned by Seattle and Bellevue Arts Museums.

The complete cast:
Naa Akua–Poet/Ensemble
Sylvie Davidson –Candice
Rebecca M. Davis–Mrs. Brooks/Ensemble
Brace Evans— Otis/Ensemble
Doug Graham–Quint/Ensemble
Justin Huertas—Louis
Andrew McGinn–Sheriff/Ensemble
Olivia Martin–LeeAnn/Ensemble
Chris Mayse–Mr. Davenport/Ensemble
Mia Morris–Mrs. Davenport/Ensemble
Drew Starmer–Jo-Jo/Ensemble
Zack Summers–D’aron
Jazmyne Waters–Student/Ensemble
Dimitri Woods–Charlie.

Book-It’s stage adaptation is playing now until July 2 at the Center Theatre at the Armory (305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA 98109).Tickets start at $25 with group rates available. $15 tickets will be available to students during the entire run. Purchase at book-it.org or by calling the box office at 206.216.0833. The box office is open Tues through Fri, 12:00pm – 5:00pm (Tues – Sat during production run), located in the outer lobby of The Center Theatre at the Armory.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times “Style” section for her “Word Portraits,” specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that “Starla” is indeed her real name.

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