Keegan Theatre to stage ‘N,’ a drama about first Black actor on Broadway

A hundred years ago he made history. Now a descendant reveals his story.

A powerful historical drama written by a descendant of its main character — a famous Black actor — will have its regional premiere October 23, 2021, as the second production of The Keegan Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Season. The play is titled N — as in the N-word. Accompanying the production, Keegan has planned some specifically anti-racist programming.

Director Nadia Guevara

“One hundred years ago, prolific American playwright Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic work The Emperor Jones caused a flurry in the theater scene and launched actor Charles S. Gilpin to stardom,” production director Nadia Guevara explains. “He made a splash as the first African American actor on Broadway as Brutus Jones in The Emperor Jones — a role that broke him out of the stereotypes of the time while also still trapping him in cliches and, much to his torment, the repeated use of the N-word.

“Adrienne Earle Pender, playwright and descendant of Charles Gilpin, gives us a glimpse of what the dynamic between this prolific playwright and singular actor could have been while giving us, theater makers and theater lovers, the opportunity to interrogate our theatrical inheritance and think about our legacies.

“What is your legacy?” Guevara continues. “When do we speak up? What is the cost of doing so? Join us for this tennis match of a play.”

The cast of N features Kevin Thorne (Charles), Lolita Marie (Florence), and Jared Graham (Eugene). N is directed by Nadia Guevara. The artistic team includes Paris Francesca (Costume Designer), Venus Gulbranson (Lighting Designer), Solomon HaileSelassie (Stage Manager), Cresent Haynes (Sound Designer), Cindy Landrum Jacobs (Set Dressing and Properties Designer), Matthew J. Keenan (Set Designer and Master Carpenter), Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe (Dramaturg), and Colin Smith (Production Manager).

The cast of ’N’: Kevin Thorne (Charles), Lolita Marie (Florence), and Jared Graham (Eugene). Photo courtesy of Keegan Theatre.

N runs from October 23 through November 20, 2021, at the Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street, NW, Washington DC. For tickets ($55, general; $45, students and seniors), call the box office at (202) 265-3767 or go online.

To learn about the Keegan Theatre’s policies and procedures around keeping patrons, artists, and staff safe and healthy this season, visit their Health & Safety page.

The run of N includes two special audience engagement events. Following the matinee on Sunday, November 7, audiences are invited to a special moderated talkback with members of the cast and creative team. Then, following the matinee on Sunday, November 14, the Challenging Racism team will facilitate a special post-show discussion around “The Intersection of Race & Theater/Art,” specifically curated to build on the themes presented in N and enrich the audience experience of the play.

Challenging Racism is an Arlington organization that provides education on the prevalence and inequities of institutional and systemic racism, and Keegan is honored to be partnering with them to enrich both artist and audience experiences with Keegan productions throughout the 2021–2022 season. Learn more about Keegan’s audience engagement events at and at the theater — audience education and outreach materials will be available online and in the lobby during the run of the show.


Playwright Adrienne Earle Pender

Adrienne Earle Pender began her writing career in 2001. Her first play, The Rocker, was a finalist in the Dayton Playhouse Future Fest 2002 Festival of New Works in Dayton, Ohio. The Rocker made its world premiere in February 2004 at Theater in the Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her play Stone Face was a selection in the Reader’s Theater at the 2003 National Black Theater Festival and was an alternate selection for the 2004 Edward Albee 12th Annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. Her short play The Murder of Love was selected for the Short Play Lab at the same conference. Additionally, Banana Split Lady made its debut at the 1st Annual Great Plains Theatre Conference in Nebraska. Her play Somewhere in Between had a staged reading at the Drama Book Shop in New York in 2010; a staged reading at Wordsmyth Theater in Houston in May 2014; and received a full production from Theater in the Park in Raleigh in September 2014.

Her most recent play, N, about African American actor Charles S. Gilpin, was a finalist in the Dayton Playhouse 2016 Future Fest competition. N received a workshop and a staged reading at the Eugene O’Neill Festival in Danville, Connecticut, in September 2016, and made its world premiere in February 2017 at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh.

Adrienne received a Tao House Fellowship from the Eugene O’Neill Foundation in September 2015. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and is a member of the Dramatist Guild.


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