Kuntu’s 36th and possibly last season celebrates Penny

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Kuntu Repertory Theater will dedicate its 36th season to the local Pittsburgh writers who were influenced by prolific playwright Rob Penny.

“We’ve done a three-year plan where we started by focusing on Rob Penny’s plays and then we did a year of the writers who influenced him and now we are finishing that plan by doing plays by writers who were influenced by him,” said Vernell A. Lillie, founder and director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre. “I thought Rob created great Black female and male characters and he looks at Black people in a lot of different areas and that’s what drew me to Rob.”

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VERNELL A. LILLIE

Lillie and Penny met in the 1970s by way of her daughter who was one of Penny’s Black Horizon Theater students.

The two prolific writers’ relationship grew into mutual respect and Penny became a playwright-in-residence for Kuntu Repertory Theatre. He co-founded the Kuntu Writers Group in 1976. The organization is the second oldest Black writers group in existence.

Penny was born in Opelika, Ala., and raised in the Hill District. Although he was known for his Afrocentric writings and poetry, he served as chair of the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh from 1978-1984. He had been a professor at the university since 1969. Penny died in 2003.

Kuntu’s season opener, “Harriet Tubman Loved Somebody,” which runs from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20, is told from the standpoint of Tubman’s sister, Mahala who console’s Tubman after a bad break up. The play was written by local playwright William Mayfield. It was performed by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Co. in 2004.

The theater will bring back the Lillie-penned “Mahalia Jackson: Standing on Holy Ground” from Jan. 20-Feb. 24, 2011. The play, which was performed at Kuntu in 2006, explores the trials and tribulations of the great gospel singer’s life.

“Traces” by Khalil Kareem Allen follows the torn friendship between two guys because of their love for Trace Gamble. The play will run from Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2011.

Kuntu will end its season with “The House That Carol Built.” The production will run from May 5-21.

The first and fourth productions will be performed at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. The second and third productions will be performed at the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Hall, 4227 5th Ave. in Oakland.

“This is the last season for Kuntu at Pitt,” Lillie said.” When I retired from Pitt five years ago, they gave me a five-year contract to have Kuntu on the campus. “We are looking for spaces to have the theater. Financially it’s not looking good. If we don’t find a place then I will go back to Texas or go to Washington, D.C. If we have to leave, you still have good Black theater in Pittsburgh with New Horizon Theater and the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.”

Season tickets will be on sale for $60 if purchased before Oct. 10. The regular season ticket price is $70. Groups of 10-49 receive 25 percent off the single ticket price and groups of 50 or more receive 50 percent off the single ticket price.

Single admission prices are as follows: 8 p.m. preview shows: $15 for adults; $10 for seniors; $11 for University of Pittsburgh staff and faculty; $5 for students with ID and $1 for Pitt students; 8 p.m. shows are $20 for adults; $13 for seniors 65 and older and children 4-18; $14 for University of Pittsburgh staff and faculty; $5 for all students with ID and $1 for Pitt students; 11 a.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday matinees cost $15 for adults; seniors 65 and older and children 4-18, $11; University of Pittsburgh staff and faculty $12; students with ID $5 and Pitt students $1.

Sunday 4 p.m. matinees are buy one get one free (two for $20). All students with IDs pay $5.

(For more details call 412-624-8498.)

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