jazz-press-room14_Parrott Avery Whitted+Joe and Violet during happyer Times

Violet and Joe during happyer times when she is gifted a ‘Parrott’, played by Avery Whitted.

JAZZ is the Center Stage world premiere of Nobel Prize winning Toni Morrison’s middle piece of her BELOVED trilogy that chronicals a tragic Harlem love triangle that takes a violent turn.

jazz-press-room4_Shanesia Davis with Knife

The performance opens with a death watch as family gathers to give a ‘proper burial’ to Dorcas, played with sensuous abandon by Jasmine Bathchelor the wild young woman caught in the middle between her older Sugar Daddy lover Joe Trace, played with the world weary burden of a traveling salesman by Leon Addison Brown, and the young Dandy Acton who dances into Dorcas’ life as Warner Miller, a dead ringer for one of the Jackson Five.

jazz-press-room9_Violet and Mother Michele Shay sewing

Only Alice Manfred as the motherly figure could console Violet after her loss and spiral into near madness.

But Shanesia Davis as Violet the betrayed wife, who spirals into madness, evolves as a central character from the knife wielding mad woman at Dorcas’ funeral to a soulful, forgiving shell of a woman with the patience and encouragement of Mother figure True Belle played with authentic black matronly maturity by Michele Shay.

jazz-press-room_1_Jasmine Charmichael + Warner Miller

Violet’s mother Rose Dear and Young Joe meet and fall in love on a rural Virginia farm.

JAZZ is not a musical, but captures the mystical power of the Harlem jazz culture and its impact on the Great Migration of southern blacks to the Mecca of urban culture. In this electrically charged environment dance and jazz music both define and corrupt the fast paced life of country immigrants trying to make sense of life in the big city.


The cast and creative team including Director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Playwright Nambi E. Kelley celebrate a successful opening night at the new Deering Lounge.

“I’m a huge fan of Toni Morrison, and of JAZZ in particular. It’s an important chronicle of the human experience, and although it takes place in the 1920s, the story’s themes still resonate today,” said Baltimore Center Stage Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. “I’m thrilled to direct such a talented group of actors and designers and to bring Playwright Nambi Kelley’s vision to life on the stage in Baltimore.”

The magic of Center Stage’s production of JAZZ is Playwright Nambi E. Kelley’s masterful interpretation of Morrison’s work of literature, which are notorious for their nuanced difficulty to discern truth from mythical characters and time stamps.

jazz-press-room3_Dorcas and jasmine Laugh

Dorcas and her naive friend Felice fantsize about being the dance floor Belles of the Ball.

Joan Sullivan, a Paul Lawrence Dunbar graduate and avid Morrison reader and audience member captured the essence of the play best. She was first exposed to Morrison in a gifted and talented track in high school, but found that she had to re-read ‘BELOVED’ and other Morrison masterpieces in college and later as an adult to fully appreciate her style. “It takes maturity to understand Morrison, and I will be downloading “JAZZ” and reading it again to fully re-connect and open my mind to what the play delivered”!

jazz-press-room19_Dorcas and Violet Reflect Tragic Turn

In an imaginary moment of regret, Violet shares a moment with her rival Dorcas.

JAZZ is a metaphor for the exhilarating pace of life that consumed Joe, Violet and Dorcas. Joe needed a place of peace and quiet from his long days on the street as a door-to-door salesman and couldn’t stand the smell of the burning hair of Violet’s customers. The naïve country girl Dorcas was easily impressed by gifts of Joe’s perfume, but wanted more of Harlem’s high life. And Joe lusted after the young ‘high yellow gal’ as an escape from his faithful but dark-skinned wife as Morrison deftly spun a tale of authentic colorism to highlight and capture Violet’s grief.

jazz-press-room2 _Joe Mournes With Violet

In a final flashback, Joe reflects on his tragic choice between Dorcas and Violet.

JAZZ is a mesmerizing time machine that takes you back to Joe and Violet’s humble beginnings in turn-of-the-century rural Virginia and flashes forward to the end of World War I when black New Yorkers took great pride in the Lenox Avenue parades that showcased  the return of the 369th Black Hellfighters Regiment. Five years later, Dorcas would leave the violence of East St. Louis riots join the migration to Harlem that would double the black population to over 327,000 souls squeezed into less than 4 square miles.

jazz-press-room11_Joe Mourns Dorcas Murder

Leon Addison Brown delivers a powerful performance as Joe, a tortured ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN’ black Willy Loman like-charachter.

JAZZ is a traumatic 90 minute trip into a migratory time machine that the young creative team of Nambi E. Kelley and Kwame Kwei-Armah has re-imagined for a modern audience

JAZZ opened last Friday, May 26th, and closes Sunday, June 25th and is well worth the 45 minute drive to Charm City for Washingtonians, but I strongly invite you to allow enough time to arrive early and drink in the deep educational and cultural experience of Center Stage’s marvelous new space. For more information, visit www.centerstage.org or call the box office at 410.332.0033.


  1. Malcolm Barnes’ insightful and intelligent analysis of “Jazz” breaks down the challenging complexity of Tony Morrison’s work, taking it out of an advanced English Lit class and into the heart of thought-provoking theater.


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