by August Strindberg, translated by Ulrika Brand and adapted by Leslie Lee, directed by Robert Greer
May 18 - July 1, 2012 at New School for Drama (Off-off Broadway)
June 15 - 30, 2012 at Gene Frankel Theatre (Off Broadway Production)

L-R: Nathan James, Elizabeth Flaz, Jolie Garrett, Jaleesa Capri (foreground), Toccarra Cash, James Edward Becton. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

To share its innovative debut performance with a wider audience, August Strindberg Repertory moved its all black cast production of Strindberg's "Playing With Fire" from the New School for Drama, where it had run Off-off Broadway from May 18 to June 10, 2012, to the to the Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond Street, from June 15 to June 30, raising it to an Off-Broadway contract. With this production, August Strindberg Rep became a resident company of the Gene Frankel Theatre. The play, one of Strindberg's rare comedies, was translated by Ulrika Brand and newly adapted by Obie-winner Leslie Lee, Executive Director of Negro Ensemble Company. Directed by Robert Greer, the production was co-presented by August Strindberg Repertory Theatre and Negro Ensemble Company in association with Theater Resources Unlimited.

"Playing With Fire," one of Strindberg's rare comedies, was written in 1893 after the playwright found himself involved in a love triangle within a love triangle within a love triangle. In this producion, playwright Leslie Lee transformed its setting from a Swedish summer house in 1893 to a summer cottage of the black social elite in Oak Ridge, a neighborhood of Martha's Vineyard, in 1926. That is around the time Oak Bluffs beach first became a mecca for the black upper crust from around the country.

Strindberg's original was set on the front porch of a summer house in the Stockholm archipelago. This adaptation placed the play in a 1920's beach house, Cape Cod-style, utilizing a two-story drop painted by set designer Angelina Margolis. The production was transported intact to the Gene Frankel Theater, whose high ceiling could accommodate the high drop.

The polite society that flocked to "The Ink Well," a section of the Oak Bluffs beach, had been chronicled in "Our Kind of People" (1999) by Lawrence Otis Graham. In the 1920s, that neighborhood first became a home for several generations of wealthy blacks who lived (and still live) in a sort of separate world, not unlike their counterparts in other ethnicities. Many people with ties to these families--through their shared schools, sleepaway camps, fraternities and cotillions--seldom admit their status to non-elite blacks. Leslie Lee mixed with this set as a young man; he was "socially acceptable" as a student of an Ivy League college.

"Playing With Fire" is a character-based comedy, populated with the Swedish version of Chekhovian characters. It seemed opportune to transport the play to another community, whose characters were fully-flavored and would support the comedy. Leslie Lee said, "The people who moved to Martha's Vineyard were creating a black upper crust: a hierarchy that reflects our own black intelligentsia, which was alienated from the rest of society and contemptuous of it. They were playing with fire." He had, in the past, written a soap opera pilot about that period. For this adaptation, he saw his job as making the play as comical as possible in moments when it can be done. He didn't resist the temptation to take a jab at black elitists here and there.

In the play, a writer named Axel (modeled on Strindberg himself) visits his best friends, Kerstin and Knut, at their summer house. Knut is a painter who doesn't paint and Kerstin is a writer who doesn't write. They live with and live off his parents. His father is a wealthy retired businessman with a checkered past. Also present is their younger cousin, Adele, a poor relation treated more like a servant than a family member. Knut is having an affair with Adele but his father has his own plans for her. Both she and Kerstin have their sights set on Axel, who makes his getaway in the nick of time. Said Leslie Lee, "Each of them reacts according to their own quirky personalities. They are all playing with fire. They endanger their personal relationships and the integrity of their community."

With James Edward Becton, Jaleesa Capri, Toccarra Cash, Elizabeth Flax, Jolie Garrett and Nathan James. Dramatugy by Eszter Szalczer, set design by Angelina Margolis, lighting design by Miriam Crowe, costume design by Lora Jackson, casting director Lawrence Evans.

Nominated for three AUDELCO Awards: Outstanding Ensemble Performance, Best Revival of a Play and Best Costumes.

"… the newly christened August Strindberg Repertory Theater has sprung to life with a dapper production of that Swedish master’s obscure comedy “Playing With Fire.” -- Eric Grode, New York Times