Bloomfield/GR playwright taking ‘Safe’ to NYC

Bloomfield residents and cast members of the play ‘Safe’ pose with its writer/director, Cilque Brown, another Bloomfield resident. From left, are Yamnisse Manning, Janice Humphrey, Brown and Dariah Mathews.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A playwright and director who once presented her theatrical works at the Christ Episcopal Church in Glen Ridge will have her latest work performed in New York City during the next few weeks.

Cilque (pronounced “silky”) Brown, a Bloomfield resident, has written “Safe,” a play about a minor league baseball team in the mid-1940s with a star player being considered to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball. Brown said that “Safe” is a spinoff of another play about baseball that she wrote in 2001, “The Making of a Team.” Many of the characters appearing in the earlier play are recreated for “Safe.”

“My mother liked baseball,” Brown said this past weekend at her home where the cast was rehearsing. “She was an avid baseball fan. I wanted to write something for her.”

Brown said her interest in “Safe” are the characters and how baseball helped to change discrimination in America.

She attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and started the Faith in God Theater Group at Christ Episcopal in 1996. “FIG” was her nucleus. She wrote and directed six or seven plays at the church.

The first was “Reality is Just a Minute Away.” It is about two brothers. One is on drugs, the other is not.

“One afternoon, one of the brothers is on his way home when he was beaten and robbed of his leather jacket,” she said of the story. “He later dies. The other brother wanted to gain entry to a gang in his area but had no idea that the individual chosen to rob and kill would be his brother.”

Another play she wrote and produced at Christ Episcopal was about Benjamin Banneker, 1731-1806, a free black man who helped survey the nation’s capital.
Because her actors wanted to perform in New York, in 1997 she rented a space at the Producers Club Theater and wrote and directed “Black Men Cry, Too.”

“It’s about coming home from WWII as a hero but not being accepted because of a relationship with a white woman. It had a one-day performance.”

But a former classmate from Arts High saw a newspaper article about Lincoln Center wanting to have more minority programming. He brought this to Brown’s attention and the play was given two performances at Lincoln Center.

“My calling is to try and give Afro-Americans a foot in the door,” she said of helping her actors find theater work. “I’ve had people in FIG and I’ve seen them on TV.”

She left Christ Episcopal in 1999 and began producing her plays for staging in New York.

A big part of working with Brown, cast members said at the recent rehearsal, is that they are given the opportunity to learn all aspects of theater work. A desire to provide a basic theater arts education to cast members may not be surprising: Brown was a teacher of history for 14 years. And teaching is also her intention when she creates a character.

“I like to give dialogue to make them do research or learn a dialect — to give them preparation for when they get there,” she said.

In “Safe,” a character portraying Branch Rickey — the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who brought Jackie Robinson up from the minor leagues to break the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947 — scouts a star baseball player on the team at the center of the play. The black player he is thinking of elevating to the major leagues is “Smitty.”

“Smitty can’t roll with the punches,” Brown said. “That’s why he’s not chosen.”
Among the cast members are three Bloomfield residents. They are Yamnisse Manning, Janice Humphrey, and Dariah Mathews, a 2010 Bloomfield High School graduate.

“Safe” is scheduled to have three NYC performances: March 11, at Altered Stages, 150 W. 28th St.; March 25, 124 Bank Street Theater; and April 8, at Episcopal Actors Guild, 1 E. 29th St. All performances are 6 p.m.