La Jolla, CA – La Jolla Playhouse announces the cast for its workshop presentation of Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin, byMichael Benjamin Washington, directed by Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show). The piece is part of the Playhouse’s acclaimed new play development initiative, the DNA New Work Series, a two-week run of workshops and readings, taking place February 17 – March 2, 2014.

The DNA New Work Series offers playwrights and directors the opportunity to develop a script by providing rehearsal time, space and resources, culminating in a workshop presentation or public reading. This process simultaneously gives audiences a closer look at the play development process, while allowing the Playhouse to foster relationships with established and up-and-coming playwrights.

“It takes a special kind of artist to participate in our DNA New Work Series. To give oneself over to the constant revisions and discoveries of a workshop – and to share that process with an audience – requires an open and adventurous spirit,” said Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley. “The cast and creative team of Blueprints to Freedom are not only fiercely talented, they’re equally committed to the growth of this important new play.”

The cast of Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin features Nija Okoro (TV’s ER, Southland) as “Miriam Caldwell,” Jeremy Shranko(SCR’s The Groundling) as “Davis Platt, Jr.,” UC San Diego M.F.A. graduate Jacques C. Smith (Broadway’s Rent) as “Martin Luther King, Jr.,”Michael Benjamin Washington (Playhouse’s Memphis, The Wiz) as “Bayard Rustin” and James A. Watson, Jr. (Halls of Anger, South Coast Rep’s Death of a Salesman) as “A. Philip Randolph.” The workshop will have six public performances on February 21, 22, 28 and March 1 at 7:30pm, and February 23 and March 2 at 3:00pm in the Rao and Padma Makineni Play Development Center.

In the sweltering political and racial heat of 1963, Bayard Rustin – the brilliant proponent of non-violent civil disobedience – is assigned to orchestrate an unprecedented march for jobs and freedom. Exiled from the Civil Rights movement by both internal and external forces, Rustin grapples with his last chance for professional restoration and spiritual redemption as he masterminds “a tribute to the ancestors” exactly one century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin was given its first reading at the Playhouse on August 28, 2013 – the date of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington – and this workshop represents the next stage in the play’s development.

Michael Benjamin Washington has appeared as the Tinman in thePlayhouse’s production of The Wiz, directed by Des McAnuff, as well as inMemphis, directed by Christopher Ashley; Most Wanted (workshop), directed by Michael Greif; and Letters to Barack (reading), directed by Christopher Ashley. His Broadway credits include Mamma Mia! (original company), La Cage Aux Folles (2005 Tony-winning revival). Off-Broadway credits include Stephen Sondhiem’s Saturday Night. Film and television appearances: Love and Other Drugs, directed by Ed Zwick; Gnome, directed by Jenny Bicks; 30 Rock (Donald Jordan); Glee (Tracy Pendegrass); 100 Questions (Andrew); Law & Order (Martin). A member of Broadway Inspirational Voices, Washington received his B.F.A. from New York University/Tisch School of the Arts and is a 1997 Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

Phylicia Rashad has directed Fences at Long Wharf Theatre, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Mark Taper Forum, Immediate Family at the Goodman Theatre, A Raisin in the Sun at Ebony Repertory Theatre, Kirk Douglas Theatre and Westport Country Playhouse and Gem of the Oceanat Seattle Repertory Theatre. As a performer: Broadway: August: Osage CountyCat on a Hot Tin RoofCymbelineGem of the Ocean (Tony nomination), A Raisin in the Sun (Tony and Drama Desk Awards), Into the WoodsDreamgirls and The Wiz. Off-Broadway: The StoryHelen,Everybody’s RubyBlue and Bernarda Alba. Regional theater: Every Tongue ConfessBlues for an Alabama SkyMedea. Films: Good Deeds,For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is EnufFrankie and AliceJust WrightOnce Upon a Time When We Were ColoredLoving Jezebel and The Visit. Films for TV: Steel MagnoliasA Raisin in the Sun (NAACP Image Award, Emmy and SAG nominations), The Old Settler and Free of Eden. TV series: The Cosby Show (Emmy Award nomination) and Cosby.  Ms. Rashad holds a B.F.A degree from the College of Fine Arts at Howard University and was the first recipient of the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre at Fordham University.

The DNA New Work Series will also feature six free 1-day readings, alltaking place in the Playhouse’s Seuss 1 Rehearsal Room, including:

Let Me Count the Ways, by Martín Zimmerman, directed by Christopher Ashley, on Monday, February 17 at 7:30pm. In Rome, 1526, Europe is up for grabs, and the Catholic Church is in danger of being swallowed in the conflict.  The clandestine publication of 16 sexually explicit prints provokes a battle between the libertine poet Pietro Aretino and the pious bishop Gian Matteo Giberti over the mind, loins and soul of Pope Clement VII – with the fate of a church hanging in the balance. Funny, sexy and dangerous, Martín Zimmerman’s new play charts the beginning of modern pornography and explores the sins that lie beneath our moral edifices.

The Envelope, by Alex Lewin, directed by Tom Dugdale (WoW Festival’sOur Town), on Thursday, February 20 at 7:30pm. Brian Ross is an idealistic college student (and son of a Senator) whose incendiary political blog has made him a target of death threats. But his world is turned upside-down when he acquires an envelope whose top-secret contents hit very close to home. A fast-moving and provocative political thriller, The Envelope asks how much we actually want to know about what our government does to keep us safe – and examines the consequences of taking a stand.

Higher, by American Conservatory Theatre Artistic Director Carey Perloff, directed by Christopher Ashley, on Saturday, February 22 at 3:00pm. InHigher, a high-powered Jewish architect, madly in love with an equally talented colleague, discovers that she is his rival in a competition to design a memorial in Israel.  As they roam from the sleek rooms of plush New York apartments to the muddy shores of Israel, the two architects become increasingly ensnared in memory, desire and betrayal.

The Brothers Paranormal, by Prince Gomolvilas, directed by Jeff Liu, on Monday, February 24 at 7:30pm, presented in association with East West Players. Think you’ve seen a ghost?  Thai-American brothers Max and Visarut run a company that specializes in debunking paranormal sightings – but their newest client, Delia, is certain that the young Asian apparition in her house is real.  As their investigation progresses, Max and Visarut’s own notions of reality and fantasy are pushed to the breaking point.  Funny and disquieting, The Brothers Paranormal is a supernatural comedy haunted by the very real spirits of loss and grief.

Tranquil, by Andrew Rosendorf, directed by Lucie Tiberghien (Blood and Gifts), on Wednesday, February 26 at 7:30pm. Paralyzed in the car accident that claimed her mother’s life, 19 year old Ellen tries to focus on moving forward.  But when the past comes knocking on the door – in the form of Ellen’s 23 year old brother Aaron – the family’s delicate balance is upended by anger, guilt and raging hormones.  Tranquil is a beautiful, raw exploration of the ways families can shatter…and be put back together.

The Smartest Girl in the World, a play for young audiences by Miriam Gonzales, directed by José Cruz González, on Saturday, March 1 at 3:00pm. The child of hardworking immigrants, Leo Martinez has convinced his little sister Lizzy that being the smartest kids in the world is the key to escaping their tough, uncertain reality. After their parents refuse to let Leo compete on a local TV kids’ quiz show, Lizzy becomes determined to rescue their plan and see it through. The Smartest Girl in the World takes a look at the bonds of family and the keys to facing life’s challenges together.

All projects in the DNA New Work Series take place with little or no scenic, costume or staging elements, and actors may have scripts in hand. The various creative teams will be available for interviews for feature coverage; however, in order to preserve the developmental nature of the program,DNA Series productions are not open to review.

Last year’s inaugural DNA Series featured a workshop production ofChasing the Song, by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics), creators of the Tony Award-winning musical Memphis. That presentation led to the work’s next developmental step as a Page To Stage musical in the upcoming 2014/2015 season. Additionally, the 2013 DNA Series reading of Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & The What, was so electrifying, the Playhouse chose to make it part of the 2013/2014 season, running February 11 – March 9. Playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer’s The Boy at the Edge of Everything also enjoyed an exciting reading during the inaugural DNA Series, which led to thePlayhouse commissioning him to write this year’s Performance Outreach Program (POP) Tour production, Suzette Who Set to Sea, touring schoolsFebruary 5 – April 4 with public performances at the Playhouse onFebruary 15 and 16.

The DNA New Work Series is part of a long list of play development initiatives at the Playhouse, such as its ongoing commissioning program and the Page To Stage Play Development Program. Since 1982, thePlayhouse has commissioned 40 new plays, musicals, adaptations and POP Tours from a broad range of playwrights, including Lee BlessingTony KushnerJosé Rivera and Diana Son, as well as the 2012 musical Hands on a Hardbody, book by Doug Wright, lyrics by Amanda Green and music by Trey Anastasio and Green. Other artists currently under commission include Mark Bennett, Keith Bunin, Kirsten Greenidge, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Naomi Iizuka, Aditi Brennan Kapil, Jon Kern, Finegan Kruckemeyer, Erin McKeown, Gregory S. Moss, Alfred Uhry and Charlayne Woodard.

Tickets are $15 for Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin andfree for the readings (reservations required). All seats are general admission. For more information, please visit or contact the Patron Services Department at (858) 550-1010.

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