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College Colors to Premier at Crossroads Theatre Company, Feb. 4-14; Play explores race, identity, inclusion and friendship through prism of comedy

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Gillian Mariner Gordon as Julie, left, and Wakeema Hollis as Tanya rehearse a scene from "College Colors," premiering at Crossroads Theatre Company, New Brunswick, Feb. 4-14. Credits: Marshall Jones III
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NEW BRUNSWICK – Race, identity, inclusion and other issues that beset American campuses are viewed through the prism of comedy in Stacie Lents’ new play, “College Colors,” premiering at Crossroads Theatre Company, February 4 through 14.

Performances will be at 8 p.m., Feb. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13; 10 a.m., Feb. 10 and 3 p.m., Feb. 7, 13, 14. Opening night is Feb. 6.  Tickets are $25, $45 and $55.

In “College Colors,” two sets of college roommates paired on a northeastern campus 52 years apart confront a familiar palette of anxieties as they navigate the perils of freshmen life. But coming from different races, each pair has even more to handle.

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Tanya, who is black, and her white roommate Julie are fully logged into the present 21st century, but quickly discover they are not in synch with each other. Meanwhile, in 1964, Michael, who is white, is clearly unprepared to spend his freshman year with Aaron, one of the first black students on the newly integrated campus. Comic missteps, serious snubs and questions of identity lead to laughter and tears, as history plays out in the background.

“I love the fact that Stacie has tackled a very sensitive subject – racial identity,” said Marshall Jones III, Crossroads’ producing artistic director. “It’s a subject we’re familiar with at Crossroads, but she uses humor and situational comedy in a very clever way.  The show is also very timely as college campuses throughout the nation are attempting to cope with the tension-filled issues of racial strife.  It is my hope that plays like ‘College Colors’ can serve as a starting point for healthy and productive dialogue.”

Lents, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Yale and her MFA in acting from Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, began working on “College Colors” for her students to perform at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she is director of acting and the Barn Theater.  

“To me, the play is really about friendship, and what racial constraints and ideas about identity do to that friendship,” Lents said. “I’m interested in ways in which we’ve come really far and the ways we haven’t.”

During its development, “College Colors” was given staged readings in Crossroads’ Genesis Festival and at Luna Stage.

Lents began writing plays while teaching at Rutgers and was looking for appropriate material for her senior acting students. Her first published play, “Laugh Out Loud (cry quietly)” was about internet dating, and received critical praise. She also wrote “Henry’s Law,” a play about bullying that has been included in backstage.com’s list of “15 Must-Read Plays for Tweens  and Teens.” Her play, “Daisy in Disguise” was produced off-Broadway through Vital Theatre Company. As an actor, Lents has performed regionally and in New York.

Kevin Kittle, associate head of the MFA/BFA acting program at Rutgers, is directing “College Colors.” He has worked as Joseph Chaikin’s assistant director and with Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard. His recent directing credits include “Hot Season” at The Sheen Center, “Blood Potato” at the Harold Clurman Theater and “In God’s Hat” at Playwrights Horizons.

The cast features Gillian Mariner Gordon as Julie; Wakeema Hollis as Tanya; Andrew Manning as Aaron; Matt Maretz as Michael and Kevis Hillocks in supporting roles.

Marshall Jones III, who directs the undergraduate BA in theater program at Rutgers, is Crossroads’ producing artistic director. Amie Bajalieh, a Mason Gross MFA graduate, is associate producer

Founded in 1978 by Ricardo Khan and L. Kenneth Richardson, Crossroads Theatre Company embraces the vision that African-American theater is intended for a broad-based, diverse audience.  As a major force in the development of new ideas and the introduction of formerly marginalized writers, Crossroads produces works that enrich and diversify the representation of African American culture on the American stage. 

Last year, Crossroads Theatre Company won the Gold Award in New Jersey Stage magazine’s annual competition as the “Best Place to See a World/NJ Premiere.”

Crossroads Theatre Company is located at 7 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick. For tickets, call (732) 545-8100 or purchase online at crossroadstheatrecompany.org.

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