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Playwright Katori Hall's career takes off

By Mark Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12 2011 4:05 a.m. MDT

Leon agrees, predicting this is just the first of Hall's many successes. "There's poetry in her writing, there's strength and courage in her writing, and she's just a bold artist who has put on the page what's in her head," he says. "I think that this is just the beginning of that which we know as Katori Hall."

Hall graduated from Columbia University in 2003 with a major in African-American studies and creative writing, and learned her trade at the American Repertory Theatre Institute and at the Juilliard School. She turned to writing plays after feeling stymied as an actress.

"I started writing because I got so frustrated that there weren't enough plays that had roles for young black women in them." Her first play, "Hoodoo Love," was developed by Lynn Nottage and received its world premiere off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2007. She says Broadway wasn't necessarily the goal.

"I always felt like Broadway was not for me — in terms of ticket price, in terms of what was on there," she says. "I never saw myself reflected in the mirror of the Great White Way."

"The Mountaintop" is her fourth play — it's also her first attempt at a two-character work — and she's written three others in the past two years, most set in Memphis and featuring characters speaking in the city's rich dialect. The Signature will produce her "Hurt Village" in February, which looks at how nine characters deal with the demolition of a city housing project.

"People call it my epic," she says.

These days, Hall finds herself daily offering guidance to the actors and creative team at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where "The Mountaintop" is playing. She's at the theater so much that she has her own dressing room.

Watching Bassett and Jackson, who was an usher at King's funeral, work on her play has been its own reward. She calls it a kind of acting master class and says it inspires her to consider one day acting in her own plays. And though she's easily the youngest person in the room, Hall says she's not dismissed by her elders. "I think the play shows that I have a mature soul. So they've embraced me."

While some have pointed to Hall's Broadway debut — plus Lydia R. Diamond's upcoming "Stick Fly" — as a sign that Broadway is embracing more diverse voices, she's unconvinced.

"I'm very hesitant to be like, 'Oh, my God. Everything has changed' because of this year. Give it three more years," she says, pointing out that only 17 percent of plays are being produced by women. "What's the percentage of black women being produced? We don't know. No one's done that study."

But for Hall, the sky is the limit, starting with her Broadway debut. "I'm excited for my career in general, not just about this one thing. There's so much happening right now to me as a writer — that's what I'm most exited for."

Online:

Play: http://www.themountaintopplay.com

Hall: http://katorihall.com

Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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