Highlights: Playwright and costume designer sees her work progress

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    Dartmouth graduate Celeste Jennings has written "Citrus," which will be performed at Northern Stage this month. Jennings also designed the costumes for the play. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

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    Playwright Celeste Jennings has designed the costumes for her play "Citrus" which opens this month at Northern Stage. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

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    At Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., actors rehearse "Citrus," on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. The play is written by Dartmouth graduate Celeste Jennings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2020 5:00:42 PM
Modified: 2/19/2020 5:00:34 PM

A refrain runs through Citrus, the spoken word- and dance-laced play that opens at Northern Stage next week.

Better yet, call it a thread of language that playwright Celeste Jennings sews through the stories and verse and rapid-fire commiserations in which Citrus’ nine women of color invoke and interpret almost two centuries of African-American experience.

“This will probably come as a surprise,” a Jennings “lady” begins.

One of the other eight immediately follows with “I’m not sure if you’ll be able to imagine this,” triggering yet another to warn, “I don’t know if you’ll be able to make sense of this.”

Finally, a fourth declares, “But …” setting in motion a fresh round of musings, of memories and foretellings, of calls-and-responses and of time-traveling wardrobe changes.

Jennings started imagining these exchanges almost four years ago, as a sophomore at Dartmouth College, and started writing them down. Rather than a stage documentary, she decided to turn them into a “choreopoem,” as the dramatist Ntozake Shange described her groundbreaking 1970s opus for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow in enuf.

“I’m trying really hard not to make it a history lesson,” Jennings said last week. “It’s more about paying homage to our ancestors, to the women of right now, and to our daughters.”

Jennings first saw her vision onstage in Dartmouth’s Warner Bentley Theater in spring 2018, as her senior fellowship project. Not long afterward a Northern Stage’s New Works Now festival produced a staged reading in January 2019, and a subsequent incarnation won a Hip Hop Theatre Creator Award during the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center.

“I guess you could call this version Citrus 3.0,” Jennings said with a laugh. “I’m really hoping that this draft is going to be one of the final ones.”

Citrus 1.0 caught the eyes and ears of Carol Dunne — both as a Dartmouth theater professor and as artistic director of Northern Stage — right away.

“I think it was my favorite student production I’d ever seen to that point,” Dunne said on Monday. “I was glued to it. The rhythm of Celeste’s writing and poetry were mature and remarkable.”

Jennings credits that rhythm to inspirations ranging from the writings of poet/memoirist Maya Angelou and novelist Alice Walker to poet Warsan Shire and, especially, Shange, while designing and making costumes for a Dartmouth student production of for colored girls in 2016.

Originally a studio art major, Jennings lent her sewing skills to a Dartmouth theater department production of It’s Beautiful Over There in 2015, and quickly developed a reputation.

“I kept saying to people, ‘Who is doing this with these costumes and hats?’ ” said Dunne, who occasionally directs student productions. “I had no idea that she was also an amazing writer.”

Dunne greenlighted the staged reading of Citrus at New Works Now as “a way to give Celeste more time, and to work with professional actors, knowing that the piece would become deeper and richer,” Dunne said.

“That night I turned to some people and said, ‘We have got to produce this play next season.’ ”

They’re producing it with two current Dartmouth students and one alumna joining six Equity actors in the cast. The alumna, Stephanie Everett, is returning the favor of the costumes that Jennings designed for productions of It’s Fine, I’m Fine, Everett’s one-woman play exploring her struggles to recover from the concussion that ended her careeer as a college soccer goalie.

After dressing her Citrus cast in clothes of pale hues during the first two stagings of the play, Jennings designed more colorful outfits — greens, blues, variations on orange and “lots of coppers” for the upcoming production.

“There’s even a deep purple here and there,” Jennings said. “It brings out their complexions more than a cream would.”

And this time, she is leaving the actual needle work to her colleagues in Northern Stage’s production department, which she joined as costume-shop manager last fall.

Her journey to this point has come as a surprise — one she never imagined and is still trying to make sense of.

“I definitely did not picture this,” Jennings said. “I’m really happy to be here right now. Incredible.”

Northern Stage kicks off its production of Citrus with a preview performance on Wednesday night at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. After additional previews next Thursday and Feb. 28, the play opens officially on Feb. 29. For tickets ($17.75 to $32.75 for previews, $17.75 to $57.75 from Feb. 29 on), visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Best bets

The Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra and the college’s Coast Jazz Orchestra pay homage to Shakespeare with two concerts at Spaulding Auditorium, starting Friday at 7:30 with the two ensembles unveiling The Temp and Mr. Prosper, an oratorio adapted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, followed by a DSO performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

And on Saturday, after the Coast tackles Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Such Sweet Thunder Suite, it will collaborate with the symphony on an encore rendition of the oratorio. Admission $25 and up; visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Before Friday’s performances, Bynum and symphony director Filippo Ciabatti discuss their ensembles’ collaboration during a free presentation at the Top of the Hop, at 6:30.

■Almost 50 years after the founding of Pilobolus by Dartmouth College students, the troupe’s current generation of acrobatic dancers performs on Friday night at 7 at Lyndon Institute Auditorium in Lyndon Center, Vt. For tickets ($15 to $54), visit catamountarts.org/shows/details/pilobolus.

■The Dartmouth Department of Theater stages the U.S. premiere of The Sweet Science of Bruising, with seven performances between Friday night and March 1 at the Moore Theater. The play explores the lives of four British women competing as boxers during the Victorian era. To reserve tickets ($15) and learn about related activities, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

■The folk trio Bellwether blends Celtic, British and Americana rhythms during its concert on Saturday night at 7, at the Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. Admission $15; visit sevenstarsarts.org.

Theater/performance art

Every Brilliant Thing, through Sunday at Shaker Bridge Theatre in Whitney Hall in Enfield. For tickets ($16 to $35) and more information, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

The Seagull, BarnArts Community Arts production, performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoon at 2 at the Grange Theatre in South Pomfret. Admission $10 to $20; visit barnarts.org.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performances Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoon at 2, at Amplified Arts’ theater on second floor of 31 Pleasant St. in Claremont. Tickets $15 to $17; visit amplifiedartsnh.org or call 603-856-5424 or email amplifiedartsnh@gmail.com.

Witch of Love, comedy by Kristin Rose, performances Friday and Saturday nights at 7 and at 3 on Sunday afternoon at Old Church Theater in Bradford, Vt.. Admission $6 to $12; visit oldchurchtheater.org or call 802-222-3322. 


South Newbury, Vt., fiddler Patrick Ross jams with Atlas Keys, Thursday night at 9 at Dartmouth College’s The Onion venue in Hanover. Free.

■Martin Grosswendt, acoustic roots, Friday night at 7 at Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse. Admission by donation.

■John Jorgenson Quintet, gypsy jazz, Friday night at 7:30 at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph. Admission $13 to $53; visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-9878.

■Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon Ensemble, Sunday at 4 at the Center at Eastman’s Bistro Nouveau in Grantham, $18 to $20.


Muskeg Music contra dance with caller Don Stratton and band Salt Hill Jammers, Saturday night at 7:30 at Tracy Hall in Norwich. Walk-through at 7:15 for newcomers and rusty dancers. Admission $8 to $12.

Bar and club circuit

Mad Hazard Band, jazz, bossa nova and blues, Thursday night at 5:30 at the Quechee Club’s Davidson’s Restaurant.

■The Dinosaurs, Americana/roots, Thursday night at 6 at Peyton Place restaurant in Orford.

■The Shugarmakers, roots/Americana, Thursday night at 7 at Windsor Station; singer-guitarist Ted Mortimer, Tuesday night at 6.

■ Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner, Friday night at 7 at the Inn at Weathersfield.

■Sensible Shoes, danceable rock and pop, Friday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■Singer-songwriter Jim Yeager, Monday night at 6:30 at 506 on the River in Woodstock.

■ OldBoys string band, folk/roots, Wednesday night at 6:30 at Kedron Valley Inn’s Ransom Tavern in South Woodstock.

Open mics, jam sessions

Interplay Jazz and Arts’ monthly jam session, Thursday night at 6:30 at private home in Hanover. Audience admission free; to RSVP and learn the location, visit interplayjazzandarts.org/jam-sessions.

■Jim Yeager’s twice-monthly open mic, Thursday night at 7 at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. Free.

■Alec Currier’s weekly open-mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, Thursday night at 8.

■ Jakob Breitbach hosts two jam sessions in White River Junction over the coming week: jazz on Friday night at 6 at the Hotel Coolidge’s Cafe Renee, and roots on Tuesday night at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill.

■Tom Masterson’s open mic, Tuesday night at 7 at Colatina Exit, in Bradford, Vt.

■Peter Meijer’s open mic, Wednesday nights at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to highlights@vnews.com.

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