Playwright LaDarrion Williams is excited about his upcoming play that will have its world premiere at TimeLine Theatre on February 1. “Boulevard of Bold Dreams” is set on the night in 1940 that Hattie McDaniel made history at the Oscars as the first African American to win the coveted Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Mammy in “Gone With The Wind.” It is a story of dreamers striving to overcome considerable obstacles and fighting for recognition amid the racism and inequity of Hollywood.
It is February 29, 1940, the night of the Academy Awards in Hollywood, California. Bartender Arthur Brooks, an ambitious Black man from rural Alabama, dreams of becoming a movie director. His best friend, Dottie Hudson, is a maid at the Ambassador Hotel who finds herself to be a cynic of all dreams.
But when the actress Hattie McDaniel stops in at the bar and decides not to attend the biggest event in show business, Arthur and Dottie must do everything in their power to convince her to go and claim her historic win—all while confronting their dark past and making their own dreams come to life.
This play about race, class, gender, and the ever-changing landscape of Hollywood has previously had public readings at The Echo Theatre Company (featuring TimeLine company member Mildred Marie Langford) and Morgan-Wixson Theatre’s New Works Festival.
And the playwright behind this production is more than ready to share this historic story with the world. I was able to reach out to Williams, and he shared with the Crusader a few thoughts.
“I first wrote this play in March 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. To be transparent, I was in between blessings and sleeping in my car—and being an artist, a Black artist, I was just tired of the doors slammed in my face, the rejection, the ‘nos.’
“Because I put my all into my work, and I was also always so interested in McDaniel and her winning the Academy Award. After researching her, I started to write this play,” Williams said. “Last year my friend Mildred was like, ‘I’m gonna send it to my theatre in Chicago.’ Several months later, here we are.”
Williams has been writing since he was 17, and he has submitted plays to many fellowships and competitions, as well as a couple of residencies. He gives a shout out to the Greater Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. However, “Boulevard of Bold Dreams” is his first major play.
Rehearsals are ongoing, and Williams says the cast and team are curating a safe Black space. “My director, Malkia Stampley, has been a light rock in the rehearsal process, deepening and asking me the important questions to bring my play to life. So, going from the table read to watching actors put it on its feet, it’s like magic. I’m only here for the first week, and I have to go away—but I trust these wonderful artists to bring my play to life.”
Williams looks up to esteemed late playwright August Wilson…the titan. He added: “Lorraine Hansberry—reading her play, ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ is why I am a playwright today. And someone who really inspires me is Dominique Morisseau.”
He admits that telling Black stories in their rawest forms and just having an artistic home as a playwright have been a challenge.
Williams says he’s excited to be in Chicago—in Hansberry’s native home. “I thought I’d be nervous…but I’m not. TimeLine has been gracious and supportive in bringing the play to Chicago. And ya know, it’s my first time in Chicago!”
Along with being a guest writer for the Center Theatre Groups’ August Wilson Monologue Competition in 2019 and penning other plays, Williams is currently a resident playwright/co-creator of the Black Creators Collective where his play “UMOJA” made its West Coast premiere in January 2022, and he also produced North Hollywood’s first Black playwrights’ festival at the WACO Theater Center. Serving as a writer-producer, Williams has curated three short films on YouTube. His viral and award-winning short film “Blood at the Root” is anticipated to become a Young Adult fantasy novel.
Finally, Williams invites all to come to the show. “Come see the show! Please! We have to support new plays. Specifically, Black plays, so we can continue to tell our stories!’
For more information about “Boulevard of Bold Dreams,” which runs from February 1 through March 19 at TimeLine, 615 W. Wellington, visit timelinetheatre.com and search for the play by name.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago (lulu.com) or email: [email protected].