I have a dream

Keeping the Dream Alive, an original work by local playwright Anthony D’Juan, to open at CSUS

Anthony D’Juan, whose original play <i>Keeping the Dream Alive</i> honors the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

Anthony D’Juan, whose original play Keeping the Dream Alive honors the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo By Jill Wagner

California Musical Theatre organizes the Music Circus every summer and books touring shows for the Broadway Series the rest of the year.

But in January, the musical-theater company does something that’s both wonderful and different: the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project. It presents an elaborately staged production in the University Theater at California State University at Sacramento that showcases African-American talent, mostly from this area.

Better still, the tickets are free. Go to the box office 60 minutes before show time, and you may pick up as many as four free tickets for that performance only (on a first-come, first-served basis; no phone reservations).

In recent years, the MLK Project has featured local productions of such Broadway shows as Lost in the Stars, The Gospel at Colonus, Raisin and Cabin in the Sky.

This year, the MLK Project is staging an original work, Keeping the Dream Alive. The author of the script is a local talent, Anthony D’Juan.

You may have seen D’Juan as an actor. In the recent past, he appeared in the B Street Theatre’s F-stop and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as Bottom) at the Actors Theatre, and he’s a regular in the Fantasy Theatre’s touring shows for young people. D’Juan also has directed several shows at the Actors Theatre, and that same venue has produced several of D’Juan’s scripts, including Theory of the Dream and Men in Riffs.

D’Juan’s script for Keeping the Dream Alive features characters, but it isn’t an entirely linear, plot-driven show. “The main character is called the Dream Guide, a kind of folklorist and storyteller,” he said. Other characters include a slave and a figure embodying the sorts of words and attitudes of racial superiority associated with the term “Jim Crow.” There’s also a speaker that D’Juan said has some of the personality of Martin Luther King Jr. “But I didn’t want to put the figure of MLK [himself] onstage,” D’Juan added.

Keeping the Dream Alive is a title that has personal resonance in that D’Juan—born in 1976 in Inglewood—is too young to remember King’s assassination in 1968. D’Juan said he approached this project through a combination of family recollections and conventional historical research. “I’ve got a lot of old folks in my family [in the South and in Ohio],” he said. “I have the kind of uncles that sit on the porch, drink beer and tell stories. Some of the things they said fascinated me and got me to do my own research.”

He also draws on firsthand experience in order to identify with King. “I walk all over Sacramento,” D’Juan said, “and I experience racism all … the … time. I’ve had the N-word called out at me.”

D’Juan approaches writing the old-fashioned way, as did some of his literary heroes, such as Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes. “I write by hand or on a typewriter,” he said. “There’s still a typewriter store near my place, and they know me when I come in looking for a ribbon.” D’Juan eschews computers.

But he keeps a very busy schedule. “I just got through directing the Christmas play at the Actors Theatre,” he said. “I’m writing a new play, memorizing lines for another play, running lights for another one.” D’Juan won’t get to see the first few performances of Keeping the Dream Alive because he will be onstage in the Actors Theatre’s production of Waiting for Godot.

D’Juan has become a full-time theater person—not an easy thing to do in Sacramento—and he acknowledges several debts. “If it wasn’t for the Actors Theatre and the B Street,” he said, “I wouldn’t be able to work, unless I did roles that cater to black people.”