DOWN TO EARTHA – The Life Of A Star, On And Off Stage

Down To Eartha
When: August 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16 & 17 @ 8pm / August 11 @ 4pm
Where: Gene Frankel Theater (24 Bond Street, New York, NY 10012)
Price: $25 |Link to purchase tickets

Dierdra McDowell as Eartha

What does it mean to unapologetically denounce the Vietnam War in a country jingoist in its fundamentals? What does it mean to be black and a sex symbol in times where basic African American civil right were far from realisation?

Down To Eartha, inspired by Eartha Kitt’s life, directed by Marishka Phillips, is all set to hit the theatres in Bond Street this August. Eartha Kitt’s life which was never devoid of hostility and sincere admiration; it cannot be talked about without the notorious White House luncheon that led to her blacklisting from a career in the States.  Eartha was someone who was simultaneously labelled, the most exciting woman on earth and a sadistic nymphomaniac and for a black woman who peaked in the 60s and 70s her life was a story of passion and struggle matted together into a masterpiece.

The show which will be making ten runs through August in the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York revisits the very controversial day of Eartha’s life at the white house and all the mayhem that ensued. It is shaped as a solo act, written and directed by Dierdra Mc Dowell who has been inspired by Kitt through her acting career and delved deeper into this legend’s life with all of us, through the sharp writing and unafraid delivery. Diedra herself has been compared to Kitt at occasions and this show is the apt homage for the star in question. It is directed by Marishka Phillips who’s theatrical career can be credited to Eartha and her solid performance of Timbuktu! Marishka, herself recounts the awe that engulfed her after watching Eartha and for years to come how that one performance would be her driving point.  A production of the MPTP Productions International it is produced by Dr Leah Randolph and Michael Roberts in partnership with the 24 Bond Arts Centre.  

Known for her popular hits ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘C’est si bon’ Eartha was much more than a showman in the spotlight. She was a political provocateur, a civil rights activist, a cultural icon for feminism and sex positivity and so much more making. She was a baby born out of rape, biracial in far south, therefore she felt the ostracization long before she would know what it actually meant. She danced and sang and mostly fought her way to success in the 50s. She was the third catwoman, a national sex symbol and a lobbyist for the activist group, Rebels with a Cause, which led to her fateful presence at the White House luncheon regarding ‘Rising Crimes in America’. While the first lady and all others talked about planting flower pots on broken windowsills, she vehemently denounced the Vietnam War and credited it for the growing anguish and felonious streak among the youth. Thereafter her career in the US went downhill, she was the woman who made the first lady cry and the CIA and it’s intelligence was after the very liberated black woman who has the audacity to speak the truth. Various rumours and loose statements were floated to break her spirit and career, calling her a vile tongue and spoiled brat while recounting her endeavours overseas and her loose morals. Eartha subsequently toured in Europe and overseas, to return a decade later for a career in Broadway. She would go on to be nominated for Tony’s and revisit the White House under a different presidency, but this incident would always be the first to be associated with her. Till her death, the identity of her father was unknown and the state refused to divulge any information about his identity. Through her life she undertook many battles, from sex positivity to being a vocal advocator of LGBT rights.

The show beautifully captures her personal journey of power and freedom, tracing her life of child abuse to institutional debarment. In the current political scenario where the right to be heard is again questionable, it is the story of an oppressed person and the norms that bound them. Her struggles were something she was born with and later were the battles that she took up herself, and all of these truly make her one of the greatest to ever walk into the spotlight.

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Anureet writes poems and research papers; none of them really well. She aspires to write a book someday, until then, an economics undergraduate, her life is a series of awkward handholds, too many hand poems and ofcourse Adam Smith's invisible hand.
Anureet Watta

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