Youngstown Playhouse stages civil rights drama

Carla Gipson had a rare perk for a community theater director as she was preparing “Six Nights in the Black Belt,” which opens Friday at Youngstown Playhouse.

If she had any questions about the script, she could just email the playwright.

The Playhouse is one of the first theaters to stage the work by New Hampshire writer Lowell Williams, who is a friend of Playhouse Executive Director Mary Ruth Lynn.

“Lowell and I met while I was living in New Hampshire,” Lynn said. “I have been impressed by his writing since I first read his work and am thrilled to be producing this award-winning play.”

Gipson said Lynn asked her if she would be interested in directing the civil rights drama.

“I had never heard of Jonathan Daniels, but I certainly knew about the movement, and I found it to be somewhat compelling to his experience,” Gipson said. “It pretty well encapsulates all of the feelings and sides of the stories.”

“Six Nights in the Black Belt” tells the story of Daniels, a native of Keene, N.H. He responded to Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for assistance with voter registration in Selma, Ala., and was murdered on Aug. 20, 1965, while protecting a black teenaged girl who was a volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Williams came to Youngstown early in the process, and Gipson got to pick his brain over lunch at the Yankee Kitchen in Boardman.

“He’s a big (President) Obama fan, and he wanted to got there after hearing Obama had been there,” Gipson said.

Since that initial meeting, Gipson has been emailing the author with questions.

“I get an opportunity to get a little feedback and exchange ideas,” Gipson said. “It does make a little bit of difference when you can get right inside his head or ask a question, what did you mean by this?”

The cast features Ryan Newell, Keith Baker, Arianna Manigault, Dawnell Jewell, C. Rick Haldi, Geri DeWitt and Rayshone Oliver.

Williams also will be in attendance for the second weekend of the production, which is part of the Playhouse’s Griffith Adler Actors Series.