CityViews: ‘The Old Settler’ Transcends Time At Billie Holiday Theatre

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) – Nearly two decades after playwright John Henry Redwood penned “The Old Settler,” its message is still relevant today.

The Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn just launched its 46th season with a production of the play, which runs through November 19.

Sharon Barnes-Waters recently sat down with cast members Pauletta Pearson Washington, Denise Burse and Warner Miller.

The play is set in a 1946 Harlem tenement. Pearson Washington plays older sister Elizabeth Borny, while Burse plays younger sister Quilly McGrath. Miller, meanwhile, plays Husband Witherspoon, a younger man from the South who the sisters take in as a tenant.

“An ‘old settler’ I would say in contemporary terms is like a spinster – an older woman who’s never been married, who’s barren, or never really had a serious relationship. And Elizabeth is that woman,” Pearson Washington says, adding that women today still put pressure on themselves to get married and have children by a certain age.

Burse, who recently won an Emmy award for an episode of the Netflix series “Black Mirror,” got her start in New York theater at the Billie Holiday Theatre.

“It still to this day holds a very special place in my heart as a result of that. And I think it’s two-fold in the sense that I was given an opportunity to come back at a point where an award was attached to my career but at the same time it meant that the Billie Holiday had been instrumental in launching that in New York,” she says. “So I’m grateful to be back, I’m doubly grateful that I’m with a cast that I absolutely adore.”

Pearson Washington’s character, Elizabeth, shares a sisterly bond with Burse and chemistry with Miller.

“It has been one of the single highest joys, sincerely, working alongside Pauletta and Denise, but Pauletta as well. She’s extremely kind, and nice, and giving – off and on stage,” Miller says. “You know not for nothing, but other actresses could have come in and been very demeaning and demanding of certain things, especially you know she’s been in this business longer than I have and I’m the new guy trying to hold my own alongside, and she’s been very gracious and giving on stage and off. Also she’s beautiful so it makes it very easy.”

Burse calls the play a “classic that transcends time.”

“I think it’s important too that women stop trying to affix a life that is worldly, that somebody else has put on them that they should be, i.e. a wife and a mother. If you feel that there is a fullness of joy in the career that you’ve chosen or some other path that you’ve chosen that brings you great joy and satisfaction that also allows you the opportunity to give back to society or touch or impact someone’s life, then I think you have to really stop listening to all the other comments that people are making,” she says.

Pearson Washington says the response from the audience has been “amazing,” especially the young students that come to see the play.

“I believe that we are staying as true to Mr. Redwood’s words and telling the story. And I am having the most fun with them telling the story,” she says.

To learn more about the production, visit thebillieholiday.org.

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