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Burning Coal Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Hannah Benitez’s Ashe in Johannesburg Is Entertaining and Informative

The Burning Coal Theatre Company, under the leadership of artistic director Jerome Davis, continues to produce fresh and thought-provoking plays for Triangle audiences. Burning Coal has commissioned Hannah Benitez to write a new play and the resulting production, Ashe in Johannesburg, opened last evening.

The titular Ashe, refers to Arthur Ashe, a professional tennis player and an African-American, who spent much of his career dealing with racial bias during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s and 1970s. This play, directed by the aforementioned Mr. Davis, focuses primarily on a trip for a tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa during the height of the boycotts and fight against Apartheid. Ashe has supporters and detractors pulling at him from all sides, including the inside, from his own psyche.

Ashe is deftly portrayed by Joel Oramas, a New York-based actor who has appeared at Burning Coal previously in Romeo and Juliet. Oramas’ performance clearly depicts the conflicts within Arthur Ashe during this tumultuous time in history. Ashe was accompanied on the trip by Frank Deford, longtime writer for Sports Illustrated, whose character was ably performed by Steven Roten, who is also the director of the theater program at nearby Meredith College. Roten also does double duty taking on the role of Hanekom, an Afrikaner anthropology professor.

The remainder of the cast is flawless as well, working primarily as an ensemble of many different parts each. This troupe includes Preston Campbell, Maxine Eloi, Juan Isler, Jackie Markham, and Natalia Soto. Markham was particularly intriguing as Althea Gibson.

Ashe in Johannesburg runs for a crisp hour and 25 minutes, with no intermission. It is comprised of a series of vignettes depicting Ashe interacting with a variety of characters, including his inner-self. While I did not love all of the story, I do feel that it is highly recommended for people to attend this show. Here is what you get for the cost of less than a tank of gas:

  • A chance to see a new play and to discuss it with family and friends.
  • An opportunity to learn something, and to get some perspective on issues that are plaguing society today in their historical content.
  • A beautiful small-theater experience in a really cool building, where no one is more than 15 feet from the actors.
  • A chance to see an interesting set design with moving parts neatly manipulated by the cast.
  • Some clever staging, like the cast members of color holding white dinner plates over their faces to depict Caucasian characters.
  • A chance to share a learning experience with your children.

Theater requires two things in order to thrive. It needs the vision, innovation and efforts of people such as the team at Burning Coal Theatre Company, and it needs the support of diverse and discerning audiences like the great population of the Triangle. Burning Coal has put up their half. I implore you to do the same. You won’t regret it.

<em>Ashe in Johannesburg</em> stars Joel Oramas as Athur Ashe and Jackie Markham as Althea Gibson

Ashe in Johannesburg stars Joel Oramas as Arthur Ashe and Jackie Markham as Althea Gibson

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 23rd Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods:; and Jan. 9th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Jerome Davis and et al., conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 25th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents ASHE IN JOHANNESBURG at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 and 26, 2 p.m. Jan. 27, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 2 p.m. Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7-9, and 2 p.m. Feb. 10 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except “Pay-What-You-Can” Day on Sunday, Jan. 27th, $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursdays, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or

SHOW: and


2018-19 SEASON:



NOTE 1:The 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27th, show is a “Pay-What-You-Can” Performance.

NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27th, performance.

NOTE 3: There will be a talkback with playwright Hannah Benitez, following the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 26th, performance.


Ashe in Johannesburg (play): (official web page).

Hannah Benitez (Miami, FL Cuban-Jewish-American playwright): (official website), (New Play Exchange page), and (Facebook page).

Jerome Davis (Raleigh, NC director and Burning Coal co-founder and artistic director): (Burning Coal bio) and (Facebook page).


Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at and two humor anthologies from his blog, He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews