Posted at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2009
by Euan Kerr
Director Claude Purdy, one of the original company members of St Paul's Penumbra Theater, died on Monday night in Washington DC after a short illness.
Purdy directed August Wilson's first professional production, Black Bart and the Sacred Hills at Penumbra in 1982. He is also credited with bringing the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright to St Paul, where Wilson wrote some of his best known work.
As one of the Penumbra's main directors in the early days of the company he is credited with helping shape Minnesota's only professional African American theatre, one of only three professional African American theaters in the nation to offer a full season of performances.
Purdy was known nationally as a mentor to many actors and directors over the years. In a remembrance on the Penumbra website the company's Education Director Sarah Bellamy talks about Purdy being a visual director.
I remember once in rehearsal for Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Claude called me to his side and said, 'watch.' As if by magic the stage grew warm with light and the actress who stood in relief upstage came alive without moving. 'Isn't she beautiful?' he whispered. 'That's it. That's it!' A visual director, Claude painted African American life with a careful palette and created tableaus onstage that would arrest the breath.
Purdy directed many plays at Penumbra including: Deadwood Dick : A Legend of the West (1981-1982), Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1981-1982), Black Bart and the Sacred Hills (1982-1983), Don't Bother Me - I Can't Cope (1983-1984), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1986-1987), Every Night the Sun Goes Down (1987-1988), Fences (1989-1990), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1990-1991), Don't Bother Me - I Can't Cope (1990-1991), Fences (1996-1997), and Joe Turner's Come and Gone (2002-2003).
Claude Purty was a high school classmate of mine at W. O. Boston High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
He was involved in acting and had an interest in the theater even back then, 1954-1958. His classmates had great expectations of -- and for --- him even then.
I grieve to hear of his passing, but it is good to know that he pursued his love of his advocation all of his life.
He had a rewarding life. It is a consolation to know there are many people who benefited from his talents, and many people who will miss him.
I performed "DEADWOOD DICK" 1982 Birmingham, Alabama. He adopted me a ASSISTANT DIRECTOR. I ran into him in CLEVELAND, OHIO in 1994. I was shocked to hear of his passing as i watched the 2010 TONY AWARDS. WHAT A LOSS. REST IN PEACE MR. PURDY.