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For the first time in nearly a decade, Christine Houston’s play, “Two Twenty Seven,” will come to life every weekend throughout August at Chicago’s ETA Creative Arts Foundation Theater. Everyone is invited into the playwright’s imagination while enjoying an evening of laughter-filled entertainment.
Since bringing humor to others is one of Christine’s favorite activities, the play’s storyline examines life’s good and evil through a comedic lens.
If Houston’s characters seem like they could be your neighbors, that is because her play was based on childhood memories of growing up in the Windy City. Whenever audiences see “Two Twenty Seven,” they relive moments in the lives of her friends and neighbors from the stoop at 227 East 48th Street.
The comedy, written and directed by Houston, earned three first-place awards: the Norman Lear, ANTA West, and NADSA. “Two Twenty Seven” also won second place in the Lorraine Hansberry Award. It also won the NAACP Image Award. Audiences were first introduced to Houston’s clever and engaging play when it opened in 1977 at Kennedy-King College.
Houston’s award-winning history-making play inspired NBC’s hit series “227,” making her the first Black woman to receive a “created by” credit in primetime television.
The popular series is a Norman Lear production that initially aired from 1985 to 1990. Like its stars, Marla Gibbs, Jackée Harry, Regina King, and Hal Williams, “227” continues to entertain viewers.
“Houston’s influence in Hollywood is a testament to the transformative power of education and a dream,” wrote Cherese Jackson for Guardian Liberty Voice.
The Birth of a Playwright and ‘Two Twenty Seven’
Houston’s writing career began as she juggled raising her sons and attending college. During the interview with the Chicago Leader, she recalled her father pecking away on his typewriter crafting stories. Yet, Christine had not thought of herself as a writer. Instead, she secretly wanted to be an actress.
When she auditioned for a play at Kennedy-King College, she was asked about her major, “I lied. Normally, I wouldn’t lie, but at the time, I did not want to admit I wanted to be an actress. And where would I work as an actress in Chicago? So, I lied and said I was a journalism major because I was taking writing classes,” Christine told the Chicago Leader.
In her journalism class, she was presented with a new challenge: She was approached by students about writing a play for Kennedy King College to win a summer program playwriting contest, which it won. “Two Twenty Seven” was later submitted to the Norman Lear and Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting contests through the American College Theater Festival, based in Washington, D.C.
Unsure of how to write a comedy, Houston decided to follow an instructor’s advice: “If you want to be successful with the first thing that you write, then write about something you know.” So, she decided, “I’m [going to] write and show people how best friends can stay best friends forever and grow up together and have a family and how our families come together.”
After “Two Twenty Seven” won the Norman Lear Playwriting contest, Christine went to Hollywood. During that time, Lear had six hit television programs. The playwright’s prize included the opportunity to write an episode for the program of her choice. She chose “The Jeffersons” (1978), which jump-started her notable Hollywood career.
Teaches Next Generation of Screenwriters
Houston earned her bachelor’s degree at 70. Now, she is a professor at Chicago State University, teaching screenwriting.
One of her students, Marsha Johnson, explained her motivation behind taking Houston’s class: “To be able to sit right here in class and learn so much from her because of her history and where she has been. Also, for her to take the time out and still be in her 70s..and still come to class every day. It’s inspiring to me and she motivates me to want to be the best I can be and to write,” according to Branden Hampton for Northwestern Medill.
“She is a living legend, not just for her mark in the comedic world of entertainment, but also as one who serves as a role model for students and a true testament to the power education has in the lives of people young and old,” wrote Jackson.
“Two Twenty Seven” opens on August 4th and runs through the 28th. Performances are on Thursday and Friday evenings at 7 p.m. CT, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. CT. Ticket prices range from $25 to $40.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware and Skye Leon
ETA Creative Arts Foundation: TWO TWENTY SEVEN by Christine Houston
Medill Reports Chicago: Behind The Hit Sitcom ‘227’: Hollywood Living Legend Christine Houston; by Branden Hampton
Guardian Liberty Voice: Christine Houston: Living Legend and Celebrated Educator [Video]; by Cherese Jackson
IMDb: Christine Houston
Images Courtesy of TNS Media – Used With Permission