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Pittsburgh Public Theater Sets Cast for Mark Clayton Southers’ ‘The Coffin Maker’

Pittsburgh Public Theater has announced the cast and creative team for the premiere production of The Coffin Marker, the newest addition to Mark Clayton Southers’ cycle of plays set in the 19th century, directed by Monteze Freeland

The cast features local and national actors in a story of revenge in 1800s Oklahoma that is the Public’s season finale at the O’Reilly Theater, May 29 to June 16. 

Pittsburgh actor Garbie Dukes (Is God Is for barebones productions and episodes of HBO’s A League of Their Own and American Rust on Showtime) will portray the title coffin maker, having previously read the role in The Public’s 2021 developmental presentation of The Coffin Maker, while Pittsburgh screen and stage actor and noted fight coordinator Randy Kovitz, seen recently in Quantum Theatre’s Scenes From an Execution, will play a bounty hunter. He previously appeared in The Public’s productions of The Diary of Anne Frank and Death of a Salesman.

Connor McCanlus appears as photographer Buchannon, having previously appeared in The Public’s Barefoot in the Park. Robin R. McGee (Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer) portrays Eula, wife of the coffin maker, and Brandon St. Clair rounds out the cast as “The Dead Man, whose escapades transform these characters’ lives.”

Southers was recently featured by American Theatre Magazine among “people to watch.” In Pittsburgh, the former steelworker has been watched as an actor, writer and theatermaker for more that 20 years, including as the founder and producing artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.

“I like to follow the words of my mentor August Wilson, ‘Write what you know, and if you don’t know it do the research,’ ” Southers said in an interview with Pittsburgh Public Theater. “So, I feel like I know these characters. They’re my aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and through these characters and writing words that they’re bringing to life, it’s like honoring their presence in my past and letting them continue to live.” 

“In thinking about this play, Mark and I had a conversation about the ingenuity of people, and specifically of Black people,” Freeland, co-artistic director of City Theatre and an in-demand actor and director, told The Public. “The Coffin Maker surrounds people who are at the top of their craft in a small place and who are vital to their community, and when I think about that theme inside of the play and how we’re mirroring that outside of the play and through this cast, it’s almost like you can’t write it – but Mark somehow has.”

The story is described as centering on Lawrence Ebitt, “a freedman who makes a peaceful living carefully preparing bodies for burial with his wife, Eula, in 1849 in Oklahoma – until their world is turned upside down by a bounty hunter who gets more than he bargained for and a fugitive forging his own future.”

The Coffin Maker is part of playwright Southers’ cycle of plays modeled after and inspired by August Wilson’s American Century Cycle of 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Wilson famously recounted the African-American experience as seen almost entirely in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The Public has produced all 10 plays, including the world premieres of Jitney and King Hedley II.  

Mark Clayton Southers at the August Wilson House in the Hill District, where he has directed several productions. (Image: Sharon Eberson)

“For me, this is bigger than Broadway,” Southers said. “A lot of people won’t understand that but knowing the history of Pittsburgh and this theater company, I think it’s huge. I was at August Wilson’s first play here at The Public, and I’m proud and honored to be able to follow in that tradition.”  

The creative team includes set designer Tony Ferrieri, lighting design by Latrice Lovett, sound design by Bill Toles, and costume design by Pittsburgh Public Theater Costume Shop head Venise St. Pierre, who was recently recognized for more than 25 years of creative service at The Public. Special effects consultant Steve Tolin will “help bring this Western-comedy-revenge to life with chilling detail.”

On May 31, Pittsburgh Public will host Black Brilliance: A celebration of Black artistry. The free event from 6-7 p.m. will feature food and beverages, networking opportunities, spotlights on Pittsburgh artistry, and more in this free affinity event from 6 to 7 p.m., prior to concurrent performances of The Coffin Maker on the O’Reilly Theater stage and New Horizon Theater’s The Nacirema Society in the Helen Wayne Rauh Rehearsal Hall. Registration is required and is available at 

The Coffin Maker runs May 29 to June 16, 2024, at the O’Reilly Theater. For tickets, visit or call 412-316-1600. Discounted tickets for anyone 26 or younger, use promo code HOTTIX.