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Play about Marvin Gaye’s life, death aims to set the record straight

If you’ve ever wondered what the truth of singer Marvin Gaye’s life might look like, or asked why an ordained Pentecostal minister would kill his own son, the play “My Brother Marvin” promises answers.

The show, written and adapted for the stage by playwright Angela Dunlap, opens for a three-day run on April 5 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Dunlap is no stranger to the theater world. People call her the “leading lady” of urban theater.

Cast members include Emmy Award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield, R&B singer Keith Washington, and actor Clifton Powell, who also directs the drama.

Zeola Gaye, Marvin’s sister, decided to bring the iconic singer’s story to the stage after the “overwhelming success and feedback” of her memoir.

“I couldn’t think of a better time to present my story on stage along with information that was never revealed from my mother’s journal,” she said. “I felt Marvin’s fans deserved to know the truth about his death.”

“My Brother Marvin” made its off-Broadway premiere in 2006. Gaye has since added more detail, gleaned from private memories and letters she recently discovered from her late mother and father.

Gaye said that in the years since Marvin’s tragic death in 1984, she has become more and more disappointed in what has been written and published about her family, especially Marvin.

“In the play, I simply wanted to set the record straight,” she said. “I wanted to leave a true account about Marvin the man and our family.”

Gaye, a retired accountant who sang background on Marvin’s hit “What’s Going On,” said she hopes the play finally puts to rest questions people have and corrects inaccuracies surrounding Marvin Gaye’s life and death, including how drug addiction affects a family and the circumstances that contributed to the fatal shooting.

Days before her arrival in Atlanta, Zeola Gaye took questions about the brother she hopes the rest of us will finally get to know.

Q. What one or two truths about Marvin do you want people most to know?

A. That he was not only one of the world’s greatest artists, but he was also a MAN first, with faults like we all have. No one is perfect … but I can say this: His love for God and humanity stood out and he never faulted on that part of his being. My brother was a wonderful man who, as I said, was not perfect, but was born with a prophetic gift.

Q. What part of his story are you hoping to set straight?

A. Everything that has been written or said that wasn’t accurate — and there have been many inaccuracies. For instance, Marvin never did heroin. He did have bouts with PCP, cocaine, marijuana and some pills. Our father wasn’t gay. He was a cross-dresser. That and a lot more is revealed in the show.

Q. What will the audience find most surprising about Marvin?

A. Like I said, that he had faults. There’s no secret he had a drug problem as many of us had, even myself. They will learn the ups and downs of what drugs or any addiction can do to a family. … I address that issue in my play. Although it’s not pleasant. But none of this is. It’s a tragic ending, as we know, but maybe by seeing the truth his fans can leave with a message and maybe some closure.

Q. His ex-wife has been quoted as saying that “My Brother Marvin” isn’t a true representation of his life. Anything you’d like to say about that?

A. That’s her feelings, and I can’t and won’t try to change that. She only knew him for a few years. I’ve known him all of my life. He was my brother before he was anyone’s husband, father or artist. Who, other than a sibling who grew up with him, would know the truth? This is my family I’m presenting, and this is something I know my brother would want.

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