I heard on the radio this morning that today begins the National Black Theatre Festival which is held in Winston-Salem, NC. If you are a reader of plays, I have some recommendations for you of plays that feature people of color. Some I’ve seen and read, some I’ve only seen or only read. Some I love, and some I don’t. I’ll list the ones that come to mind and add any more I think of later or if any of you add some in the comments. I’ll link the Wikipedia page or another resource for each play; several of them have been made into films you may wish to watch.
Plays I Love
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry – Audio Link – This centers on a family that receives a $10,000 life insurance check and the plans of each member of the family for the check. It also explores racially motivated land convenants when the family buys a house in an entirely white neighborhood and the neighbors attempt to bribe the family to leave.
Having Our Say by Emily Mann – This play, based on a biography of the same title, is about the Delany sisters. Sadie and Bessie both lived past the age of 100, and this play introduces us to them as they are 103 and 101. It takes us through their memories. They’re local girls to me – from Raleigh, NC, less than an hour’s drive from my home and the city where I taught for three years. My sister and I loved this play and the dynamic between the two sisters that, in 1999, we parodied it with a skit called "Getting Our Way." I was 17 and she was 13 at the time. Here’s my favorite exchange from the skit – I can’t remember which of us said what, so I’m just having me speak first.
KIMBERLY: People often ask us how we’ve stayed so young. I tell them it’s because we never married.
MARY ELISABETH: And I tell them it’s because we’re only seventeen and thirteen!
(Hmmm. I guess we’re old now; my sister’s getting married on October 17 and I just did.)
The film version of Having Our Say stars Audra MacDonald, one of my favorite Broadway stars.
The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe – In this play, the audience witnesses different museum exhibits which satirize both stereotypes and actual elements of African-American culture.
Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks – This play is AMAZING, especially if you see it performed by an excellent cast. Two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, live together and struggle with work, love, and their relationship with each other. Incredibly moving and so well-written. An excellent blend of comedy and drama.
Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere-Smith – A series of monologues that chronicles the Crown Heights riots in 1991. (I can’t even begin to explain the riots so I’m just linking info about them.) I stage-managed this play my freshman year of college. It was by far one of the best experiences I had during that time. Anna Deavere-Smith is coming to speak at the North Carolina Literary Festival and I’m very excited.
Fences by August Wilson – A play about Troy Maxson, a garbage man, and his experiences and challenges in life.
Contant Star by Tazewell Thompson – The life story of Ida B. Wells, a journalist and leader of both the civil rights and women’s rights movements.
The America Play by Suzan Lori-Parks – A play about an Abraham Lincoln impersonator who decides to dig a replica of the Great Hole of History.
Most of the playwrights cited here have written more than one play, so I recommend checking out the full catalog for each of them. I didn’t want to list plays with which I wasn’t familiar, which is why I’ve only listed these eight. Taken against the vast number of plays with which I’m familiar, this small number exposes my own ignorance of theatre about people of color. Another thing for me to improve upon.