Tag Archives: theater

griots of America

I have been reading the works of Ms. Dael Orlandersmith, an award-winning playwright who grew up in Harlem. As mentioned in a previous post from Dreamer’s Paradise, I have read Orlandersmith’s Yellowman (2002), which was nominated for a 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Orlandersmith was nominated the same year that Suzan-Lori Parks won a Pulitzer Prize for Topdog/Underdog (2001) and became the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Maybe I’m not in the know when it comes to theater productions, but I don’t recall there being a lot of buzz for Yellowman, which goes to show you that just because you never heard of someone or something doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Yellowman takes place in South Carolina and follows the budding romance between dark-skinned, big-boned, and ambitious Alma and fair-skinned, sensitive, and somewhat of a slacker Eugene. In this play, Orlandersmith reveals the ugliness of colorism and classism within the African-American community. Eugene has a contentious relationship with his dark-skinned father, Robert Gaines, who despises and envies his light-hued son: You wanna fight me high yella, huh? You wanna fight? I think your best bet high yella is to get outta my face before I hurt you/ cause I will knock your high yella/ red ass down! (Orlandersmith 10). There are other parts in the play where the language is poetic and sensual. I could feel the sun beating on my skin and the speckles of red dust falling on my bare feet. I could feel the heat of Alma’s and Euguene’s first sexual encounter. When Alma attends college, I could hear the music blaring from the windows and smell the exotic foods of New York City. Although the ending is tragic and haunting, Yellowman is a must-read. I would have loved to see the original production of Orlandersmith’s play, which starred Dael Orlandersmith and Howard W. Overshown, but I will settle with any production that is well-directed. It’s funny that I had never heard of Orlandersmith before reading Yellowman—I think she is one of those talented artists that few people know, which is crazy considering that she is a Pulitzer Prize nominee who received an Obie Award in 1996 for Beauty’s Daughter. I often wonder why some artists are talented and gifted; yet, no one has heard of them. As far as Black female playwrights go, the ones I know are Lorraine Hansberry, who penned Raisin in the Sun (1959), and Suzan-Lori Parks, and that is simply sad because I know there are plenty of Black female playwrights that are doing their thing. For example, there is Latonia Valincia, a playwright who lives in Baltimore, who writes about the experiences of Black women. Last year, she debuted her play, Bootprints, at the University of Baltimore’s Emerging Voices showcase (click here to view UB’s lineup for 2010). Then, there is Sherna Ann Johnson, another playwright from Baltimore, who premiered her first play, “The XX Chromosome Genome Project” at The Strand Theater (click here, to read my play review). I love to read Black female playwrights because they tell stories that include me and my heritage. They are our griots.  Listen. Absorb. Reflect. Cherish. Share. 

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a playwright is born

Wow! Last week, I attended a powerful, new play entitled The XX Chromosome Genome Project (2010), which made its debut at The Strand Theater located in Baltimore City’s Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Out of 45 submissions, The XX Chromosome Genome Project along with three others plays were selected for The Strand’s Friends and Neighbors Festival: Works by Women. The play reminded me of  Ntzoke Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (1975), and I’m not just saying that because the playwright Sherna Johnson is a good friend. Instead of the women being identified by the color of their clothing, the actresses were identified by their “flavor”: Donisha Adams (Chocolate), Jessica Ruth Baker (Vanilla), Chrisovalandou Diakokomninos (Cinnamon), Naelis Ervin (Caramel), Nina Marti (Lemon), and Lauren Wardell (White Chocolate). Each flavor represents the woman’s ethnicity: African American (Chocolate), Latina (Caramel), Caucasian (Vanilla), Native American (Cinnamon), Asian American (Lemon), and biracial (White Chocolate). Sherna’s purpose for penning The XX Chromosome Genome Project is to show the commonality of women’s experiences. One of my favorite monologues is “B-more Girl Living in a Be-less World,” which was performed by Naelis Ervin. Although Ms. Ervin’s ethnicity is African American, I was convinced that she was Dominican. She had the accent down! Overall, I was pleased with the production, and I recommend that you see this play (unfortunately, the play’s last showing was held the previous week, but hopefully Sherna will do another production). Luckily, you can purchase Sherna’s chapbook at the website 2 Pens & Lint, an indie chapbook company located in Philadelphia, PA. To read the interview that was conducted by Henry Duncan, click here. If you know of any emerging playwrights that are on the rise, leave a post, so we can be in the know!

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free yourself, ladies and gentlemen

I just finished watching a powerful play entitled Blackbird at the Everyman Theatre located in Baltimore City. The show runs from May 12 to June 13th. Blackbird was first commissioned and presented by the Edinburgh International Festival at the King’s Theatre in August 2005. In 2006, it was presented at the Albery Theatre in the West End. The play made its American debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2007. At first, the play is kind of slow, you are wondering, “What is going on?” But when the character, Una, asks the question, “Well, how many other 12-year-olds have you slept with?” the play has officially started. The playwright, David Harrower, tackles the taboo subject of child molestation, and what makes the matter even more complicated is Una’s inability to escape her fixation, obsession, and yearning for Ray, the man who had sex with her at age 12. There were many parts of the play that disturbed me. I found myself mad at Ray for portraying himself as the victim, and I was equally disgusted that Una still craved affection and approval from Ray. It actually made me sad. Una was still holding on to her childhood fantasies…she wanted the man who molested her to love her. After bearing witness to the play, Blackbird, I told myself I can never allow myself to be Una. The play made me evaluate myself: What toxicity am I holding on to? Are there things or people in my life that I’m enslaved to and in bondage to? The fact that this play raised so many questions is a marker of superb writing that goes underneath the surface.  A great playwright is unafraid to look at darkness and stare it right in the face. I’ll admit, I was disappointed that Una did not break free of her shackles, and part of me wanted to say that it was because the play was written from a male perspective. However, there are many people who are holding on to painful events in their past, holding on to toxic relationships, holding on to people who have damaged them, and they are dying inside because of their inability to let go, so I’m begging you, if you are holding on to hurt, please release it. Please do not be an Una.

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