For this Black History Month, we asked the School’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to share a list of must-read plays about the Black American experience. From portraits of African American life throughout the 20th century to a deep look at the disparities of the education system, this list comprises of five powerful works written by Black American playwrights.
“These plays are all so powerfully varied in their depictions of Black America across time and space in history,” shared Anita Dashiell-Sparks, associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion.
The Colored Museum
by George C. Wolfe
The Colored Museum has electrified, discomforted and delighted audiences of all colors, redefining our ideas of what it means to be Black in contemporary America. Its eleven “exhibits” undermine black stereotypes, old and new, and return to the facts of what being Black means.
Note from the Office of EDI: The play is a comedic yet poignant examination of racialized stereotypes.
The Century Cycle various plays
by August Wilson
A series of 10 plays depicting the Black American experience during each decade of the 20th century, set predominantly in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, August Wilson’s Century Cycle is considered one of the crowning achievements of American theatre. Plays include Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II and Radio Golf. Wilson earned two Pulitzer Prizes, a Peabody, multiple Tony Award nominations, among others, for his plays within the cycle.
Note from the Office of EDI: The legacy of the Century Cycle and August Wilson’s work provides a sharp snapshot, a portrait, of African American life: the joys as well as the challenges presented across the different decades.
by Suzan-Lori Parks
Suzan-Lori Park’s riff on the way we are defined by history, Topdog/Underdog is a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity. Brothers Lincoln and Booth, whose names were given to them as a joke and also foretell their lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment, are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future as they are haunted by their past.
Note from the Office of EDI: This Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a contemporary deconstruction/reconstruction of history and the recognizable historical figures — through a colored lens. It looks at the intersectionality of race and class, and power and privilege.
Day of Absence
by Douglas Turner Ward
Chaos ensues in a Southern town when all of the Black residents have suddenly disappeared and the White townspeople must fend for themselves. Douglas Turner Ward’s satire, which premiered in 1965, turns a keen eye on the social, moral and racial biases of American society.
Note from the Office of EDI: A glaring satire situated within the South — what happens when all the Black folks disappear without warning or notice.
by Dominique Morrisseau
Nya is a single mom and dedicated teacher at a high-poverty city school, who is determined to give her teenage son Omari opportunities that her students will never have. When a controversial incident at his private school threatens Omari’s future, Nya must confront his rage and her own choices as a parent. A searing, eloquent and deeply compassionate look at a broken education system, the moments we are pushed to our limits, and the ferocity of one parent’s love.
Note from the Office of EDI: A look at the inequities and the disparities within our educational system: who has access and opportunity to a quality education, who does not, and why? Painting a portrait of how those with access to opportunities and those who don’t contributes to the systemic and structural racism within the school-to-prison pipeline.
Upcoming SDA productions
In addition to the five plays above, here are two productions by Black playwrights to check out this semester, performing at the School of Dramatic Arts.
Seize the King
by Will Power
February 18–26, 2022
Scene Dock Theatre
Award-winning playwright Will Power delivers a propulsive and timely modern reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. With England’s throne empty, Richard knocks down threats to his ascension, fueling his insatiable ambition and paranoia. Even if he can be stopped — who can ensure a tyrant won’t rise in his place?
In the Red and Brown Water
by Tarell Alvin McCraney
March 31–April 3, 2022
Scene Dock Theatre
Spirited Oya, a promising young athlete who is offered a scholarship that could jump-start her future, must make a difficult choice: following her dream or caring for her mother. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) draws on folk tales, Yoruba mythology and contemporary poets to tell a story about family, illness and the devastating decisions we’re forced to make as we grow up.
Do you have a play you would like to suggest for our community to read? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.