Written by: Jamie Hafner
PAC has taken a deep dive into the influential works of Black authors and playwrights to compile an extensive list of literary resources for our audience, including poems, short stories, and contemporary and classical plays. This week’s blog highlights four of many, providing a short summary of the plays and ways to enjoy them for free!
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window - Lorraine Hansberry (1964)
As the final staged work of the legendary Black female playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, this comedy-drama tells the story of a struggling writer and artist in 1960s New York City. themes of race, suicide, and even homosexuality in an age where presenting these topics on stage was taboo. The three-act play follows Sidney, who must face corrupt politics, societal conformity, and the dreams of his actress wife, Iris, as she pursues a career on television and he begins printing an artistic underground newspaper for the Greenwich Village. Hansberry’s play brings to life the vibrant world of the underground New York City press and explores the Bohemian Culture that changed communities and inspired new movements.
Read Hansberry’s play here: https://www.southshoreinternational.org/ourpages/auto/2016/5/18/59134211/Lorraine%20Hansberry%20The%20Sign%20in%20Sidney%20Brusteins%20Window.pdf
Ceremonies in Dark Old Men - Lonne Elder III (1969)
This play-turned-movie from Pulitzer Prize nominee Lonne Elder III focuses on former vaudeville dancer Russell B Parker and his struggling barbershop in Harlem. Russell and his two sons can barely keep their barbershop alive, while Russell’s daughter, Adele, works endlessly to keep the family afloat. Russell’s wife works herself to death to provide for the family, due to Russell’s lack of ambition since his departure from vaudeville. When the Parkers become divided over illegal activity that brings riches to the family, Russell must confront his past and the racist society he lives in to save himself and the Parker family. While the barbershop protects the family from the racism they face in the world, the games that Russell and his family play with society and with the economy. From the temptations of illegal activity to wealth, Elder’s play shines a light on what threatens Black families in 1960s America and the need to break these societal and economic cycles.
Read Elder’s Play here:
Listen to the Audio Version here:
In Splendid Error - William B. Branch (1954)
William B. Branch’s drama, (produced in February by PAC and Theatre in the X for our Venture Reading Series), follows the highs and lows of the friendship of Fredrick Douglass and John Brown in the years prior to the Civil War. As Brown plans what becomes the notorious 1859 Raid on Harpers Ferry, Douglass struggles to support it. Branch guides audiences through Douglass’s internal conflict while accounting for the historic details of the Raid of Harpers Ferry. Such playwriting gives the stories we read in history books a personal narrative, driven by personal gain, ego, humanity, and the need to create a better future.
Read Branch’s Play here:
Rachel - by Angela Grimke (1916)
The oldest play on this list, Angela Grimke’s female-driven play follows Rachel, a recent high-school graduate whose family lives in the North during the early 20th century. Not only does Rachel face systematic and societal racism head-on, but also sacrifices her dream of having children in order to save others from the harsh realities of racism in America. Even though Grimke’s play was first developed and performed over 100 years ago, the themes of the play still highly relevant today.
Read Grimke’s Play here:
By reading more books and plays by Black Authors and Playwrights, readers can not only gain new perspectives on the experiences of others but will become more educated on the Black experience in America and beyond!
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