Uplifting Powerful Voices

Explore compelling stories that celebrate the African American experience written by some of America’s most influential playwrights.

Plays to Read (curated by Whitney Brantley and David Rainey)

Ain’t No Mo’ – Jordan Cooper
A provocative and satirical play that takes audiences on a thought-provoking journey through the African American experience. Set against the backdrop of a fantastical flight to an imagined African utopia, the play offers a sharp and humorous commentary on contemporary social and political issues. With a mix of absurdity and biting wit, Ain’t No Mo’ challenges stereotypes and prompts reflection on the complexities of identity and belonging in today’s world.

Intimate Apparel – Lynn Nottage
The play centers around Esther, a skilled African American seamstress, who navigates love, longing, and societal expectations as she creates exquisite lingerie for a diverse clientele. With a keen focus on the intricacies of relationships and the pursuit of dreams, Intimate Apparel offers a timeless exploration of the human experience, filled with nuance and rich historical detail.

Ohio State Murders – Adrienna Kennedy
A riveting psychological drama that weaves together the haunting narratives of Suzanne Alexander, an African American author, as she revisits her traumatic past. Set against the backdrop of Ohio State University in the 1950s, the play delves into themes of racism, identity, and the consequences of violence. With a nonlinear structure and surreal elements, this play is a gripping exploration of memory, survival, and the enduring impact of personal history.

The Piano Lesson – August Wilson
A compelling drama that explores the complex legacy of a family in Pittsburgh during the 1930s. The Charles siblings grapple with the painful history embodied by a cherished family heirloom, an intricately carved piano with deep ties to their ancestors’ struggles as slaves. As they navigate issues of heritage, identity, and the cost of holding onto the past, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play unfolds as a powerful and poetic exploration of the African American experience.

Primary Trust – Eboni Booth
Kenneth has lived the same routine every day for the past 15 years. During the day, he goes to work at a bookstore; at night, he goes to a tiki bar with his friend Bert. However, when the bookstore goes out of business, Kenneth is forced to push past his boundaries and reconcile with his past. This tender-hearted tale embraces old friends, new beginnings, and the smallest of chances.

Purlie – Ossie Davis
Purlie is a lively and poignant play that unfolds against the backdrop of the American South during the civil rights era. This Tony Award-winning play tells the story of a Black preacher’s machinations to reclaim his inheritance and win back his church. The play originally premiered on Broadway in 1961 and starred Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Alan Alda, Godfrey Cambridge, Sorrell Booke and Beah Richards. For their 100th performance, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the company and celebrated the milestone with them.

Ruined – Lynn Nottage
“Ruined” by Lynn Nottage is a powerful drama that unfolds against the backdrop of war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. The play focuses on Mama Nadi, a shrewd businesswoman who runs a bar and brothel where women seek refuge and survival amid the chaos of civil conflict. Nottage’s storytelling is gripping and compassionate, shedding light on the resilience and vulnerabilities of women affected by the ravages of war. Through richly drawn characters and poignant dialogue, “Ruined” explores themes of exploitation, resilience, and the enduring human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity. It’s a stirring portrayal of survival and hope in the midst of unimaginable suffering.

Sweat – Domonique Motisseau
A compelling drama that dives into the lives of working-class Americans in a Rust Belt town grappling with economic decline. Set in a local bar where friends and coworkers gather, the play explores the deep-seated bonds among its characters as their friendships are tested by layoffs and economic hardships. Morisseau’s writing is poignant and authentic, capturing the frustrations and aspirations of individuals whose livelihoods are threatened. Through powerful storytelling and authentic dialogue, “Sweat” examines themes of loyalty, betrayal, and the complexities of race and class in contemporary America. It’s a timely and thought-provoking work that resonates with the challenges and resilience of blue-collar communities.

Slave Play – Jerome O. Harris
“Slave Play” by Jeremy O. Harris is a provocative and unflinching exploration of race, sexuality, and power dynamics in contemporary America. Set on a plantation that serves as a therapy center for interracial couples, the play challenges its audience with uncomfortable truths and confrontations. Harris masterfully delves into the complexities of desire, trauma, and identity through a blend of satire and raw emotion, pushing the boundaries of theatrical convention. With sharp dialogue and bold staging, “Slave Play” sparks important conversations about the lingering effects of history and the complexities of interracial relationships in today’s society. It’s a fearless and thought-provoking piece that leaves a lasting impression on all who experience it.

Shuffle Along – Aubrey Lyles
This groundbreaking musical by Aubrey Lyles and Flournoy Miller, takes audiences on a vibrant journey through the Harlem Renaissance. Set in the 1920s, the play chronicles the challenges and triumphs of a group of African American artists as they come together to create the first all-black Broadway musical. With infectious jazz rhythms, dynamic choreography, and a narrative that celebrates resilience and creativity, this musical is a dazzling tribute to the pioneers who paved the way for racial integration in American entertainment.

Thoughts of a Colored Man – Keenan Scott II
a poignant and vibrant exploration of the diverse and interconnected lives of Black men in contemporary America. Set in the pulsating heart of Brooklyn, the play delves into the individual experiences, dreams, and struggles of seven men as they navigate love, friendship, and societal expectations. With a powerful mix of humor, poetry, and raw authenticity, this groundbreaking work celebrates the multifaceted aspects of Black identity and offers a compelling glimpse into the human spirit.

Topdog/Underdog – Suzan Lori Parks
A Pulitzer Prize-winning drama that revolves around the complex relationship between two African American brothers, Lincoln and Booth. Living together in a small apartment, their struggles with sibling rivalry, identity, and the weight of their shared history unfold in a gripping narrative. As the brothers grapple with issues of loyalty and betrayal, the play delves into themes of race, family, and the pursuit of the American dream.

Trouble in Mind – Alice Childress
A thought-provoking and incisive exploration of racial dynamics within the world of theater during the 1950s. The play unfolds as a group of Black actors rehearse for a Broadway play that tackles issues of racism, only to confront the very prejudices it seeks to expose. As tensions rise and personal truths come to light, “Trouble in Mind” becomes a powerful and timely commentary on the complexities of racial representation, authenticity, and the challenges faced by Black artists in the pursuit of equality and justice.

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