There's a lot happening in the NYC theater scene right now. For African-American women. And that's revolutionary, radical and right on time. Last night I strolled over to the Joseph Papp Public Theater in NYC to see the play The Good Negro. And when I say stroll I mean "stroll" because I had $20 staff tickets for being good friends with the writer Tracey Scott Wilson and the director Liesl Tommy. I mention this, you know, in case you didn't realize how this blogger was rolling. LOL. In truth, theater tickets these days start at $70, so a $20 ticket for having connections is how I MUST roll.
The Good Negro follows the life of a civil rights leader and the controversy that emerges when he selects a racist incident as a means to event jump-start the Civil Rights Movement. Think Martin Luther King, but don't think Martin Luther King. Think Rosa Parks, but don't think Rosa Parks. Think rumors of King's infidelities and Civil Rights in-fighting… I think I made my point. The Good Negro is a great piece of theater, but this is not a review [I'll save that for after Monday's opening]. This is an opportunity to illiminate some of the women behind the art. I think when discussing theater white men like Miller or Pinter are often used as templates for how to think about the genre. And if not white men, then black men like August Wilson. And, hey, although I try hard not to follow the routine of elevating maleness for the sake of maleness [I consider myself "evolved"], I often fall into that trap.
So in the spirit of Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress and Adrienne Kennedy, let me introduce Tracey Scott Wilson. Or should I say: there's a new Wilson in town. Ms. Wilson is an award-winning playwright. She is the recipient of the prestigious Whiting Award, the Helen Merrill Award and a Kesselring Award. Her play The Story, loosely based on the 1981 Washington Post scandal, was produced across the county and earned several awards. The daughter of a minister, Wilson is an artist interested in exposing the underbelly of the black iconic experience in order to humanize it. She's also interested in exposing how some blacks exploit other blacks to earn recognition from the larger community. Yeh, she "goes there".
Wilson and her director, South African-born Liesl Tommy courageoulsy stage a production of The Good Negro where iconic black leaders do everything within their power to demand for equality in 1960s America while struggling with their human frailities. Liesl Tommy, who grew up in apartheid South Africa and whose father now works for Mandela and the ANC, is an advocate for political theater and The Good Negro was a match made in political utopia for her. Tommy's next project is Eisa Davis' Angela's MixTape, a play with music based on Eisa Davis growing up the niece of uber-socialist Angela Davis.
Like I said, this is an amazing time in NYC… American theater. And what better way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin than to spotlight some amazingly gifted and intelligent theater artists who are women. Go see The Good Negro.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.