15 Plays by Black Playwrights Jeremy O. Harris Thinks You Should Read: The Golden Collection

The following 15 plays/play collections by Black playwrights make up the Golden Collection, curated by playwright Jeremy O. Harris, who has announced plans to donate the collection to libraries and community centers across the country. He  named it after his grandfather Golden Harris.

In roughly alphabetical order by title*, the scripts are:

Alice Childress, Selected Plays

The plays are: 1. Florence;  2. Gold Through The Trees; 3. Trouble in mind;  4. Wedding band : a love/hate story in black and white; 5. Wine in the wilderness.
Childress (1916-1994) an actress and a playwright, was the first African American woman to have a play professionally produced in New York City, “Gold Through the Trees,” in 1952, and the first woman to win an Obie for Best Play, for “Trouble in Mind,” in 1956, which is about the troubled Broadway production of a fictional anti-lynching play. Roundabout is bringing “Trouble in Mind” to Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre sometime “in Winter 2021/22.” This will mark Childress’ Broadway debut as an playwright (she had several Broadway credits as an actress.)

Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara.

Semi-biographical subversive comedy about growing up Black and gay. In my review of the 2014 production at Playwrights Horizons, I called it a funny, bawdy and poignant collection of short plays, comedy sketches, and meta fiddling around that may at first glance seem barely connected, but are worth a second glance. It’s worth noting that this play seems to have greatly influenced Slave Play, which O’Hara directed.

The Colored Museum by George C. Wolfe.

Its eleven “exhibits” undermine black stereotypes old and new, and return to the facts of what being black means

Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays by Derek Walcott

Nobel Prize-winning St. Lucian poet and playwright (1930-2017) wrote this play (as the others in the collection) for his Trinidad Theatre Workshop. The play centers on a character named Makak, who despises himself for being black, until, after being imprisoned for destroying things in a local market, he dreams in jail of a series of ugly adventures with a white goddess

Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith

, based on interviews of a wide range of who experienced or observed the 1991 Crown Heights racial riots. In my review of the 2019 revival at Signature, I wrote: It would be hard to overstate the city-wide trauma that occurred in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in August, 1991, nor the power of “Fires in the Mirror,” the groundbreaking documentary play about it nine months later at the Public, which introduced New York theatergoers to the astonishing theater artist Anna Deavere Smith.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

. Shange (1948-2018), a prolific playwright and poet who is best known for this “choreopoem” which ran for 742 thrilling performances on Broadway from 1976-1978.   In my review of the 2019 revival at the Public Theater, I wrote of the seven women who brought the colors of the rainbow back to a stage through dance and song and nursery rhymes, through collective storytelling and individual tales ugly or sweet about the lives of women of color, delivered in verse.

Fucking A by Suzan-Lori Parks

in The Red Letter Plays A riff on Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter.

Funnyhouse of a Negro by Adrienne Kennedy

, available in Adrienne Kennedy Reader. The 89-year-old playwright is best known for this play, which premiered in 1964 and won an Obie Award. It focuses on a woman named Sarah’s internal struggle with her racial identity, as manifested by such disparate characters as Queen Victoria, the Duchess of Hapsburg, Patrice Lumumba, and Jesus Christ. In my review of a 2016 production of this one act play at Signature (in a program that also featured one acts by Edward Albee and Maria Irene Fornes) Much of what’s on stage is happening in Sarah’s head, which explains the swirl of sentences endlessly repeated, and the nightmarish imagery.

Is God Is by Aleshea Harris

in Is God Is / What to Send Up When It Goes Down. Twin sisters undertake a dangerous journey to exact revenge upon their father at the behest of their ailing mother. In my review of the 2018 production at Soho Rep,I called it an intriguing if sometimes disconcerting mix of genres and allusions and tones that marks a noteworthy Off-Broadway debut of a playwright we’ll be hearing from.

Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry

in Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays: The Drinking Gourd/What Use Are Flowers?  This is the final Broadway play by Hansberry (1930-1965), best known for A Raisin in the Sun.  It focuses on Tshembe Matoseh, living in England with a white English wife and a newborn child, who has returned for his father’s funeral in his (unnamed) African homeland, and becomes embroiled in its  turmoil. ln my review of the 2016 production for the National Theatre,which was streamed online earlier this year, I wrote that it is set in an Africa struggling against British colonialism. But some of the issues the playwright explores make it feel especially timely: It argues for racial reckoning, questions the value of good intentions, and dramatizes the complex choices in a time of crisis.

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall.

The story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night alive, in room 306 in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  In my review of the 2011 production of this play, which marked Hall’s Broadway debut, I revealed that the playwright introduces a twist that changes “The Mountaintop” from a biographical drama into the realm of the supernatural, but noted her fine ear for both the vernacular and for the soaring oratory of the pulpit

An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

in Appropriate/An Octoroon: Plays. A modern take on an old melodramaabout what was called miscegenation (the mixing of the races) focusing on a man who is one-eighth Negro. Jacobs-Jenkins used the characters, plot and much of the dialogue from Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, which premiered in 1859, but angles it to critique race in America, both past and present. The staging of the 2014 production at Soho Rep was memorable, with a Black actor slowly applying white makeup to perform in whiteface.

Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris

The play, which has been nominated this year for 12 Tony Awards, is officially described: The Old South lives on at the MacGregor Plantation—in the breeze, in the cotton fields…and in the crack of the whip.  A more accurate description: Three interracial couples try to have sex and talk about it.  In my review of both the 2018 Off-Broadway production and its 2019 Broadway transfer, I found it promising, provocative, and well produced, but too derivative, too long, too full of ideas that were not fully or clearly developed.

Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Nottage won her second Pulitzer Prize in Drama for this play. In one of the poorest cities in America, Reading, Pennsylvania, a group of down-and-out factory workers struggle to keep their present lives in balance, ignorant of the financial devastation looming in their near future. In my review of the 2016 Off-Broadway production as well as the 2017 Broadway transfer, I wrote:  Like Grapes of Wrath, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat offers a devastating look at social and economic breakdown, told not with rants or statistics, but through a riveting tale about good people in a bad situation. If they are victims of the de-industrial revolution, Nottage isn’t as concerned with answering how did this happen as in bringing us into the world of her credible, engaging characters

We Are Proud To Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915 (Modern Plays) by Jackie Sibblies Drury

Drury was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fairview. In this earlier play, a group of actors gather to tell the little-known story of the first genocide of the twentieth century. As the full force of a horrific past crashes into the good intentions of the present, what seemed a far-away place and time is suddenly all too close to home.

*While the donated Golden Collection will be physical books, the links above as much as possible are to ebooks. Your purchase through those links may generate a small commission, which helps support my work.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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