7 Black Playwrights To Love After Black History Month

7 Black Playwrights To Love After Black History Month

As we wrap up Black History Month, I can’t help but look at how these past few years have motivated U.S. African Diaspora into empowerment and against mass discrimination. From the #BlackLivesMatter to the #SayHerName movements, the Black community has made significant strides in politics, science, business, and the arts for centuries now.

At ShawChicago Theater Company, we like to promote the works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries in Chicago. With this in mind, I’d like to recommend to you some African American contemporaries of our favourite Irish guy (Bernard Shaw, of course.) They’re all great contributors to American art, culture and history and hopefully you’ll see some of these greats on our stage in the near future!


James-Baldwin_Troubled-Childhood-redo_HD_768x432-16x9Original photo source: biography.com

A classic figure in literature, James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) did leave the United States to find better acceptance in Paris on grounds of race and sexuality, but his works continue to resonate with the Afro-American experience. While he may be famous for pieces like Go Tell It On The Mountain or Giovanni’s Room (a personal favourite of mine), he was also a playwright. His first play, The Amen Corner, was published in 1954 and details the trials and survival of people in poverty-stricken Harlem. His other landmark play was Blues For Mister Charlie (1955), which was inspired by the violent murder of Emmett Till.


Ntozake Shange

Original photo source: Wikipedia

Be sure to read for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange (1948 –      ). It’s a raw and powerful collection of monologues, cataloging the Black woman’s experience. It’s a tear jerker, but by the end of play you do realise the powerful intersectionality of Black womanhood. I would especially recommend the monologue Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid All My Stuff. Definitely read it, not watch the Tyler Perry version.


Lorraine Hansberry Quote

Original photo source: Wikipedia

My introduction to Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965) was when my mom took my brother and myself to see A Raisin In The Sun with Kanye West, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan. They had to hold the curtain because Hillary Clinton was in the audience. I was maybe 9 or 10, but now, at 24, I think anyone who hasn’t felt like they belong in a certain space because of their difference can relate to Hansberry’s words. I also admire Hansberry for speaking out against homophobia and misogyny when sexual and gender rights were still taboo in the U.S. Her own sexuality non-normative, I also love this quote: “I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced…. There may be women to emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma.” Some other plays to check out from her are The Drinking Gourd and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, the latter of which ran for 101 shows and closed the night she died from her battle with cancer.


Langston Hughes Quote


Original photo source: The Front Porch

Although he was best known for his poems, Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) was also the librettist for Troubled Island, an opera composed by the first known classical African American composer William Grant Still. Detailing the Haitian Revolution, this opera was the Black opera to be performed by a U.S. major opera, in 1949 at the New York City Opera. Although it has never been staged since, it’s still great to listen to. Hughes also collaborated with the wonderful Zora Neal Hurston to write Mule Bone, another play I’d recommend. Other plays include Emperor of Haiti, Tambourines of Glory and Black Nativity.


Photo source: Watch The Yard.

Speaking of Zora Neale Hurston (1881 – 1960), I first saw her literature on my mom’s shelves, right next to the Autobiography of Malcom X. I was kid and had no idea as to what a gem she had. Another cornerstone of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was not only an accomplished novelist, but also a great playwright. Apart from her collaboration with Hughes for Mule Bone, she wrote many plays including De Turkey and de Law, Forty Yards, even a musical called Meet The Mama.


Alice Childress Quote

Original photo source: 100 Pages.

I still haven’t read anything by Alice Childress (1916 – 1994) as yet, but I admire her accomplishments as a genius writer. She made her Broadway debut on 1944 in the play Anna Lucasta, which became the longest-running play with African American themes. Five years later, she wrote, directed and starred in her own play, Florence. She won several awards for her writing, including the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Paul Robeson Award. So put this writer on your list, because she’s on mine!


Felix Morriseau-Leroy Quote

Original photo source: Île en île

Haitian immigrant Félix Morisseau-Leroy (1912 – 1998) was treasured amongst his community for speaking out against the Duvalier dictatorship. The first international Haitian Creole writer, he is considered a major figure of Haitian Renaissance, an era of Hatian-centric art in the 1940s. His best known play is a Creole translation of the Greek tragedy Antigone, entitled Antigone in Creole. The play premiered in Paris in 1953, and was set in a Haitian village, with  His writing became a foundation for Haitian empowerment during the violent times that further rocked the country.  He was also known for his poetry, including Boat People.


Written By Rohan-Zhou-Lee.


You Never Can Tell Cast!

You Never Can Tell Cast!

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All your favorite actors are back for the Season Finale! You Never Can Tell includes some of the ShawFam greats, like Mary Michell, Barbara Zahora, Christian Gray, as well as other Chicago favorites, including an actor who’s making his professional debut! Buy your tickets NOW!

CHRISTIAN GRAY (Valentine) happily returns to ShawChicago, where last season he played Don Juan in Don Juan in Hell, Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Bill Walker in Major Barbara.   This season he has played Edgar Allan Poe in The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe and Bertie Wooster in Jeeves at Sea (First Folio Theatre, Artistic Associate).  He has performed with over 20 Chicago area theatres, including Court Theatre, Remy Bumppo, and Writers’ Theatre. Regional credits include Fort Worth Shakespeare (TX), Kentucky Repertory, and Pennsylvania Stage Company.   Film/television/commercial credits include: Plastic (FPPI Films: Best Supporting Actor – Indie Horror Film Festival Award, Chicago Horror Film Festival Nomination), Reclamation (NTG Productions), Normal (Rule 42 Productions); Horseshoe Casino, Stein Garden and Gifts, Sprint/Nextel (spec).  He will appear in the upcoming films The Judas Run (Sigsaly Entertainment), Day 1 (Skibo Films), Drifted (Boomstick Films), and the pilot The Blackwood Prophecies (J & R, Two 9 Productions).  Love to Lydia!

BARBARA ZAHORA (Gloria Clandon) is excited to return to ShawChicago!  Earlier this season she had the opportunity to direct for ShawChicago for the first time (Private Lives), and she was seen as Barbara Undershaft in Major Barbara last season.  Some of her favorite roles for the company have included Rosalind in James Barrie’s Quartets,  Maud and Carlotta in Coward in Two Keys, Candida Morell in Candida, Jennifer Dubedat in The Doctor’s Dilemma, Nora Reilly in John Bull’s Other Island, and Maggie Wylie in What Every Woman Knows.   Barbara’s other stage credits include  All My Sons and Les Liaisons Dangereuses (American Players Theatre); Hamlet, Heartbreak House and Misalliance (Writers’ Theatre); Dancing at Lughnasa and Mrs. Coney (Oak Park Festival Theatre); The Country Girl (Illinois Theatre Center); Marionette Macbeth, The Moliere Comedies, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard II, The School for Scandal, and All’s Well That Ends Well (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); Lady Windermere’s Fan (Northlight Theatre); A Christmas Carol, Wit (Goodman Theatre); Hard Times (Lookingglass Theatre); and many appearances with the Shakespeare Project of Chicago, where she is the current Associate Artistic Director.  She is a current visiting assistant professor at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College for the Performing Arts. Barbara is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association.

SKIP LUNDBY (Fergus Crampton) is pleased to be performing with ShawChicago again after having appeared as an English Bishop in Geneva earlier this season. Skip has performed in ShawChicago’s Major Barbara, The Importance of Being Earnest,  Man and Superman, Saint Joan, The Philanderer, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Paradise Lost, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, The Millionairess and Pygmalion. He played King Pellinore in Camelot for Light Opera Works and has performed in Chamber Opera Chicago’s Persuasion. And, as always, he thanks Rosemary for her love and support.

MARY MICHELL (Mrs. Clandon) appeared last season as Lady Britomart in Major Barbara, Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, and Dona Ana in Don Juan in Hell.   She has performed with ShawChicago since 1999, when she appeared as Mrs. Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan. Favorite roles for ShawChicago include Catherine the Great in Great Catherine, Mary Todd Lincoln in Look Away and ensemble member in James Barrie’s Quartets. She is an Artistic Associate at Oak Park Festival Theatre, where she has appeared in Seascape, Dancing at Lughnasa and Faith Healer. Other Chicago credits include work with The Shakespeare Project of Chicago, Bailiwick Repertory, Chicago Dramatists, Drury Lane, The Harper Theater, Illinois Theatre Center, The Ivanhoe Theatre and The Academy Playhouse. Regional work includes What the Butler Saw at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Play It Again, Sam at Actors Theatre of Louisville; A Man for All Seasons and Bedtime Story at Mummers Theatre in Oklahoma City; Butterflies are Free at Cherry County Playhouse. Mary performed the narration to Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Chicago Symphony. She is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.

JACK HICKEY (Bill the WaiterYou Never Can Tell marks Jack’s twentieth production with the company. Earlier this season, Jack appeared as the Russian Commissar in Geneva.

Last season, Jack played Andrew Undershaft in the critically acclaimed, Major Barbara. Other ShawChicago credits include The Devil in Don Juan in Hell, Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion, Lickcheese in Widower’s Houses, as well as roles in Mrs. Warren’s Profession,  Man and SupermanSt. Joan,  Androcles and the LionCandida, The Philanderer, The Doctor’s Dilemma, The Apple Cart, and John Bull’s Other Island. 

Jack is the Artistic Director of the Oak Park Festival Theatre, and recently appeared as Sheriff Heck Tate in their record breaking production of To Kill A Mockingbird.  This summer he will be featured as Col. Pickering in Pygmalion, and as Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew. Other roles there include; King Claudius in Hamlet, Antonio in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, Charlie in Seascape, Michael (Equity Jeff Nomination) in Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind, Falstaff in The History of King Henry the Fourth, Fluellen in Henry V, Teddy in Faith Healer, Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac. Jack is always happy to work with Robert Scogin and to say the words of G.B.Shaw.

ALLISON COOK (Dolly Clandon) is a Chicago-based actor, singer, and instrumentalist.  She has performed with Court Theatre, Shakespeare Project of Chicago, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Rude Mechanicals, Signal Ensemble Theatre, and CUBE Ensemble.  As a mezzo-soprano, Allison has been heard with the CSO at the Ravinia Festival, Manhattan School of Music, Siena Music Festival in Italy, Newberry Consort, Marion Consort, American Chamber Opera, and on the Big Ten television network.  As an actor, she has performed in three languages (French, English, and Mandarin Chinese), and her credits extend into film, dance, and recording.  Graduate of Northwestern University.

ZACHARY PAUL LAWRENCE (Philip Clandon) is honored and thrilled to make his professional theatre debut here with ShawChicago. A recent grad of the Birmingham School of Acting in England, he couldn’t think of a better place to join in on the fun. Whilst training, Zack had the pleasure of being able to perform in theatres around Birmingham in productions of Rent, The Winter’s Tale, The Broken Heart, Little Women, and Gorky’s Summerfolk.

JONATHAN NICHOLS (Finch M’Comas) was last seen as Herr Battler in Geneva at the start ShawChicago’s current season, and is delighted to return to help bookend it with this production. Previous ShawChicago credits include Baudricourt and Dunois in Saint Joan, Adrian Blenderbland in The Millionairess, Snobby Price in Major Barbara, Merriman in The Importance of Being Earnest, Nicola in Arms and the Man, as well as numerous ShawChicago outreach performances. Outside of ShawChicago, he has had the pleasure of working with Remy Bumppo Theatre, Silk Road Rising, First Folio Theatre, Shakespeare on the Green (Lake Forest, IL), The Shakespeare Project of Chicago, and Oak Park Festival Theatre. Regionally he has performed with Door Shakespeare in Door County, WI and will continue the U.S. tour of the court room drama Defamation for a second season later this fall.

JESSE DORNAN (Walter Bohun) is so thankful to work with ShawChicago. Other Chicago credits include: SS! A Midsummer Nights Dream (CST) Fallen Angels and Both Your Houses (Remy Bumppo), La Bête (Trap Door), Scotland Road (Boho Theatre),  Spike Heels (Brown Paper Box Co.), and Making God Laugh (Fox Valley Repertory). Regional credits include: King Lear and Comedy of Errors (Door Shakespeare Festival); Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet (Nebraska Shakespeare Festival); The Seafarer, The Government Inspector, and A Christmas Carol (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre); A Midsummer Nights Dream (Pioneer Memorial Theater); Glengarry Glen Ross, Clybourne  Park, and You Can’t Take It With You (Asolo Repertory Theatre). Jesse has an MFA from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.  His voice can be heard on Kansas radio as well as the audiobook series, The Blades of Acktar.