Tuesday, January 17, 2012

VENUS: The Playwright and the Play

Suzan-Lori Parks became the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Drama (2002), for her play Topdog/Underdog.  She once wrote a play every day for a year, which resulted in 365 Plays/365 Days, a project that created one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theatre history, appearing in over 700 theatres worldwide in 2007.

Besides her work as a playwright, Parks is a poet, novelist, screenwriter (her first was for Spike Lee), performance artist and musician.  She is at work on two musical theatre projects, including a musical about Ray Charles.  She conducted one of the last printed interviews with playwright August Wilson, wrote the preface to his last play (Radio Golf) and has directed one of his plays.  Her college writing teacher was James Baldwin. 

Her much performed play, Venus, was an OBIE (Off-Broadway) award winner in 1996.  It was co-commissioned by the Women's Project and Productions, Inc. of New York and Life on the Water, San Francisco.  It was first produced by the Joseph Papp Public Theater and Yale Repertory Theatre.  It starred Adina Porter as Venus (she is currently seen as Lettie Mae Thornton on HBO's True Blood,), with Peter Francis James as the Baron Docteur, Sandra Shipley as the Mother Showman and Mel Johnson, Jr. as the Negro Resurrectionist.

“It’s a dynamic play," says HSU production director Jean O'Hara.  "Even if we sat down in chairs and read it, it would be a phenomenal play. Anyone who read this play as a director would want to direct it, it is so well-written. And anyone into performing and pushing the boundaries of what they can do would want to perform in it. The playwright has made our job easy, so now we bring it to life and create this world so everyone can be part of this conversation. Ultimately it’s an opportunity for all of us to decolonize our minds, so we don’t have to repeat all this—that’s her invitation.”

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