Bedford-Stuyvesant

Groundbreaking plays by African-American women featured in Bed-Stuy readings

March 9, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bedford-Stuyvesnt’s Akwaaba Mansion is the setting for New Brooklyn Theatre’s spring reading series. Shown: Members of the cast of series opener “Sleep Over Stories” during last week’s performance. Photo by David Willems

Christina Anderson’s ‘Man in Love’ this Sunday

Plays by five emerging African-American women playwrights are in the spotlight in New Brooklyn Theatre’s innovative spring reading series, The Second Century.

Bedford-Stuyvesant’s charming Akwaaba Mansion is the setting for the second reading of the season, “Man in Love,” by playwright Christina Anderson. “Man in Love” will be performed this Sunday, March 13 at 3 p.m.

The play takes place in a bleak, Depression-era city, where a disparate group of characters—including a white transwoman, a once-popular black nightclub singer and a student with a secret — manage to find love and a good time. But when a series of black female bodies turn up, fear causes the characters to search for protection from potentially dangerous individuals.

Anderson is the recipient of the Aetna New Voices Fellowship at Hartford Stage and was named by American Theatre Magazine as one of the 15 up-and-coming artists “whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.”

Her work has appeared at the Contemporary American Theater Festival, Penumbra, Yale Rep, A.C.T., The Public Theater, Crowded Fire and more. She has received two PONY nominations and a long list of honors and awards.

The Second Century series celebrates the centennial of Angelina Weld Grimké’s “Rachel” (1916), the first play brought to the stage by an African-American woman playwright. The company produced the play – with its eerie presentiment of the “Black Lives Matter” movement – last August.

“There’s a generation of rising black women playwrights out there. We want to help develop their plays,” said Jeff Strabone, the company’s chair.

‘Where we are now’

Last weekend, the second half of the series opened with Wi-Moto Nyoka’s “Sleep Over Stories,” a set of short plays that explore second-class citizenship set in alternate realities involving werewolves, aliens, ghosts and zombies.

Nyoka told the Brooklyn Eagle how “Sleep Over Stories” ties in with the theme of The Second Century.

“Last season the New Brooklyn Theater focused on plays that been published by African American women,” she said. “The reading series and the production of ‘Rachel’ were a courageous look at where we were and how that affects where we are now. This year, with Second Century, the company explores ‘where we are now,’ as does my play.”

Nyoka said she used alternate realities in “Sleep Over Stories” because “reality is subjective and by using alternate realities as template you can explore the contradictions of perspective. Plus, it’s fun and there is the silliness that I feel I have at my disposal. When it comes to sci-fi and horror you make these huge complex emotions physically manifest in the form of a creature or phenomena so there’s already an element of play.”

She added that she couldn’t really explain “the most important thing” that people should know about “Sleep Over Stories.”

“In fact, during the talkback,” Nyoka said, “members of the audience spoke about how they enjoyed that the play was very open to interpretation and asked me questions about how I did that. I have no idea what people should know. Here are some of the questions I am asking in my play: Is sacrifice for the greater good necessary? What makes a villain? Does fighting bring about change? Does it matter who tells the story?”

Merging tough issues with performance

 New Brooklyn Theatre does not shy away from hot button politics. The company has performed site-specific work inside Interfaith Medical Center, a troubled hospital in Bed-Stuy; on a polluted river in Charleston, West Virginia; and in a historic garden threatened by development in Istanbul, Turkey.

During an audience discussion and Q & A following the August performance of Rachel the conversation centered on the repercussions of a people’s repressed history. (A discussion and Q&A follow every performance.)

Samantha Levitt, the company’s literary manager, explained in a release that the playwrights the company sought out possess “bold visions and unique voices who will serve as agents of civic dialogue in the Brooklyn community.”

Tickets are free and available online at the company’s website, newbrooklyntheatre.com. The series will run through June at the Akwaaba Mansion, 347 MacDonough Street, Brooklyn, 11233.