New Voices in the American Theatre

by Julie Haverkate

in Events,TCG Books

Post image for New Voices in the American Theatre

In celebration of its 50th anniversary TCG has partnered with The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space to present TCG Playwrights in Conversation – a series of readings and discussions – that will occur over the course of this anniversary year. To date, TCG Books has published over 235 playwrights, and as a publisher of new plays and emerging playwrights, one of its main objectives is to bring new literary voices to public attention.

In this vein, the first of our four anniversary events, New Voices in the American Theatre, brings together three new voices –David Adjmi, Young Jean Lee and Tarell Alvin McCraneyto read and discuss their work with moderator David Cote, Time Out New York’s theater editor.

What’s so exciting about these three is that they are all, in their varying ways, interested in exploring modes – racial, gender, political, sexual, religious – of identity and assimilation:

David Adjmi’s Stunning, a literal, heightened work with a sharp sense of humor, is set in the nicheBrooklyn Jewish community in which he grew up, and follows a cloistered sixteen year-old Syrian Jew married to a much older man. When Lily hires a gay African American maid, she is forced to grapple with the identity she has created for herself – one fabricated out of an intense fear of unbelonging.

I felt Other within this Other. Growing up I felt my sense of alterity very excruciatingly. I’m a gay, eccentric, arty person. In the world in general, I feel weird. But in this [Syrian Jewish] community – which has a very specific set of codes, values and structure – I felt suffocated.
– David Adjmi, interview in Time Out New York

In a so-called post-racial America, Young Jean Lee has satirized Christian churches and Asian Americans alike in her plays Church and Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven. In The Shipment, the Korean-American playwright challenges notions of identity politics by working with black actors to create an eclectically structured play – one that includes stand-up comedy, song and dance and sketches – that explores African-American stereotypes, culture and minstrelsy in the style of deadpan surrealism.

I got an e-mail from someone who basically wrote, “Now in the age of Obama, do we really need to talk about this ‘race stuff’ anymore?” and that statement really blew me away.  For centuries, from minstrel shows to stand-up comics, white Americans expected black people to entertain them.  [a little tongue-in-cheek] Now that the president is black, are some people thinking in the back of their minds, “Oh, there’s this black guy on television every day, why isn’t he singing and dancing for me?”
 – Young Jean Lee, “An Artistic Statement”

Collectively titled The Brother/Sister Plays, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s three interconnected works set in mythical San Pere, Louisiana draw loosely on West African myths to create highly spiritual, lyrical plays. Utilizing unconventional storytelling – actors speak, rather than perform, their stage directions – McCraney explores the journey to womanhood, the discovery of sexuality and the bonds of brotherhood in a raw, whimsical – even ironic – style.

I started to think sociologically. I said, wait a minute, the man who told me this story [the African myth of Oya/Oba] was of Puerto Rican descent – meaning that his blood was mixed with African and Spanish. This story [In the Red and Brown Water] should be born of that same heritage. It’s African, but it’s also Yerma – very much that [Federico García] Lorca yearning. They’re so close. They talk to each other.
– Tarell Alvin McCraney, interview in American Theatre

To have these three playwrights – each individually described by critics as provocateurs providing some of the most exceptional writing of this generation – in one room, reading from their work and in conversation with one another, is sure to be an enlightening and dynamic experience.

Please join TCG at The Greene Space in New York City on October 24th for New Voices in the American Theatre. Tickets and other information, including a live video webcast of the event, can be found here.