Contemporary Classics Conversations

Hello Everyone-

When pondering the focus of our inaugural Contemporary Classics conversation, it was a very easy and obvious choice: the playwright Dominique Morisseau. For those of you who are regular (or even occasional) theatre-goers in Connecticut, you likely will have heard of her. This past season, her plays were produced in three of the major regional theatres in the state, and another will be presented in a small professional company in New Haven in spring, 2020. Her play, Paradise Blue, was presented at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven last fall; Detroit ’67 at Hartford Stage Company this past winter; and Skeleton Crew earlier this summer at Westport Country Playhouse. For those of you who missed these shows, Skeleton Crew will be at the Collective Consciousness Theatre Company March 19-April 5, 2020. In addition, her play, Pipeline, was aired on PBS’ “Live at Lincoln Center” this past spring.

According to her website, Dominique Morisseau is the author of The Detroit Project (A 3-Play Cycle) which includes the following plays: Skeleton Crew, Paradise Blue, and Detroit ’67. Additional plays include: Pipeline, Sunset Baby; Blood at the Root and Follow Me To Nellie’s. She is also the TONY nominated book writer on the new Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations. Dominique is alumna of The Public Theater Emerging Writer’s Group, Women’s Project Lab, and Lark Playwrights Workshop and has developed work at Sundance Lab, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Eugene O’Neil Playwrights Conference (in our very own New London, CT!). She most recently served as Co-Producer on the Showtime series “Shameless” (3 seasons). Additional awards include: Spirit of Detroit Award, PoNY Fellowship, Sky-Cooper Prize, TEER Trailblazer Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, Audelco Awards, NBFT August Wilson Playwriting Award, Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, OBIE Award (2), Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellowship, Variety’s Women of Impact for 2017-18, and a recent MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow.

As you can see, a very impressive, impactful playwright! I have a quick anecdote to share with you regarding this impact, and the power of theatre to bring a community together in ways unforeseen and very much needed. As a theatre professor, my students are always assigned to go see a professional production of a play, and to write a paper on it focused on an aspect of whichever course they are in. Many of my students have never been to a professional production prior to this assignment. Such was the case with a student this past fall semester. An American citizen originally from Jamaica, she decided to go see Detroit ’67 at Hartford Stage, as we were studying the play in our class. She absolutely loved the production and the playgoing, live theatre experience, but the story she shared in class about it was one of the impact of the shared experience that happened in the lobby. She related how, during intermission, she was discussing the story of the play with a few other African-American women (whom she did not know but had met there) when a Caucasian women approached the group and asked about what they were discussing. The women stated (without malice or judgement, merely honestly and earnestly) that because this story was from 50 years ago, she didn’t see why it needed to be told, that we had moved past this already. According to my student, the women in the original group began to explain the current reality many in the African-American community face today, in America, on a daily basis. My student said it wasn’t an angry talk, that it was an exciting talk, it was insightful for everyone involved, and it was that impact that really made her love being a part of the theatrical experience. She had “no idea that things like that happened anywhere!” At the end of intermission, they all went into the theatre for the 2nd half, and on their way out afterwards, saw each other again. They greeted each other, thanked each other for the conversation, and went on their separate ways, more aware, more conscious of their community, and certainly more connected than they had been when they arrived that evening.

So, please join our Contemporary Classics Conversation. Have you seen a Dominique Morisseau play, in our state theatres or elsewhere? What did those plays make you think about? Have you had a similar lobby experience when attending a play? We look forward to hearing from you, and continuing our Conversation!

Geoffrey Sheehan

Artistic Associate at Capital Classics Theatre Company