May 2, 2013

Or Does It Explode?

How big of a deal is it that Baltimore's biggest theater has at its helm a Brit, and not just any Brit but Kwame Kwei-Armah, the London-bred son of Afro-Caribbean immigrants from Grenada? If that unique cultural background, which resembles a sort of diasporic ping-pong, sets Kwei-Armah apart from your average LORT artistic director, it seems just as significant that he also happens to be a playwright who runs a theater—only one of a few doing so at his pay grade (I talked to two others a few years back).

Both pedigrees, the cultural and the professional, are salient to the timely profile I've written for the paper of record about him this week. In conjunction with his theater's mounting of Bruce Norris' scathing, deadly serious comedy Clybourne Park (discussed in this space as recently as this), Kwei-Armah has written his own response of sorts, Beneatha's Place, which follows the title character from A Raisin in the Sun, the Hansberry play that inspired Norris, who in turn provoked Kwei-Armah, and so on. It's a fascinating, and risky, gambit for a theater head, but for all the attention it will surely garner, I can't think it's motivated cynically but instead by Kwei-Armah's sincere wish to respond as a self-described pan-Africanist, and a new immigrant to the United States, to things in Clybourne that bugged him. Like:
“I find ‘Clybourne Park’ to be a brilliant play, all that we want a modern play to be —a magnificent catalyst for a debate,” Mr. Kwei-Armah said over dinner at an Afghan restaurant in Mount Vernon, the historic neighborhood where CenterStage has made its home since 1974. “However — and I don’t think Bruce set out to do this — but connotationally, the play says that whites build and blacks destroy.”
Gauntlet thrown. For more, and to read Norris' response, RTWT here.

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