Why Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men?

Why Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men?

Posted by: Robert Falls at 09/24/2012 12:10 PM

This Saturday we kick-off the Owen Theatre season with the first performance of Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, Dael Orlandersmith’s riveting one-woman exploration of the cycle of violence and abuse in men. To say it’s powerful is a simplistic understatement—in the play, Ms. Orlandersmith embodies five male characters, all survivors of abuse, and presents their stories with a brutal honesty that spares not even the most heart wrenching details. But nevertheless, it is a powerful play, one that promises a powerful experience for audiences who will not only experience a breathtaking performance from Ms. Orlandersmith, but will also be asked to confront one of the most taboo subjects of our time.

We’re extremely proud to present this play, and below is a letter from our Artistic 
Director Robert Falls on why we chose to present it as one of our nine plays this season:

Playwright/performer Dael Orlandersmith was first seen by Goodman audiences in 2009’s Stoop Stories, her engrossing remembrance of the denizens of her East Harlem childhood. An acclaimed writer and performer, Orlandersmith has garnered an international reputation for her unflinching portrayals of marginalized characters who are desperate to create their own identities, despite overwhelming obstacles. Rendered with stunning lyricism, savage intelligence and unexpected humor, her plays—including the Pulitzer Prize finalist Yellowman and the Obie Award–winning Beauty’s Daughter—explore everything from the ravages of childhood abuse to the impact of internalized racism.  

Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men was co-commissioned by the Goodman and Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where it premiered earlier this year. In it, Orlandersmith turns her attention to a subject often shrouded in silence: the devastating impact of sexual and physical abuse on boys, and the mark that such abuse leaves on them as adult survivors. Embodying six men of different ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds, Orlandersmith takes us into a world of violence, addiction and mental illness—but also one of courage, resilience and transcendent dreams. Described by one critic in its California premiere as “fierce, uncompromising and alive with sharply observed, humanizing detail,” Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men is a difficult but eminently rewarding journey, one that sheds a harsh but often compassionate light on human frailty and the damaging cycle of abuse as passed down from one generation to the next.

In creating her latest work, Orlandersmith has drawn upon a number of primary resources, including Victims No Longer, Michael Lew’s revelatory book about male victims of sexual abuse. In her preface to the book, therapist Ellen Bass describes the challenges faced by men who are grappling with a history of abuse:

Courage is a word that has been applied to men since recorded history—and its meaning has had something to do with risking one’s life, health, or well-being to kill or save others. This standard has left men feeling compelled to sacrifice themselves (and sometimes destroy others) in order to be worthy. And this kind of sacrifice is incompatible with recovery…. There’s another kind of courage, though. The courage to be vulnerable, to feel your feelings, to give and receive help.

By representing her subjects with clarity and compassion, and by challenging our own notions of masculinity, Orlandersmith invites that other kind of courage—if not always for the characters she brings to life, then for those of us who experience their stories with an open heart. It is with tremendous pride that we present this overwhelmingly affecting performance piece to you.


  • Posted by: Joseph Tully at 09/30/2012 08:04 AM
    I wouldn't have seen Dael's performance had I not been a subscriber. I am a survivor of childhood trauma due to sustained abuse while growing up in a violent home. I "came out" at the post discussion last night. It was riveting and stirring. A bit too stirring, but yet good for me. I had a good cry last night and this morning. When one learns to cry without shame, the healing of it all is refreshing rather than depressing. For that, I thank the Dael and the Goodman Theater. I will bring my writing students to see this performance. Thanks again.
  • Posted by: Goodman Theatre at 10/04/2012 03:35 PM
    Thank you for sharing your experience, Joesph. It is very humbling to see how Dael's play is touching audiences.
  • Posted by: karen at 10/11/2012 06:08 AM
    As a victim of female sexual abuse.perpetrated by a nun ( something that most people either do not believe happens or are not aware of..)..the play was hard to watch. Things do not end up pretty. And I now realize that if the cycle of abuse does stop with the victim... as in my case....the victim may unconsciously allow other types of abuse into their lives such as spousal emotional abuse..My case against the nun went thru the courts and we were again abused by the religious order who did anything they could to destroy us emotionally by initially negotiating in bad faith and in the end... not even being able to say that the order was sorry that it happened... even though the nun had been treated for a very serious mental illness before being relocated to the Chicago area to be let loose as a piano teacher operating out of a Catholic School. teaching in private. Thank you Goodman Theatre for having the courage to produce this play. And thank you to the playwright for putting 200% into her work.
  • Posted by: Thomas Thixton at 10/31/2012 10:51 PM
    Dael channeled composite personalities from her experiences at homeless shelters brilliantly, but for my kid and I, a pair of only 8 men in an audience of over 80, it was not clear what her true goal was. Women trying to solve the brokenness of men is rather like men trying to solve the brokenness of women; makes little sense in a vacuum. Dael's talent is clear, but when combined with a gaggle of white women, seems like an attempt at monetizing, albeit poorly executed. Dael's performance left standing without the panel session of three spouting statistics would have worked. Add in the sadly choreographed panel afterwards, and I felt I should have been paid to attend. Pining the pocketbooks of the rich white women in the audience is a noble cause; Oprah did it, so why not Deal. Seeking dialog on a truly sad state of minority lads in our neighborhoods and this is the result; sad.

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