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.