Onstage, a proliferation of African-American voices

When “Broke-ology’’ opened last week at Lyric Stage Company, with an all-black cast performing a work by a black playwright under the guidance of a black director, the remarkable thing was how unremarkable it was.

Nathan Louis Jackson’s heartfelt family drama, directed by Benny Sato Ambush, was just the latest of numerous recent area productions that have showcased predominantly black casts in plays that explored aspects of the African-American experience while also tackling universal themes. “It’s exciting and interesting and so noteworthy that there’s this proliferation in Boston,’’ remarks playwright Lydia R. Diamond, the acclaimed African-American author of “Stick Fly,’’ produced last year by the Huntington Theatre Company, and “Harriet Jacobs,’’ performed last year at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge. “It’s promising that there’s a wider range of voices.’’ One of those voices is playwright Kirsten Greenidge of Medford. “I think there’s definitely a willingness among artistic directors to broaden what kinds of stories are getting put on stages, compared to 20 to 30 years ago,’’ she says. Her “Bossa Nova,’’ performed at Yale Repertory Theatre in December, is among the best of the recent area productions that have explored, sometimes provocatively, questions of racial identity. It examines the impact on a young black woman’s self-image when she has an affair with a white teacher who treats her not as a flesh-and-blood person but rather as an abstraction, a way for him to establish cultural “authenticity.’’ Last week, the Huntington announced the premiere of a new play by Greenidge, “The Luck of the Irish,’’ next March and April. “Irish’’ shines a light on Boston’s history of segregation by dramatizing the practice of “ghost buying,’’ in which a white person acted as a front to buy a house for a black family in a white neighborhood. (That, says Greenidge, was how her grandparents purchased a home in Arlington in the mid-1950s.) Speaking of the spate of recent area productions by African-American playwrights, Greenidge says: “Boston does have a troubled racial history, and it would be nice if theater could play a role in healing.’’ Illuminating issues At a minimum, theater can play a role in illuminating issues that might otherwise go unaddressed. For instance, Company One’s January production of “Neighbors,’’ written by 26-year-old Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Summer L. Williams, both of whom are black, deliberately used offensive images of minstrelsy to provoke a consideration of the complex intersection between culture and identity. When a family of African-American performers, wearing blackface, moves in across the street from an upwardly mobile African-American professor, his white wife, and their teenage daughter, the professor reacts with revulsion and rage. He sees the minstrel performers as both an affront and a threat to his middle-class lifestyle and professional aspirations. Read More >>>>>>>>