San Diego Rep' New Black Voices 2021 Play Reading Series
Michael Gene Sullivan's 'The Great Khan' closes series on Monday
Black Voices 2021 Play Reading Series
March 15 at 5:30 p.m. "Polar Bears, Black Boys, and Fringed Orchids" by Vincent Terrell Durham
Directed by Rondrell McCormick
March 22 at 5:30 p.m.
"Baton" by Deneen Reynolds-Knott
Directed by Dexter Singleton
March 29 at 5:30 p.m.
"Mud Row" by Dominique Morriseau
Directed by Patricia McGregor
April 5 at 5:30 p.m.
"The Great Khan" by Michael Gene Sullivan
Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg
San Diego REP launched its new Black Voices 2021 Play Reading Series last month. It consists of a selection of plays representing a diverse range of Black voices with post-show discussions after each play. The series concludes on Monday with Michael Gene Sullivan's "The Great Khan."
Sullivan’s newest play follows a pair of Black teens trying to define themselves in a country that continually stereotypes them and then Genghis Khan shows up.
That’s right, Sullivan decided to bring the founder of the Mongol empire into his play The Great Khan as the perfect means of addressing issues Black teens currently face in the U.S., issues relating to who writes history and how that can determine how you might be treated in the present and the future. So he wanted to start with something everyone would think they knew.
"Now, most of the audience are going to go, well, we think we understand Black people. But no. I was like, but that's too obvious," Sullivan said. "So I thought, what about Genghis Khan? That's somebody that everybody in the audience has heard of…and so that idea of having this other very central thing to twist the audience, to make them go, I didn't know that makes them also have to go. I didn't know that about these teenagers… that's those kind of breaking all of the stereotypes to the audience. So they leave really questioning what do I know and who have I been listening to?"
And that’s the point of San Diego Rep’s new Black Voices 2021 Play Reading Series, to showcase perspectives that get audiences to think about how they view the world and what has contributed to that point of view.
Playwright Vincent Terrell Durham's “Polar Bears, Black Boys, and Prairie Fringed Orchids” kicked off the series in March.
Yasmina Reza's play "God of Carnage" provided inspiration to Durham when he first conceived his play.
"I like to describe it as my 'God of Carnage,'" Durham said. "I wanted to write a play that got people into a room and they had conversations, and those conversations just spiral all over the place. Personalities come out, frictions happen, alliances happen. So that's really what the play generated from in my heart was 'God of Carnage.' I just love that play."
That format of bringing diverse characters together for some intense interactions allowed him to tackle gentrification, racial identity, Black Lives Matter and more.
"If you get all these people in that room talking about these things, you're going to have a lot of interesting things happening on stage," he added.
The play is set in motion by a liberal white couple that decides to host a cocktail party at their renovated Harlem brownstone. They invite a gay Black Lives Matter activist, his white partner, an author and businesswoman, and the mother of a slain 10-year-old Black boy.
The work began as a 10-minute play and over the years it evolved into a full blown play. It was co-commissioned and developed by PlayGround and Planet Earth Arts and was a 2020 Eugene O’Neill semifinalist.
Durham explained how important it is for a playwright to hear his words spoken.
"I've been taking masterclasses and Aaron Sorkin was one of the master classes I've taken recently. He says that a play is not meant to be read. It's meant to be performed. That's so true. The first time you hear your words is like it's either amazing or terrifying," he said.
Sullivan's "The Great Khan" brings the series to a close on April 5. Tickets are pay what you can.