Friday, May 22, 2009


Dear Jaz,
I hold no ill will towards Tarell Alvin McCraney, this is a young upcoming multiple award winning playwright, but I do take exception to when he was confronted about the historical inaccuracies of his work, which embraces that which is closest to my spiritual discourse, he claimed that he received the misinformation from a priest who he refuse to name. It is my opinion, that as African American playwrights in this Eurocentric paradigm, we have an obligation to at least maintain the integrity of characters that are representative of our African Spiritual Traditions. We as a writing community can't afford to take artistic license with our ancestral spiritualities because most of our audiences are unaware of their true essence and dynamics. And this misrepresentation of the Orisa of the Yoruba Pantheon, is exactly what happened to the Vodun as it was presented in the Broadway production of Voodoo Macbeth adapted by Orson Wells during the Depression which led to many misconceptions about Vodun and Zombies. Subsequently a little bit of knowledge becomes a dangerous thing.

Technically the play "The Brothers Size", was well written and brilliantly executed. Yet it left a very bitter taste in my mouth. Three other Yoruba Priests, and I, being the fourth, approached the playwright during the Q&A after the production and expressed our concerns and offered to provide him accurate historical accounts of the deities he chose to represent in his contemporary version. The accolades of the European presenters and audience, apparently caused him to be made deaf to the voices of those who know.

So my question is: "Should we hold the playwright responsible for historical accuracy?"

David Wright

This is a response from Michael Bradford, The University of Connecticut:

Hey Jaz,
I wanted to respond to the question put forth concerning Historical Accuracy. I am a true believer that it is ultimately the audience who gives the play immortality. The audience, at the end of the day, decides whether the artistic work has any merit, has any weight in their lives, has any importance in the world of ideas, has any capacity to make them "feel."

When is the artist's work ever about replicating reality? Even the photographer seeks to place a certain "artistic" perspective on the subject at hand. In my opinion the artist's work has always been about searching for a particular truth, and as Pirandello tells us in "Six Characters in Search of an Author," "facts are like an empty sack that must be filled up and given shape by truth."

I am sure that we are all well aware that governments, through time immemorial, have drowned the public under an avalanche of facts, all in the attempt to bypass the truth because the facts and the truth are two different animals.

And is not theatre itself a beautiful lie we tell in order to get to a particular truth?

So this brings me to the question that I am sure many will want to castigate me for, and that is who of us was there when the "historical moment" happened so that we can speak to the actual truth of it? Who of us was there when the world was formed and the God or the gods first began to make their presence known in the lives of humankind so that today we can speak to the actual truth of it?

Maybe it is best that historical societies write their own plays that speak to their own truths and religious societies write their own plays so that they can speak to their own truths. Harken back to the days of Liturgical and Morality and the Cycle plays of the Roman Catholic Church, only in this contemporary setting, close your doors so that your truths cannot be corrupted.

But for the secular world of ideas, for the secular world of theatre, where we purposely tell beautiful lies in order to approach a truth that is beyond the history book and the religious text (if that is possible) let the audience say if such a truth has been approached or not.

Without any disrespect to the true believers of all faiths, congratulations to Mr. McCraney for approaching his particular truth. It appears a good many (see below) have agreed with him.

All the best,


Tarell Alvin McCraney, a rising star in the theatrical world, has added yet another accolade to his growing list of awards and honors: the first ever New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, a prize honoring an American playwright with a recent professional theater debut in New York City. The award was given for The Brothers Size, which was seen at The Public Theater and is currently being presented at McCarter Theatre as part of McCraney’s groundbreaking trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays.

In a statement, chair of the award selection committee chair Sylviane Gold said: “The committee was impressed by the sheer poetry of the language and the play’s vibrant blend of richly specific contemporary characters with archetypes drawn from West African myth.”

In addition to Gold, the selection committee included Tony Award-winning playwrights Edward Albee, Richard Greenberg, and James Lapine; Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage; and The New York Times cultural news editor Sam Sifton, theater editor Katherine E. Bouton, and Arts & Leisure theater editor Andrea Stevens.

Tarell Alvin McCraney stated of the award: “It is an honor to be the first recipient of The Times Outstanding Playwright Award. This prize makes me smile with my heart, and bends my mind towards the Most High.”

McCraney will receive the award at a ceremony on May 27 at The New York Times Building in Manhattan.

A May 2007 graduate of Yale School of Drama, 29-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney is a playwright whose exquisite and groundbreaking work has put his career on an extraordinary trajectory. Already, productions of his plays have been mounted in New York, London, D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, Dublin, Barcelona, and New Orleans, as well as at McCarter’s IN-Festival of New Works. In addition to The Brother/Sister Plays, his other plays include the Hurricane Katrina-themed The Breach and the drag house drama Wig Out!, which recently completed a highly successful run at New York’s Vineyard Theatre. A Princeton University Hodder Fellow, McCraney has been honored with the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Whiting Writing Award, and London’s prestigious Evening Standard Award, and he was recently named the International Writer in Residence for the Royal 20 Shakespeare Company.

The Brother/Sister Plays premiered at McCarter Theatre Center on April 24, 2009, as the final show of the theater’s 2008-2009 Season. Part 1 of the trilogy, In the Red and Brown Water, is directed by Tina Landau; Part 2, comprised of The Brothers Size and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet, is directed by Robert O’Hara. Both parts can be seen on the McCarter stage from now until June 21, after which they will travel to The Public Theater for an off-Broadway run.

For tickets to The Brother/Sister Plays, call (609) 258-2787, visit, or visit the McCarter Ticket Office at 91 University Place, Princeton.

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