Powerful Play Examines Race in the U.S.
Written and directed by Chaminade English Professor Dr. Allison Francis, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” is a three-act play adaptation that evokes the music, imagery and energy at the turn of the 20th century in America.
“James Weldon Johnson wrote the novella in 1912, and it was only about 120 pages,” says Francis, who is the first writer ever to adapt the novel into a screenplay. “The play will feature ragtime music, racial identity and depictions of lynching with the main character traveling across U.S. and Europe.”
The first fictional memoir ever written by a black person who was also the first black executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), “The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man” influenced a generation of writers during the Harlem Renaissance, and served as eloquent inspiration for Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. In the 1920s and since, it has continually compelled the reader to challenge assumptions about race. It has also given white readers a new perspective on their own culture, revealing the double standard of racial identity imposed on African Americans.
Narrated by a mulatto man whose light skin allows him to “pass” for white, the novella describes a pilgrimage through America’s color lines at the turn of the century—from a black college in Jacksonville, Florida to an elite New York City nightclub, from the rural South to the white suburbs of the Northeast.
This is a potent, painfully honest examination of race in America, a canticle to the anguish of forging an identity in a nation obsessed with color. And, as the late poet Arna Bontemps pointed out decades ago, “the problems of the artist [as presented here] seem as contemporary as if the book had been written this year.”
The three-day performances will run from April 21-23, with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. on April 21 and 22, and a matinee program at 2 p.m. on April 23. Seating is limited at the Vi and Paul Loo Theatre. Click here for tickets.
“It’s an ambitious undertaking to stage this play,” says Performing Arts assistant professor Christopher Patrinos in praise of Francis. “Allison deserves a lot of credit for writing and directing such a challenging theme.”