I want to say “thank you” to African-American playwright Dael Orlandersmith for this play. Orlandersmith stunningly, vividly and candidly looks at a timeless issue in Black communities and gives us something to face head-on with “Yellowman,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, now playing through May 20 at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn. Watching this play was quite an experience for me and one that will remain with me for some time.
Imagine being a dark-skinned, heavy-set Black woman with a mother, whom you take after, telling you your entire life that you are Black and ugly. Imagine also believing that about yourself. Imagine that all you hear from her are negative comments about your physical appearance and the future you will have. Imagine her constantly letting you know that you must marry a light-skinned Black man. This situation is the difficult existence of Alma, a poor farm girl who grew up in South Carolina and whose life has been nothing but put-downs, hard
work and poverty.
On the other side of the spectrum: imagine being a light-skinned Black man and finding that dark-skinned Black men, including your father, resent you and consider you soft and worthless. Imagine every day of your existence, since you can remember, hearing your father put you down for your complexion, telling you that you are a punk and will never amount to anything. Imagine never hearing the words “I love you” from your father. Imagine having a beautiful, light-skinned woman as your mother, who escapes the world’s problems through alcoholism, who comes from a rich family and whose light-skinned Black father—your grandfather—disowned her when she married your dark-skinned father. Imagine people pressuring you as a light-skinned Black man to only date light-skinned Black girls. Now you are in Eugene’s world.
Orlandersmith defines the issues of these characters with such detail that you find yourself engrossed in their struggles with self-esteem, self-worth and how painful it is for them to consider their futures with such negative parental figures in their lives.
This storyline is powerful and very emotional to handle. As I watched the play I thought of the issues I’ve had most of my life as a light-skinned Black woman and the issues that my oldest daughter has had as a light-skinned girl. I experienced issues with my own people, though not with white people as the characters in the play do. But all of us, I’m sure, have our own
story to consider.
This play is quite an eye-opener and thought-provoker. It is a masterful piece of theater. The only thing that I would suggest to improve this unforgettable experience is to add a talkback with the audience the next time this play is put on. As you sit there and witness this work and think about your own similar situations, it would be an added benefit if people could start a dialogue about their experiences and talk about what we can do in our community to finally address this terrible dilemma. Director Timothy Douglas flawlessly directs the two-person cast of Jessica Frances Dukes and Tyrone Mitchell Henderson. Each of these talented actors takes on multiple roles during the performance and is proficient in each character
they take on.
Go and see this show! But be warned, there is strong language that is appropriate to the characters, but the production might not be suitable for children.
For tickets call 718-636-0918 or visit thebilliehloliday.org. The Billie Holiday Theatre is ending its 2017-2018 season with this production. Way to go out with a BANG!