Sofie's Choice

Issue section: 

A round-up of plays to come

Tales from the Underground brings together plays by two of America's award winning black writers: Birth of the Blues by Ben Caldwell and The Dutchman by legendary writer and activist Amira Baraka (LeRoi Jones).

The Dutchman won the Off Broadway award for the best American play of 1963-64. It presents a dramatic confrontation between a sadistic white woman, Lula, and a naive black college student, Clay, who is trying to live and survive in a white controlled society.

"What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and striped tie? Your grandfather was a slave; he didn't go to Harvard," taunts Lula. The Dutchman played an important role in the growth of black literature known as the Black Arts movement and opened the doors for many other black American writers to take on political and social issues in their work (Arcola Theatre, London, 10 to 15 December).

John Patrick Shanley was brought up in the Bronx in New York and was educated and expelled from several Catholic schools. So the world of his play, Doubt: A Parable, is one with which he is familiar. It's set in 1964 and explores the tensions in a Bronx Catholic School, where one of the priests is under suspicion for his relationship with one of the pupils. Doubt ran for two years on Broadway and in 2005 won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best New Play. This production is directed by Nicolas Kent and is the play's British premiere. (The Tricycle, London, to 12 January)

The Arsonists by Max Frisch (at The Royal Court, London, until 15 December) has been newly translated by Alistair Beaton who explains: "The play itself is an extended metaphor about the weakness of personal ethics in the face of evil. We immediately have to ask: what is the great evil we are failing to face up to today? Is it still nuclear weapons? Is it the destruction of our environment through personal greed and corporate plunder? Is it the misery we inflict upon the Third World? Is it the erosion of our liberties in the name of the War on Terror? Is it the violence perpetrated on the people of Iraq? Is it Israel's cruel and illegal occupation of Palestine? Or could it be the threat to liberal values posed by radical Islam?

"With a Greek chorus composed of firefighters (as in the original), the play inevitably awakens memories of the London bombings of 2005, and if audiences want to engage with the issue of Islamism, this production certainly allows them to do that. But in the end, the power of The Arsonists lies in the undefined nature of the evil it portrays."

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