Aleshea Harris Stages Black Life

Hilton Als in The New Yorker:

“What I’m interested in is disrupting these really narrow ideas that people unfortunately still have about Blackness onstage,” Harris says.

“I’m just trying to get authentically to that,” the actress Stephanie Berry told her director, Whitney White, as they stood in a spacious rehearsal room in the East Village in mid-January. They were working out a bit of business that might or might not end up in “On Sugarland,” Aleshea Harris’s third full-length play, which premières at New York Theatre Workshop on March 3rd. “On Sugarland” was inspired by “Philoctetes,” Sophocles’ play about an expert archer plagued by chronic pain and exiled because of the smell of a wound on his foot. (A snake bit him while he was walking on sacred ground; so much for hubris.) Sophocles’ character may be powerful and gifted, but he is also set apart by the stench of his difference. Eventually, the god Heracles promises to heal Philoctetes’ foot if he returns to Troy to fight in the Trojan War. This is the mythology that jump-starts Harris’s new play, which is itself about mythology: one myth being that, by serving your country, you are protecting your community and yourself; another being that love can vanquish pain.

“On Sugarland” is sour with heartache and bristling with unexpected words and sounds. Saul (Billy Eugene Jones) is a vet who wants to reënlist, despite the fact that part of his foot was torn off in combat. Being in the military gives him an identity and makes him a model for his son, Addis (Caleb Eberhardt), who wants nothing more than to be a soldier, just like his dad. There is love in this story about the search for identity, but it’s a love surrounded by grief: Saul pines for a female officer who died in the service, and he’s the kind of guy who’s enthralled by the erotics of absence.

More here. (Note: At least one post throughout the month of February will be devoted to Black History Month. The theme for 2022 is Black Health and Wellness)