From August through December, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture and the Department of Performing Arts at UMass Boston are presenting The Emancipated Century, a staged reading series of August Wilson’s ten-play cycle exploring the history of African Americans in the twentieth century. The staged reading series is free to the public thanks to a Creative Economy Grant from the President’s Office of the University of Massachusetts.
Honed in Boston before going to Broadway, Wilson’s plays, each set in a separate decade, open a broad lens on twentieth century African American urban culture and history. The cycle’s vast dramatic canvas is pertinent in the year marking the 150th birthday of the Emancipation Proclamation, and resonates deeply today given the nation’s divided reactions to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 rollback.
We invite you to enjoy Wilson’s dramatic landscape and also share what you have learned and understood in linked public conversations in a humanities program supported by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Re-visioning Tomorrow: Emancipation for a New Century. The six public forums that comprise Re-visioning Tomorrow are designed to address today’s civic challenges and help us move forward together as residents in a city that is freedom’s national home.
The dates, times, and locations of the staged readings follow. The six public forum venues and times will be announced shortly.
Gem of the Ocean
August 5, 7 p.m., UMass Boston, McCormack Theatre, 100 Morrissey Blvd., Dorchester
In Gem of the Ocean, set in 1904, Citizen Barlow, a recent arrival in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, is welcomed into the home and extended family of Aunt Ester, a seer as old as slavery itself.
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
August 19, 7 p.m., The Strand, 543 Columbia Road, Dorchester
Joe Turner's Come and Gone is set in Pittsburgh in 1911. Herald Loomis, shattered like Humpty Dumpty, is putting the pieces of his life back together after an unfair seven-year jail sentence.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
September 9, 7 p.m., The Strand, 543 Columbia Road, Dorchester
Ma Rainey, a legendary blues singer, is recording an album in Chicago in 1927. The session band includes a trumpet player brimming with ambition and seething with repressed anger.
The Piano Lesson
September 23, 7 p.m., Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley, Roxbury
During the Depression, two siblings fight over whether to honor and keep or sell a priceless inherited heirloom, a piano carved with ancestral likenesses dating back to the time of slavery.
October 7, 7 p.m., Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
Floyd Barton, a one-hit wonder, has come back to Pittsburgh after a series of disappointments eager to rekindle his career and his love affair with the woman he left behind for fame.
October 21, 7 p.m., Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
Troy Maxson, who played baseball in the segregated era, regrets that his talent did not receive more recognition, and the resulting bitterness festers, poisoning his relationships and his future.
Two Trains Running
November 4, 7 p.m., Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth, Boston
At the end of the 1960s, a neighborhood that was once haven and home, is losing its population to death. Old timers and new arrivals still congregate in a local dinner posting a For Sale sign.
November 18, 7 p.m., Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth, Boston
A prodigal son returns home, but his father, heartbroken over the evaporation of his offspring’s promise, has only closed arms, no feast, no fatted calf, and only a little family blessing to offer.
King Hedley II
December 2, 7 p.m., Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley, Roxbury
In the 1980s, an urban wasteland is choked with weeds, and the streets spawn violence on every corner. The social landscape is bleak and the arm of resilience forged in slavery is weakening.
December 16, 7 p.m., UMass Boston – McCormack Theater, 100 Morrissey, Dorchester
In 1997, Harmond Wilks is running to be Pittsburgh’s first black mayor and backing a real estate scheme that forces him to choose sides, either scuttling or saving a sacred community legacy.