Black Dionysus

Greek Tragedy and African American Theatre


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About the Book

Many playwrights, authors, poets and historians have used images, metaphors and references to and from Greek tragedy, myth and epic to describe the African experience in the New World. The complex relationship between ancient Greek tragedy and modern African American theatre is primarily rooted in America, where the connection between ancient Greece and ancient Africa is explored and debated the most.
The different ways in which Greek tragedy has been used by playwrights, directors and others to represent and define African American history and identity are explored in this work. Two models are offered for an Afro-Greek connection: Black Orpheus, in which the Greek connection is metaphorical, expressing the African in terms of the European; and Black Athena, in which ancient Greek culture is “reclaimed” as part of an Afrocentric tradition.
African American adaptations of Greek tragedy on the continuum of these two models are then discussed, and plays by Peter Sellars, Adrienne Kennedy, Lee Breuer, Rita Dove, Jim Magnuson, Ernest Ferlita, Steve Carter, Silas Jones, Rhodessa Jones and Derek Walcott are analyzed. The concepts of colorblind and nontraditional casting and how such practices can shape the reception and meaning of Greek tragedy in modern American productions are also covered.

About the Author(s)

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., is a professional actor and director whose previous books have covered topics ranging from Star Wars to Renaissance faires. He is a professor and chair of the theater department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.

Bibliographic Details

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 272
Bibliographic Info: photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2003
pISBN: 978-0-7864-1545-8
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5159-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vii

Introduction: Greek Tragedy and the African Diaspora      1

1. Black Athena Meets Black Orpheus: Three Models of the Afro-Greek Connection    13

2. Afro(American)centric Classicism and African American Theatre      46

3. Ancient Plays in a New World: Multicultural Currents      62

4. Black Medea      132

5. Mediterranean/Caribbean, or Odysseus Looks for Home      205

Conclusion: Black Dionysus, or Athenian-African American Theatre     231

Notes      235

Works Cited      247

Index      259

Book Reviews & Awards

“fascinating…essential”—Choice; “immensely informed and carefully researched…excellent…fascinating analysis…informative and engaging…highly enlightening…sensitive and original, with fresh insights…useful…invaluable…captivating…an important tool”—Obsidian III.