By Kevin Zimmerman
In honor of Black History Month, a couple of Jamaica performing arts centers are producing two very different plays that explore the African-American experience.
This weekend, the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning presents August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences.”
Then on Wednesday, the Caribbean American Society of New York and the Black Spectrum Theatre will stage a production of “A Tribute to Mae Jemison,” which details the story of America’s first black woman astronaut.
“Fences” is the sixth work in Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh cycle that examines black American life in the 20th century. Other titles in the series include “The Piano Lesson” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” and each one is set in a specific decade.
“Fences” hits the half-way point.
“It takes place in the 1950s and is a dramatic presentation,” Roseann Evans, JCAL’s director of development, said. “It is basically about a father and son relationship.” In “Fences,” Troy Maxson is a garbage man who had dreamed of becoming a Major League baseball player. But in the days before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, Troy was relegated to the Negro Leagues. And by the time blacks could play in the Majors, Troy was too old.
His son Cory is a football player who quits his job at the A & P so he can play a game when a coach from North Carolina is expected to be in the stands.
The conflict arises out of the differences the two men see in their pasts and their possible futures.
Arthur French is directing “Fences,” which is a departure from JCAL’s usual fare.
“We don’t do a lot of other plays,” Evans said. “This is special for Black History Month.”
As a young girl in Alabama, Dr. Mae Jemison’s future did not appear to be heading anywhere special.
She struggled as a student in elementary school, but with work she found her intellectual strengths, which led her to a undergraduate program at Stanford University when she was just 16.
Jemison went on to Cornell University where she earned her medical degree in 1981.
But along her journey she never gave up her childhood dream of one day venturing into outer space.
Jemison accomplished that on Sept. 12, 1992, as a crew member on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, becoming the first black woman in space.
Black Spectrum’s production of Jacqueline Wade’s play will be presented by a pre-curtain dinner.
If You Go
When: Through Feb. 21
Where: Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, 153-10 Jamaica Ave.
Contact: (718) 618-6170
“A Tribute to Mae Jemison”
When: Wednesday, Feb. 24, dinner at 5:45 pm, curtain at 7 pm
Where: Black Spectrum Theatre, Baisley Boulevard and 177th Street, Jamaica
Contact: (718) 799-6327
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm