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The Love* Plays

Playwrights’ Corner
Donja R. Love's profile against a deep magenta background.
Photo Credit: Brandon Nick

As a playwright, the core of my work manifests from something my mother told me when I shared I was gay: “As a parent, all you want is for your child to live an easy life, but you won’t. Your life will be hard, because there are millions of people in this world who don’t even know you and want you dead.”

That revelation, in its raw honesty, provided all the clarity I needed to help create a world that embraces Queer, Black narratives. That’s reflected in my work.

My plays examine identity by unapologetically dramatizing the multifaceted nuance of Blackness and Queerness – a diverse intersection filled with colorful stories, and a reimaging of monolithic narratives that challenge the white supremacist, heteronormative structures in American culture.

Throughout history, the stories of those that exist on the margins have often been erased. The existence of Queer people of color, particularly of African descent, has repeatedly been washed over, or forgotten altogether.

I set out to create a body of work that honors those neglected stories. Focusing on the universal emotion/theme of love, I started writing a trilogy of plays titled The Love* Plays, beginning in January 2016. Deliberately looking at history through a different lens, the three parts unfold as a surrealistic voyage through *Queer Love during pivotal moments in Black History: Slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I became obsessed with the idea of seeing myself reflected through history. The beauty of Black bodies, particularly of Queer identities, extending beyond time and space realizing their agency and the authority they have over their sexuality compelled me. Especially considering the violent historical context of men being castrated and women raped for simply loving within non-heterosexual relationships.

Acknowledging the trauma that Queer, Black folks have endured, I was filled with gratitude for the radicalism of James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde, and so many other revolutionaries; yet I was still aching of curiosity for the subtle stories of those everyday people who are seldom noticed. And the more I wrote the more I did see myself – not just in the Baldwins or Lordes, but in those everyday people. I became empowered as I learned, like them, I had and still have a place in this world.

These stories are reflected in the The Love* Plays:

  • Sugar In Our Wounds (Play One): Somewhere down South stands a mystical tree, branches reaching to heaven and roots gripping blood-soaked soil. Under it, James escapes by reading newspapers smuggled from the Master’s house, while Henry is planning a real-life escape in the midst of the Civil War. From a surprise kiss blooms the hope of something sweet, but is it enough to overcome the bitterness of slavery, jealousy, and fear? Finding an unexpected beauty in our troubled past, Sugar In Our Wounds reminds us that love can—and will—blossom anywhere.
  • Fireflies (Play Two): Somewhere in the Jim Crow South, the sky is on fire. It lights the way for a pregnant Olivia, who's struggling with her sexuality. She finds comfort in her fiery speech writing which becomes the sole force behind her charismatic husband, Charles, and his successful Movement to galvanize people to march towards freedom. When hate attempts to extinguish their blaze after four little girls are bombed in a church, the smoke that sits atop Olivia and Charles' marriage thickens - as this tragedy and years of civil unrest leave Olivia believing "this world ain't no place to raise a colored child."
  • In The Middle (Play Three): As the rain pours and the water keeps rising, a mother sits in a flooded basement, weeping. After her son is gunned down by police, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mary, a woman with a cracked past, finds herself paralyzed with grief. Her mother, sister, and daughter try to uplift and help her wade through the water as she mourns. But when her tears begin to overflow, deep family secrets rise all around them. And once their painful past floats to the top, there's no telling who's going to drown.

Each of these plays stands alone in its tender storyline and nuanced characters, but they’re also in conversation with one another. Sugar In Our Wounds, Fireflies, and In The Middle force us to reckon with the fact that love, without being monolithic, is our most essential need and deserved by all. Together these plays ask audiences questions about identity, and why some people’s existence is constantly being erased from history.

It is my hope that these plays encourage people to be fearless by placing themselves in a world that does not dwell on their tragedy or ‘otherness’, but rather fully celebrates them and their stories. My prayer is that The Love* Plays will carry people into an unapologetic love for themselves – as they have done for me.

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