Detroit's Plowshares Premieres OyamO's New Play, The Black White Man, May 8

By Kenneth Jones
May 2, 2003

Plowshares Theatre Company, Michigan's only professional African-American theatre company, presents the world premiere of playwright OyamO's The Black White Man, May 8-June 1.

Loosely based on the life of Rev. William Henry Sheppard, the first Black missionary to the Congo, the work is by the Ann Arbor, MI, playwright OyamO, who was born Charles F. Gordon, best known for the dramas, I Am a Man and In Living Colors.

"Nicknamed 'the Black Livingstone,' Sheppard's complicated journey into the Congo to save souls brings him face-to-face with people and experiences that challenge his sense of Africa, his mission, and his own identity," according to Plowshares production notes.

The Black White Man won an award from the O'Neill Summer Playwright's Conference under its original title, Mundele Ndombe.

Plowshares, a Detroit Equity-affiliated troupe without a permanent home, presents on the stage of the Marygrove College Theatre at the Marygrove College. Opening night is set for May 8.

OyamO is an associate professor of theatre (playwriting), and playwright in residence at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He has presented his plays at the Yale Rep, Crossroads Theatre Company, Chicago's Goodman Theatre, DC's Arena Stage, the Philadelphia Theatre Company, New York's Public Theater, O'Neill Playwright's Conference, and numerous other theatres. He has been commissioned by the Seattle Children's Theatre and was produced at the Plowshares Theatre Company of Detroit, the Karamu House in Cleveland, Meadow Brook Theatre in Michigan, and the Performance Network of Ann Arbor. HBO optioned his I Am a Man, and TriStar Pictures contracted him to work on "Ota Benga, the Pygmy in the Zoo." His most recent productions include Let Me Live at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and I Am a Man at the St. Louis Black Repertory.

Mbala Nkanga, a visiting assistant professor in theatre studies and world drama at the University of Michigan, directs. The native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he has taught directing, scenography and dramaturgical analysis at the Institut National des Arts in Kinshasa (DRC). He directed plays in various professional companies there, such as Bernard Dadié's Béatrice du Congo, Wole Soyinka's A Dance of the Forests, Réné Kalisky's Aïda Vaincue .

The cast includes many Plowshares regulars. Marlon Bailey as Rev. Sheppard. The ensemble performing other roles includes Anthony Lucas, James Bowen, Lydia Willis, John E. Woolridge III, and Mark Schock. Percussionist Lumumba Reynolds rounds out the cast.

Designers are Mary Copenhagen (costumes) and Ronald Burns (lighting and set).

Tickets range $10-$25. Marygrove College is located at 8425 W. McNichols Road in northwest Detroit. For more information, call (313) 872-0279.