Date of Graduation

Fall 2009


Master of Arts in Theatre


Theatre and Dance

Committee Chair

Christopher Herr


aesthetic, experience, historical, relationship, characters

Subject Categories

Theatre and Performance Studies


August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks are both Pulitzer-Prize winning black playwrights recognized by the-largely white-literary mainstream. Wilson and Parks, though both successful, differ with respect to the aesthetics of their plays, specifically in the ways their works reflect a black experience. In three of Wilson's works, Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and The Piano Lession, the pre-dominant black experience for the characters is their relationship to the presence of whiteness. That relationship is indicated through the oppression of the black characters by white society and the resulting conflict with the lives they currently lead and the lives that they aspire to have. This oppression connects Wilson's work to an old black aesthetic rooted in slave narratives and other time periods when the documentation of oppression was necessary in order to fully document the freedoms that blacks wanted but were denied. Wilson is forced to deal with these issues because, throughout his 10-play cycle chronicling the black experience throughout the twentieth century, he must be truthful to how black people would have been treated during these times. However, with the changing times, blacks have gradually been granted the freedoms they were previously denied. Therefore aspects of the Old Black Aesthetic do not really apply anymore and a new aesthetic is needed. This New Black Aesthetic has been articulated most fully in an essay written by Trey Ellis and two plays written by Suzan-Lori Parks: The America Play and Topdog/Underdog. These plays reflect on Parks' attempt to move past the white-black conflict with which the Old Black Aesthetic and Wilson are concerned and endeavor to place black people in situations that do not focus on oppression. Parks is able to place black people in these new situations because unlike Wilson, she is not confined to a specific historical period. Her characters exist outside of time, forcing blacks to relate to each other as opposed to whites.


© Alexander Thomas Murphy

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