Playwright Kimber Lee Transforms Brooklyn Tragedy For Stage

Jabri Little as "Tray" & Lisa Louise Langford as "Lena" in "brownsville song (b-side for tray)" [courtesy: Dobama Theater]
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In June of 2012, Trendon Franklin, a 20-year-old African-American with a college scholarship and a budding boxing career, was gunned down on the streets of Brooklyn, devastating the community of Brownsville where he grew up. 

Award-winning playwright Kimber Lee is an amateur boxer herself and discovered Franklin's story on a boxing blog.

Lee wanted to make sure Franklin's story didn't simply become a statistic.

"The fact that there wouldn't be any marches for this kid. There probably wouldn't be any candlight vigils," Lee said.

So she fictionalized his story in her acclaimed play, brownsville song (b-side for tray), onstage now at Dobama Theater.

Lee wanted to create a nuanced portrayal of the community in Brownsville where Franklin grew up.

"Unfortunately it's one of the neighborhoods where the only time you hear the name Brownsville in the news is when something bad has happened there," she said.

Franklin, who was not involved in gangs or drugs, was gunned down over a game of dice. 

Lee knows tragedies like this can strike at any time.

"Sometimes things enter in unexpectedly and it has nothing to do with whether or not you're a good person," Lee said.

Lee is a Korean-American playwright from Idaho who knows that some may challenge her with the criticism of "cultural appropriation" for writing about an African-American family in Brooklyn.

"If you're making a decision to write outside of your own experience then you have to find some kind of accountability with the people you're representing," Lee said.

So before her play took the stage of Lincoln Center in New York City, she and the cast visted the Brownsville Community Center to learn about the people and the place they were portraying onstage.

Lee was rewarded with compliments from members of the Brownsville community who saw the play.

"I did have a very positive response.  I have had people who've told me that they feel well represented and they're happy to see a story like that being told," Lee said.

brownsville song (b-side for tray) is onstage at Dobama Theatre now through Sunday, September 24th.

Listen to the entire interview:





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