Three Plays By Detroit's Dominique Morisseau On Three Cleveland Stages

Darryl Tatum, Nina Domingue, Drew Pope, Latecia Delores Wilson and Dyrell Barnett in Karamu House production of Dominique Morisseau's "Paradise Blue" [Steve Wagner]
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During this theater season in Northeast Ohio, three plays appearing on three stages were all penned by the same playwright.

Born and raised in Detroit, Dominique Morisseau's plays deal with the African-American experience, from "Paradise Blue" about the perils of gentrification to "Pipeline" about funneling African-American males from high-school to prison.

Dominique Morisseau [ideastream]

Last week the 2018 MacArthur Genius Grant winner was in town visiting with members of the theaters presenting her work: Karamu, Dobama and Cleveland Play House. She also spoke at the City Club of Cleveland on the topic of "art as a tool for social change."

Daniel Gray-Kontar with Dominique Morisseau at The City Club of Cleveland forum on "Art as a Tool for Social Change" [Michaelangelo's Photography]

Morisseau's plays have been staged locally in the past, too. Karamu produced "Detroit '67" in 2016 and Dobama presented "Sunset Baby" last season.

Greg White and Mary-Francis R. Miller in Dobama's 2018 production of Dominique Morisseau's "Sunset Baby" [Steve Wagner]

Now with three more of her plays onstage in Cleveland this season, Morisseau is proud to be the first playwright to have a series of works staged in Cleveland since the late August Wilson, who was honored in 2012 with four local productions of his work.

"I feel like it's time for a new voice, so it feels exciting to me that I've reached that same space that my work speaks to Cleveland so much, "she said.

Daniel Gray-Kontar with Dominique Morisseau at The City Club of Cleveland forum on "Art as a Tool for Social Change" [Michaelangelo's Photography]

Being from Detroit, Morisseau feels a kinship with Cleveland.

"Not just in region and proximity but in culture, in voice, in the way that we speak. We really sound like family, so it feels like an extension of family to me," she said.

Onstage now at Karamu House is the regional premiere of Morisseau's 2015 play, "Paradise Blue," which tells the story of a black jazz musician who's in danger of losing his club to gentrification in the late 1940s.

Latecia Delores Wilson and Drew Pope in Karamu House production of Dominique Morisseau's "Paradise Blue" [Steve Wagner]

"That era to me, I didn't live through, it's my grandparents' generation. But I heard so many stories about what it was and to think that the 75 freeway now runs through there, that it was a completely bulldozed community, it talks to me a lot about displacement," she said. "When we're talking about gentrification we're talking about displacement."

Darryl Tatum, Nina Domingue and Drew Pope in Karamu House production of Dominique Morisseau's "Paradise Blue" [Steve Wagner]

Meanwhile Morisseau's 2017 play, "Pipeline," about an African-American public school teacher who sends her son to a private school is on at Cleveland Play House.

"It looks at the school to prison pipeline through the character of a mother and her son," she said.

Bjorn DuPaty, Kadeem Ali Harris and Eric Robinson in Cleveland Play House production of Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline” [Roger Mastroianni]

When something happens at the son's private school he faces not only getting expelled but also potential criminal charges.

On a deeper level, the play's themes revolve around the disparities between public and private school education.

"If teachers are failing the students, who's failing the teachers?" she asks.

Morisseau's mother, Linda, was a teacher for 40 years and is a major inspiration for the play.

Suzette Azariah Gunn in Cleveland Play House production of Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline” [Roger Mastroianni]

When Morisseau was a little girl, her mother donated some of her toys and clothes to one of her mom's students in a time of need.

Later, that same child lashed out at her mother when asked to do something she didn't want to do.

Morisseau was shocked when she heard her mother laughing about it while discussing the situation with her father.

"I was getting mad like, 'What?! This little girl called my mother a witch? The witch that gave her my coat?!'" Morisseau said.

But her mother explained the situation, teaching her daughter a lesson she never forgot.

"My mother said, 'Oh [she's] not mad at me. She's mad at so many other things. I was the easy target,'" Morisseau said.

Her mother was a beloved teacher who left a major impression on students.

"She is an example of a public school educator that'd do anything for her students with the very limited resources they're given," she said.

The third Morisseau play in the series, "Skelton Crew," about a struggling Detroit auto plant is onstage at Dobama in January.

Dominique Morisseau's "Paradise Blue" is onstage now at Karamu House through Sunday.

Morisseau's "Pipeline" is onstage now at Cleveland Play House through November 3rd.

Then in January Dobama Theatre stages her play "Skeleton Crew" in Cleveland Heights.

 

 

 

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