Two Plays Get Away From ‘Black Theater’ Clichés

Harriet & GlenChristina Jean Chambers A scene from “Ambrosia” by Kelley Nicole Girod.

A pair of upcoming plays at the Red Room aim to turn notions of “black theater” upside down.

“Ambrosia” (about an elderly southern woman deciding to die happy) and “Breakfast” (about a middle-class black family dealing with a gay son) will run as a double feature starting August 10.

Both playwrights said that they sought to avoid the clichés of their genre.

“We’re writing stories that have nothing to do with being black — they’re about being human,” said Kelley Nicole Girod, who wrote “Ambrosia.” “We are multi-faceted. We don’t just have the trauma of slavery.”

In Ms. Girod’s play, set in a bakery in the South, an elderly life-long diabetic decides to eat cake — no matter what the consequences. The story reflects Ms. Girod’s own experience growing up in Louisiana, in a Creole family that embraced Southern Gothic.

Sarah Stephens & Nick Maccarone in "Ambrosia" KL Thomas A scene from “Ambrosia.”

“It’s such a place for dark comedy to happen,” she said. “I was raised hearing stories — I feel like if I told them now people would say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’”

Ms. Girod added that her play doesn’t explicitly tackle the issues of racial identity that are common fodder for plays labeled “black theater.”

“It may not have anything to do with slavery — this woman can be played by anyone. As long as you can understand her emotions, you can understand the play,” she said.

Yusef Miller’s “Breakfast” tackles an issue that also ignores racial boundaries: the struggles of gay teenagers with conservative families. Mr. Miller was inspired by the wave of suicides by gay teens last year, which he said hinted at an issue that had been neglected for too long, particularly in the black community.

His play follows a family over the course of 10 years as it copes with a gay teenage son’s identity, and his tragic end.

“I don’t see black people dealing with issues of homosexuality in theater,” said Mr. Miller. “We don’t bring issues like this to the table socially, politically and certainly not creatively.”

“Ambrosia” and “Breakfast” at the Red Room (85 East Fourth Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue) from August 10-29. Tickets $18. Visit or call 212-868-4444.