Reconfiguring History: Migration,
Memory, and (Re)Membering in
Suzan-Lori Parks's Plays
Since the mid-1980s, the two-time Obie Award–winning Suzan-Lori Parks has revolutionized Black women's theater tradition with her plays. In some ways, Parks's plays resemble the mutative and vertiginous stage poetry of Adrienne Kennedy's Funnyhouse of a Negro (1962) and of Sonja Sanchez's Sister Son/ji (1969), both of which experiment with language and theatrical space and, in effect, reconfigure the boundaries of the American stage. Parks extends Sanchez and Kennedy's experiments with language and form in an attempt to challenge a very conventional, conservative, and impenetrable American stage. Her plays call for a theater that will embrace theoretical artists, namely playwrights like herself who wish to offer audiences the possibility of multiple meanings in nonlinear, multidirectional works.
Parks's plays have been produced at such places as Yale Repertory Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, BACA Downtown in Brooklyn, New York, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her plays have also received the imprimatur of a number of institutions, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, and the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Having received an Obie in 1990 for Imperceptible Mutabilities of the Third Kingdom (1986–1989) and one in 1993 for The America Play (1992–1994), Parks is recognized as one of America's most dynamic, experimental, and passionate playwrights. Two other plays by Parks deserving of serious critical attention are The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World (1989–1992) and Venus (1996).
Though viewed by many as representative of a new and challenging strand in American theater, Parks's detractors claim that “her work is extremely difficult and esoteric” (Gin 39). While Mel Gussow named Suzan-Lori Parks the “year's most promising playwright” in 1989 in the New York Times (qtd. in Jacobus 1351), Tony Kushner, in his “The Art of the Difficult,” noted that Parks