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2011: A magnificent year in Black theater Part 1

LINDA ARMSTRONG Special to the AmNews | 1/4/2012, 6:42 p.m.
I am so excited as I sit down to write about the year in Black...
Triumphant playwright Katori Hall talks about 'The Mountaintop'

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Sister Act

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Andre Braugher returns to the stage in 'Whipping Man'

I am so excited as I sit down to write about the year in Black theater. By far, 2011 has been one of the most magnificent years that Black theater has known in a very long time.

This year celebrated the 40th anniversary of Woodie King Jr.'s New Federal Theatre. It was a year that saw movie stars Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett brought together for the first time on the Broadway stage in "The Mountaintop," which is playing through Jan. 22.

This is the year that "Sister Act" came to Broadway; though the script and songs have changed, it is definitely a blessing and a joy to behold. Whoopi Goldberg is one of the producers.

2011 is the year that Broadway director Kenny Leon made his mark, not only by directing "The Mountaintop," written by Black playwright Katori Hall, but also "Stick Fly," written by Black playwright Lydia R. Diamond. It is fantastic to see two shows written by Black female playwrights on Broadway and featuring Black cast members.

2011 proved to be a year where Black theater was alive and well all around New York. In Brooklyn, the Billie Holiday Theatre kept audiences entertained and teaching lessons through its productions, "The Legend of Buster Neal" and "The Right Reverend Dupree in Exile." In Lower Manhattan, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe dealt with the subject of date rape through "Georgia." In Harlem, the Dwyer Cultural Center looked at the atrocities that befell the people of Haiti in "Haiti's Children of God."

Let me give you this marvelous year in Black theater in the order it happened.

In the beginning of the year, Andre Braugher and Andre Holland set the stage of the Manhattan Theatre Club on fire with their amazing performances as slaves in "The Whipping Man." Lorey Hayes made the plight of the people of Haiti clear in her play "Haiti's Children of God." This moving play depicted the abuse that the Haitian people suffered at the hands of the military, hands that committed rape, murder and imprisoned people for having opposing political views.

In March, the Billie Holiday Theatre presented playwright/director Jackie Alexander's poignant work, "The Legend of Buster Neal." This play brought together four generations of Black males in a family and showed the need for the great-great-grandfather to come back to save the life of his grandson. The cast was riveting and featured Nathan Purdee, Stephen Hill, Patrick Mitchell, Dennis Johnson, Charles Anthony Burks and Sidiki Fofana.

The New Federal Theatre, which has produced 280 plays and has presented a full season every year, celebrated its 40th anniversary with a star-studded evening and much deserved kudos for its founder, Woodie King Jr.

Playwright Lynn Nottage had a new work performed at Second Stage Theater called, "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark." This play was hilarious and stunning and starred Sanaa Lathan, Stephanie J. Block, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Karen Olivo, David Garrison, Kevin Isola and Daniel Breaker. Nottage shared the difficulties that Black female actresses had to go through to get roles in the 1930s in Hollywood.