Violence against black people is nothing new — not in real life and not in the theater. Especially in the last few years, playwrights have been telling the stories, sounding the alarm and predicting our current upheaval. Newer works, too, created under the stress of grief, have been trying to put George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and too many others in a larger context.
The problem is that just when we need to see these works most, so many have disappeared into the darkness of shut theaters. Luckily, some are streamable; here’s a sampling of just a few. They investigate from many angles and in many styles what it really means to say Black Lives Matter. JESSE GREEN
Moses and Kitch are young black men living endangered lives in a city much like Chicago. But in Antoinette Nwandu’s devastating play, they are also avatars of decades — even centuries — of abuse. In adapting Danya Taymor’s Steppenwolf Theater production to the screen, Spike Lee captures the action not only onstage but also in the audience, doubling the drama of pain and recognition. JESSE GREEN
“Pass Over” is available on Amazon Prime
In Geraldine Inoa’s reverberant drama, the enormity of the crime at its center can’t be accommodated by a single style of theater. The play begins as a slice-of-life street scene, which portrays the ineradicable impact of the police shooting of a college-bound football player on his survivors. The script then splits open into a fantastical, cosmic game show, in which nobody is a winner. Stevie Walker-Webb’s compelling, genre-straddling production comes from Los Angeles’s Matrix Theater Company. BEN BRANTLEY
“Scraps” is available on YouTube.
“What if I told you: It’s going to be all right?” Jomama Jones asks. “But what if I told you: Not yet?” So begins the patter in an evening of song and story that sees the world’s troubles in one bespangled diva’s heart. The campy but powerful creation of Daniel Alexander Jones, “Black Light,” recorded live at Joe’s Pub on March 17, 2018, makes unrest deeply personal — and deeply complicated, too. JESSE GREEN
“Black Light” is available on YouTube
‘The 24 Hour Plays: Viral Monologues’
This series of short plays, each written and produced over the course of a single day, has since March offered playwrights and actors in isolation a great platform for experimentation. Some of the monologues seem to have predicted our current national unrest, including “L.A. Yoga ______,” a typically scabrous take on white microaggression by Stephen Adly Guirgis, performed by Andre Royo. A number of others, like Shawn Randall’s “#Uprising2020,” featuring Stephanie Berry, are direct calls to action. Still others, including “Twan’s Sister Or On the eve of Super Woman’s Retirement” by Monique A. Robinson, touch on the problem of racism in the theater itself, with a twist — and a terrific performance by Kara Young. JESSE GREEN
Four young black men have arrived in a haunted corner of eternity, and they are trying to figure out how they died. When the answers come, they never stop echoing and they never start making sense. James Ijames’s beautiful, elegiac play ponders the unjustified killings of black youth by police officers through an unblinking, everlasting gaze. This archival recording of the 2018 production at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia is directed by Blanka Zizka. BEN BRANTLEY
“Kill Move Paradise” streams through June 21 via wilmatheater.org.
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’
When Claudia Rankine’s award-winning hybrid poetry collection “Citizen: An American Lyric” came out in 2014, it immediately became one of the defining literary works of our time, combining probing academic essays with sobering personal accounts of daily microaggressions. Though some of the book’s elements are inevitably lost in its translation to the stage (or, in this case, Zoom screen), the Fountain Theater’s painfully pertinent live reading of “Citizen,” adapted by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, brings multi-vocal urgency to the text. Round-robin line readings and choral declarations emphasize Rankine’s central question — what it means to be a citizen, whether black or nonblack — in our society right now. MAYA PHILLIPS
“Citizen: An American Lyric” is available on YouTube.
Dominique Morisseau’s gripping, deeply empathic play is an anatomy of a grievously understandable fear — that of a black American mother for her adolescent son. Nya, a rigidly self-possessed schoolteacher, is unraveled by feelings that her restless, rebellious teenager is destined to die young. Lileana Blain-Cruz directs this impeccably mounted Lincoln Center Theater production from 2017, with a shattering performance from Karen Pittman as Nya. BEN BRANTLEY
“Pipeline” is streaming on Broadway HD.
‘Fires in the Mirror,’ ‘Twilight: Los Angeles’ and ‘Notes From the Field’
In investigating the culture and sociology of American racial divisions, no theater artist has surpassed Anna Deavere Smith for complexity, insight and empathy. This sui generis combination of actress, artist, playwright and journalist has created two masterworks shaped from interviews with witnesses, pundits and participants in the era-defining riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991 (“Fires in the Mirror”) and in Los Angeles in 1992 (“Twilight: Los Angeles”). They’re available for streaming, as is her later, excellent “Notes From the Field,” about the notorious school-to-prison “pipeline” that entraps many African-American students. For further context, check out the conversation with Smith at the 92nd Street Y. BEN BRANTLEY