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DNA on Stage: “Drama, Nuance, Attitude”

By Cheryl Simon Silver

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DNA is personal. While discussions about genetics tend to be scientific or clinical, a new play called “DNA: Drama, Nuance, Attitude,” now showing in Washington, D.C., explores some of the many ways our DNA affects our daily lives, and how our biology can shape our destinies.

The work—a series of fourteen vignettes performed by two actors—is the latest offering of the Black Women Playwrights’ Group and the Young Playwrights’ Theater. The idea for the play came out of a challenge issued last fall during a meeting of the writers’ group. One of the writers, inspired by a PBS series on genetics, suggested that each person compose a monologue on the theme “DNA.”

When the writers read their pieces a month later at the group’s holiday party, they decided to put the monologues together for their annual showcase production.

David Lamont Wilson and Josette Marina Murray in “DNA: Drama, Nuance, Attitude.”
“The pieces were touching, hilarious, and profound,” says Karen Evans, who founded the writers’ group fifteen years ago to encourage and support black women playwrights.

The actors, Josette Marina Murray and David Lamont Wilson, traverse emotional minefields, sometimes playing more than one role in a single vignette.

The vignettes often plumb the complexities of family ties—the resentment against a father who walked away, a single mother’s passionate allegiance to her son, a boy’s pain in being yanked as a child from the home of his birth mother.

The pieces are organized into the categories Drama, Nuance, and Attitude.

In the “Drama” segment, the theme of paternity looms large. One character fights his feelings of betrayal and admits how much he loves a child—even after DNA testing reveals that he is not the boy’s biological father.

In “Runs in the Family,” the narrator considers the inherited aspects of mental illness as he realizes that his father, like him, hears voices that try to dictate his thoughts and actions.

In “Insurance” a woman survives a brutal rape by a famous man, and consoles herself that forensic analysis of a tuft of his hair she yanked out and clutched may prove his paternity if a child is born.

In the “Nuance” segment, a black woman discovers her genetic lineage in “My Mother was an Indian.”

The “Attitude” segment includes a playful piece called “Do Not Aretha,” in which the narrator chides the singer Aretha Franklin for some of the things she's done. This piece, like “A Diva’s New Attitude” and “Divine Nature of the Ancestors” riffs on the genetic acronym.

“I think it’s important to know all of the cultural DNA you’re made of,” says actor Josette Marina Murray. “It doesn’t sound scientific to begin with, but this is all about DNA. It’s been very personal, very emotional. These stories are always with me.”

“DNA: Drama, Nuance, Attitude.” is playing at Flashpoint Arts Center in Washington, D.C. through August 8, 2004. For more information, go to the Black Women Playwrights’ Web site.

Related GNN Article: Dance and DNA

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