Dael Orlandersmith grew up in East Harlem, NY. During her adolescent years, she was an avid reader and writer. As a teenager, Orlandersmith took acting classes and performed poetry at the infamous Nuyorican Poets Cafe. She has used the art of theater as a platform of exploration and discovery – confronting issues of drug addiction, child abuse, and Black on Black racism. Audiences have experienced the pleasure of her theatrical brilliance across the U.S. In 2002, Orlandersmith was honored by industry peers when she became a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Drama Desk Award nominee for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actress in a Play for her play Yellowman. She is back with a new play, Black N Blue Boys/ Broken Men, currently running at The Goodman Theater through Oct. 28. Again, she tackles controversial and sensitive topics in this outstanding one-woman performance.
Taking her talents and skills to the next level, Orlandersmith portrays only male characters – ranging in age, race, and ethnicity. There are nine very different characters struggling through the cycle of sexually, verbally, and physically abuse. Orlandersmith was inspired to write the play based off of her experiences as a counselor, “I had a job briefly in a run-away shelter, and a lot of the guys used to talk about being abused psychologically, physically, sexually by both men and women. And no one wanted to look at that. If the perpetrator was a man, they [the authorities] would jump on it in a heartbeat, but if it was a woman [perpetrating the crime]….they didn’t want to look at. Like if a woman beat or slapped someone, they just said they didn’t like that. They would say, ‘Oh, she’s a single mother and she was abused herself.’ I’d hear that a lot. But I would also hear a lot of the boys’ I counseled say, ‘Aunt so and so, or their mother, or whomever female person abused me.’ But their pleas weren’t really acknowledged.”
Orlandersmith decided to explore and give voice to this male point of view that is often unspoken, unheard, and not acknowledged. She adds, “God forbid if a woman is ever physically or sexually abused, there are shelters for her to seek help and protection. But if a boy or a man is physically or sexually abused, where is he supposed to go? There are not many places out here for men to seek help.”
For the moment, audiences can watch, speak, and sometimes relive these often-painstaking experiences vicariously through Orlandersmith. Although uncomfortable at times, this production offers a theatrical event that cannot be missed. By the end of the play, she brings the audience full circle to a point of spiritual reawakening. Chay Yew directs Orlandersmith in this spectacular production that is worthy of yet another gamut of awards and honors.