by Lynn on June 5, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on until June 7, 2021.

Plays on Demand.

Written by Adrienne Kennedy

Directed by Kenny Leon

Starring Audra McDonald

Warner Miller

Lizan Mitchell

Ben Rappaport

Adrienne Kennedy is an African-American playwright who is a towering pioneer in American theatre, writing about the Black experience in the United States,  although one would hardly know it, since her plays had been rarely done over time. That has changed of late. A few months ago Round House Theatre in Maryland had an on-line festival of four of Kennedy’s plays where I first saw them. They were introduced by the likes of Jeremy O. Harris, who considers Kennedy a mentor, and Michael Kahn, former Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. who directed Kennedy’s plays at the beginning of her career and considers her a friend. The plays were a revelation. Alas they are never done here in Canada. One of the plays in that festival was Ohio State Murders.

Another reading of Ohio State Murders is being offered until June 7, as a fundraiser for the Actors’ Fund of America on demand. It stars the wondrous Audra McDonald reading the lead part of Suzanne Alexander.

The blurb on the play describes it this way:

“Ohio State Murders is an unusual look at the destructiveness of racism in the U.S. when Suzanne Alexander, a fictional African American writer, who returns to Ohio State University to talk about the violence in her writing, a dark mystery unravels.”

As Suzanne Alexander, Audra McDonald’s reading of the character is tempered, the pace is measured, almost unemotional, considering the play is packed with emotion. Suzanne Alexander tells how in 1949 she was admitted to Ohio State University as an undergraduate. She loved English but knew that Black students would not be admitted to the program. She took a course in English Literature with a young professor who initially taught Thomas Hardy’s

“Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” Suzanne Alexander wrote a paper for that class and the professor questioned if Alexander wrote it, it was so brilliant. The veiled racism is evident. A relationship between student and professor developed. The story took many turns; there was violence, murder, expulsion, loss.   The quiet, deliberate performance of Audra McDonald as Suzanne only emphasizes the eye-popping resolution to the story. There is one section in which McDonald reveals Suzanne’s heart-squeezing emotion at what has happened to her that is both a surprise and devastating. She catches us unaware.  

Adrienne Kennedy has chronicled the racism that a Black person has experienced in America through her plays. Her characters are complex; the stories are rich in detail and perception; the language creates a world that has not improved really changed over time. Kennedy is brilliant.   Don’t miss this chance to hear the play and see this compelling performance by Audra McDonald.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.