'Will the Circle be Unbroken?': Lynn Nottage's Community Plays

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Hayes, Jennifer Louise
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Middle Tennessee State University
In "`Will the Circle Be Unbroken?': Lynn Nottage's Multicultural Community Plays," I argue that the playwright creates progressive communities by incorporating African American female characters within multicultural circles. By acknowledging African American women's membership within diverse groups, Nottage encourages audiences to rethink community. To make this point, I extend Patricia Hills Collins' transversal political theory to contemporary African American drama. Whereas Collins argues that intercultural interactions produce short-lived coalitions, Nottage's plays suggest that they produce lasting multicultural alliances.
Nottage provides historical context for African American women's membership in multicultural communities by connecting memory with community. In Intimate Apparel (2003), she uses photography as evidence of multicultural community and self-definition by demonstrating how historical contexts promoted African American women's erasure from history. In Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine (2004), Nottage creates an African American female trickster that uses call and response to signal personal and communal identity transformation by connecting interactions with external responses. By redefining success, Nottage revises migration narratives in Crumbs from the Table of Joy (1995) shifting focus from escaping oppression to cultivating familial relationships. Nottage employs choral elements in Mud, River, Stone (1998) through a mimetic retelling of an African American couple's journey to Africa. She creates a traditional Greek chorus while establishing a progressive communal connection between the audience and the performers. In her most recent play By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (2011), Nottage models how audiences should engage with past racial iconography to move discussions of African American women and their literature from isolation to inclusion. My discussion of this play frames the dissertation.
Ultimately this study highlights Nottage as a major contemporary figure in African American women's literature by demonstrating her development of community within the tradition. By combining intercultural interactions with multicultural communities, Nottage's plays exemplify Collins' argument that meaningful change occurs only through cooperation. Moreover, by incorporating audiences within diverse alliances, Nottage encourages spectators to recognize their ability to promote change within their individual interactions.
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Fabulation, Or the Re-Education of Undine, Intimate Apparel, Lynn Nottage, Mud, River, Stone