Profession: Playwright/educator Hometown: Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a.k.a. Zaire), raised in Miami Current home: Los Angeles Known for: Among Benson’s most produced plays are Fati’s Last Dance and The Talk. Her play Deux Femmes on the Edge de la Revolution Part 1 also received attention during its workshop at the New Black Fest in 2018. The first installment of a trilogy, Deux Femmes Part 1 won Benson a residency at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, as part of the Cultural Diaspora Program. What’s next: Minneapolis’s Playwright’s Center will produce Deux Femmes Part 1 as a workshop this July. Her play Detained is in development with Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles. What makes her special: Benson was among the first playwrights featured in the Monologue Project, an online resource for women of the African diaspora cultivated by Bishop Arts Theatre Center in Dallas. Her monologue “deeply resonated with me,” says Bishop Arts’ executive artistic director, Teresa Coleman Wash. In an interview for The Dramatist, Benson told Coleman Wash about “the emotionally debilitating narrow perceptions” she must combat as Black female writer. Concludes Coleman Wash, “Her work is beautifully compelling and engaging, and deserves a platform.” Healing through humor: Benson, whose plays celebrate Haiti’s history and culture, believes in the power of laughter. “My favorite kind of work is anything that makes me laugh, really laugh, while also illuminating poignant truths about the human condition,” she says. “Laughter can be profoundly transformative, and writing humor is such an extraordinary skill. If you can make people laugh, you’re essentially a healer.”
The Richard Wright-James Baldwin showdown “Les Deux Noirs” briefly becomes “Les Quatre” in the frisky, flippant new show at Mosaic Theater. Wright takes on a Jay-Z persona and Baldwin is Kanye West as the Jay-Z/Kanye West song “Niggas in Paris” gets the music video treatment, complete with choreography and projections. No telling where playwright Psalmayene 24 might swerve after that irreverent, heady start to his 70-minute power play between mid-20th-century titans of black American culture.
You can’t say Psalmayene 24 is jumping on the hip-hop bandwagon of “Hamilton”; he’s been doing this for at least 20 years, since he performed his “The Hip-Hop Nightmares of Jujube Brown” at Arena Stage. The new drama’s full title is “Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son,” and it’s based on a 1953 meeting in Paris between Wright and Baldwin. The beef was the upstart Baldwin’s critique of Wright’s 1940 novel, “Native Son,” a groundbreaking book that’s still troubling in its representation of Bigger Thomas’s violent reaction to an oppressive society. …
The show is a fantasia that isn’t entirely sure of itself yet. Sexuality rears its head — Baldwin was gay, Wright married two white women — and in that complicated key, RJ Pavel and Musa Gurnis are terrific as the solicitous maitre d’ and waitress (both white) with creamy French accents and lusty eyes. The chats and the action never feel remote — lessons on the n-word, a great joke about reparations — even if the show is still seeking the thread that will pull it all tight.
Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son, by Psalmayene 24. Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell. Set, Ethan Sinnott; lights, William K. D’Eugenio; costumes, Amy MacDonald; projections, Brandi Martin; sound, Nick Hernandez; choreography, Tiffany Quinn. About 70 minutes. Through April 27 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $20-$65. 202-399-7993. mosaictheater.org.
Read the full review by Nelson Pressley of the Washington Post here.
Daily PlayLab readings are the foundation of the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Twenty PlayLabs are held throughout the Conference week with two staged readings running simultaneously. Playwrights receive feedback on their work from a panel of GPTC Guest Artists, as well as other local and national theatre artists and the general public.
THE LAKE AND THE MILL is one of the 20 plays chosen out of 800 submitted.