In a new D.C. play, Lincoln’s head goes missing. Cue the laugh track.

‘Monumental Travesties’ at Mosaic Theater Company makes the vandalism of a controversial statue a source of comedy

Review by Peter Marks for The Washington Post

From left, Louis E. Davis, Jonathan Feuer and Renee Elizabeth Wilson in the world premiere of Psalmayene 24’s “Monumental Travesties,” by Mosaic Theater Company. (Chris Banks)

What says ally-ship quite like a White man with Black Lives Matter emblazoned on his tighty whities? It’s a question you’ve probably never thought of asking. But playwright Psalmayene 24 nevertheless seeks to answer it — er, cheekily — in “Monumental Travesties,” the entertainingly transgressive comedy getting a world premiere by D.C.’s Mosaic Theater Company.

Psalmayene 24 (nee Gregory Morrison) has written an absurdist three-character satire poking fun at all the pieties about race, especially as espoused by White liberals looking for absolution from their Black friends and associates. The subject is as ripe for ribbing today as was sending up Archie Bunker’s bigotry on “All in the Family” in the 1970s. Some of Psalmayene’s plot contrivances, in fact, reflect the blatantly cringe-making pivots of vintage sitcoms.

But the conventions of bygone TV comedy provide a surprisingly safe space for a subject around which thoughtful people still tread lightly (even if Psalmayene and Reginald L. Douglas, his skillful director at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, might rethink the 90-minute play’s ending, which lands with a confusing thud).

“I grew up in a house that used to be a stop on the Underground Railroad!” protests Jonathan Feuer’s Adam, the overbearing White neighbor desperate to establish his worthiness to the Black couple (Louis E. Davis and Renee Elizabeth Wilson) next door. It is in the becoming D.C. home of Davis’s Chance and Wilson’s Brenda — brightly rendered by set designer Andrew R. Cohen — that “Monumental Travesties” takes place. And that’s where the story begins when Chance, a local activist/performance artist, bursts in the front door, bearing the head of Abraham Lincoln.

A real-life controversy inspires the mechanics of “Monumental Travesties”: Chance has severed Lincoln’s head from the Emancipation Statue in D.C.’s Lincoln Park, a monument dedicated in 1876 that in recent years has been decried as a humiliating depiction of White savior mentality. (Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate in Congress, has introduced legislation to have it removed.) The statue features a godlike Lincoln astride a kneeling, formerly enslaved man in a loincloth — his servile gratitude could not be more apparent.

Renee Elizabeth Wilson and Louis E. Davis in Mosaic Theater Company’s “Monumental Travesties,” directed by Reginald L. Douglas. (Chris Banks)

The giant head, by props designer Deb Thomas, sits on Chance and Brenda’s coffee table like an emblem of history’s ossified portrait of slavery from a White perspective; Chance’s vandalism is part of his campaign to “deconstruct symbols of White supremacy.” At one point, he enlists the compliant Adam in reversing the postures of the statue, having Adam prostrate himself before Chance in his living room. “So this is what it feels like, huh,” Chance remarks, “being White in America?”

The sharpest junctures of “Monumental Travesties” involve Chance and Brenda bearing witness to Adam’s outrageously self-serving platitudes. He’s so evolved, he insists, that he considers himself “un-White,” whatever that means, and so attuned to the injustices against people of color that he can recite from memory testaments to the indigenous Anacostan people on whose land his pricey townhouse sits. Chance and Brenda are not, for their part, above using Black victimhood to gain social and economic advantage: Brenda, for instance, concocts for Adam a shameful lie about a relative’s murder to explain the money she got to buy the house. (The truth, Psalmayene 24 implies, would be harder for a White person to believe.)

What’s also implicit in “Monumental Travesties” is the notion that conscientious people both Black and White still have to “act” for each other, that what they say in each other’s presence is a varnished version of what they really think. (Although the dramatist also points out that Brenda and Chance harbor problems and secrets, too, that they’re not willing to confront.) Chance’s absconding with Lincoln’s detached head is, in a sense, a cut to the chase about race: Talk isn’t good enough, he’s declaring, not even about the father of emancipation. Only action matters.

Davis, Wilson and Feuer demonstrate their acumen concerning broad comedy; their roles are archetypes, somewhat short of three dimensions, much the way sitcom characters are defined by a single trait recycled in one episode after another. Costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka gives pleasing pizazz to Brenda’s outfits, particularly the historic garb devised for the play’s final movement, when Brenda introduces another factual detail that complicates Chance’s facile rationale for his crime.

Under Douglas’s guidance, the actors amiably navigate the plot turns, which become ever crazier. The dramatist packs in so many curveballs that some are inevitably going to be wild pitches. (“Monumental Travesties” has to be the first play to use the brain fog resulting from long covid as a pivotal narrative point.) But even with some bumps, Psalmayene has paved a way for comedy to be another dramatic tool for understanding.

Monumental Travesties, by Psalmayene 24. Directed by Reginald L. Douglas. Set, Andrew R. Cohen; lighting, Alberto Segarra; costumes, Moyenda Kulemeka; sound Nick “the 1da” Hernandez. About 90 minutes. Through Oct. 8 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.

A playwright, Psalmayene 24, takes down a problematic memorial, with comedy

In Mosaic Theater’s ‘Monumental Travesties,’ playwright Psalmayene 24 critiques D.C.’s controversial Emancipation Memorial

By Celia Wren for The Washington Post

From left: Louis E. Davis, Jonathan Feuer and Renee Elizabeth Wilson in Mosaic Theater’s production of “Monumental Travesties.” (Chris Banks)

The new play “Monumental Travesties” is a comedy, but the perception that sparked it was no laughing matter.

“The seeds of it started with my disdain for the monument,” says playwright Psalmayene 24, speaking just yards from the controversial Emancipation Memorial in Capitol Hill’s Lincoln Park. In his opinion and that of others, the sculpture, dedicated in 1876, demeans the Black man it portrays as kneeling at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, who is holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the monument was commissioned and paid for by African Americans, including people who had been enslaved, an all-White committee oversaw the design. Some detractors — including protesters during the social justice activism of 2020 — have called for the monument’s removal.

Perspective: Yes, D.C.’s Emancipation Memorial advances white supremacy

Psalmayene 24, who goes by Psalm, says he wanted to “alchemize” his contempt for the memorial into something positive. The result is the first comedy the local writer, director and actor has written. A tale of a protester’s irreverent caper, which offs the Lincoln statue’s head, “Monumental Travesties” runs through Oct. 1, mounted by Mosaic Theater Company, where Psalm is the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation playwright-in-residence. The show is performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, about a mile from the memorial.

“Monumental Travesties” playwright Psalmayene 24. (Darrow Montgomery)

Mosaic Artistic Director Reginald L. Douglas, who is staging the play, says he wanted to open the company’s season with a work that was joyful, if substantive. “Psalm uses laughter to allow audiences to lean in, which is one of the best gifts of theater,” he says. “We’re all sharing a joke about something quite serious: Conversations around race. Around local and national history. Who gets the opportunity to see themselves represented in monuments, and who does not? And how do we, as neighbors of different races and political affiliations, come together in a dialogue about where we go next?”

Debuting one play that touches on race and history is a notable milestone; Psalmayene 24 is premiering two this month. Running at Joe’s Movement Emporium through Sept. 24 is his interview-based play “Out of the Vineyard,” about legal actions filed against enslavers by enslaved people. Tony Thomas directs and choreographs.

Psalm, age 50 — “the same age as hip-hop,” he jokes — discussed both new works while sitting on a bench near the memorial one mild morning.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

From left: “Monumental Travesties” cast members Jonathan Feuer, Renee Elizabeth Wilson and Louis E. Davis; playwright Psalmayene 24; and director Reginald L. Douglas at the Emancipation Memorial in D.C. (Chris Banks)

Q: When did you first become aware of the Emancipation Memorial?

A: When I came to Howard University. I don’t remember the exact moment I saw it, but it troubled me ever since.

Q: What about it do you disdain?

A: This is a piece of art, and all art is subjective. But to me, it’s pretty unambiguous in terms of the demeaning representation of the Black man. You can see him kneeling in front of Lincoln, and he’s practically nude — he’s only wearing a loincloth — and Lincoln is in this paternalistic superior pose above him. This monument is supposed to be in honor of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, but I think the artist got it wrong. The Black man kneeling is supposed to be free, but he doesn’t look free. This is a prime example of the type of representation that my work aims to dismantle. My work is all about elevating and uplifting representations of Black people.

Q: Tell me about deciding to write a comedy.

A: I feel it has to be a comedy, because the subject matter is so heavy and can be so polarizing. With the pandemic hopefully in our rearview mirror, I think audiences really want to laugh and want joy. Comedy is a form that I hadn’t written, so this was a formal challenge to myself. I’m making fun of people on both sides of the “woke” aisle. I’m on a certain side of that aisle, too, but I think we’re all ridiculous and absurd.

Q: You have a strong reaction to the statue. Was it difficult to present the other side of the issue?

A: No, because within the boundaries of a comedy, everyone is fair game. No matter what you think should be done with the statue — if you think it should be melted down and poured into the Potomac, if you think it needs to stay up or go to a museum — there is humor that can be mined from that.

Q: Did you do research for “Monumental Travesties”?

A: I did. But a lot of my research actually consisted of coming to this park and observing people. Like right now, there’s a woman walking by. She happens to be looking at the monument. A lot of people don’t even look up at it.

Q: “Out of the Vineyard” is another play that touches on American history.

A: That play is in conversation with “Monumental Travesties.” Brooke Kidd [executive director at Joe’s Movement Emporium] approached me about adapting a book called “A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery From the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War” [by William G. Thomas III]. I did not want to do a period piece. So I interviewed people who in some way are connected to the history of freedom suits: lawsuits, basically, that enslaved people waged pre-Emancipation Proclamation. Many were waged by families in Prince George’s County. Knowing about this history really emphasizes the fact that enslaved peoples were always fighting for their freedom. Which brings me back to the representation [in the Emancipation Memorial]. The statue, for me, represents a fallacy. “Out of the Vineyard” aims to correct that fallacy and bring light to a hidden chapter in America’s history.


Q: The fallacy being that freedom came from the White savior bestowing it.

A: Exactly. Freedom, as I understand it, is not something that comes from another human being giving it. It is a right that you are born with.

Monumental Travesties

Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993, ext. 501.

Dates: Through Oct. 8.

Prices: $42-$70.

Out of the Vineyard

Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Rd., Mount Rainier.

Dates: Through Sept. 24.

Prices: $25-$40.

PAY THE WRITER, by Tawni O’Dell, Starring Ron Canada, Marcia Cross, Bryan Batt, More, Opens Off-Broadway August 21

The timely new play began its run with a benefit performance supporting the Writers Guild of America.

By Margaret Hall, Logan Culwell-Block for

Ron Canada, Marcia Cross, and Bryan Batt

Pay the Writer, a timely new play from Tawni O’Dell (Back Roads), officially opens Off-Broadway August 21, after beginning performances August 13. The production plays through September 30 at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center with Karen Carpenter (Love, Loss, and What I Wore) at the helm.

The new play follows the friendship between a white, gay literary agent and his best friend and most successful client, a gifted Black writer. The sold-out first preview performance served as a benefit in support of the Writers Guild of America, which is currently on strike. Additional benefit performances were added August 14 and 20 to meet demand.

The cast features Ron Canada (Network) as writer Cyrus Holt, Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives) as Lana Holt, Bryan Batt (Mad Men) as literary agent Bruston Fischer, Steven Hauck (The Velocity of Autumn) as Jean Luc, Miles G. Jackson (Chicken & Biscuits) as Young Bruston and Taz, Garrett Turner (Tina – The Tina Turner Musical) as Young Cyrus, Danielle J. Summons (Baby) as Gigi, and Stephen Payne (Straight White Men) as Homeless Man.

The production also features scenic design by David Gallo, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Chistopher Akerlind, sound design by Bill Toles, and props by Yuki Nakamura.

The limited run is produced by Alexander “Sandy” Marshall, Mitchell Maxwell, Giles Cole, and MarMaxMedia.

Tickets are available at

Barrington Stage bringing back ‘Happiest Man on Earth’ by Mark St. Germain

Stage and screen veteran Kenneth Tigar is the sole actor in “The Happiest Man on Earth,” based on the bestselling 2020 memoir by then-100-year-old Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku.

Season-opening show returning for performances from Sept. 22 to Oct. 8

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Longtime TV and film actor Kenneth Tigar will return to the role of a 100-year-old Holocaust survivor in Barrington Stage Company’s production of the one-character play “The Happiest Man on Earth,” running Sept. 22 to Oct. 8 on BSC’s intimate the St. Germain Stage.

Tigar created the role for the production’s season-opening run from May 24 to June 17. Of the the 27 performances, a dozen were sold out, and reviews were universally positive

“The Happiest Man on Earth” was written by Barrington Stage’s longtime close associate Mark St. Germain, who has had 14 plays produced by the company. It is is based on a bestselling 2020 memoir of the same name, published when its author, Eddie Jaku, was 100 years old. Born in Leipzig in 1920, Eddie was the son of Polish-immigrant parents who were proud German Jews until the rise of the Nazis destroyed their lives.

During the 80-minute play, Tigar alternates between playing Eddie as a centenarian, finally telling his story to a synagogue audience in his adopted homeland of Australia, and multiple characters, from family to friends to fellow prisoners and Nazis. The play was commissioned by BSC from St. Germain through the Sydelle Blatt New Works Commission Fund. The stage named after St. Germain is in a building endowed by philanthropists Sydelle and Lee Blatt.

Performances from Sept. 22 to Oct. 8 will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, with Saturday matinees at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23 and Oct. 7. Tickets, at $60 for adults and $25 for youth, are available online at or by calling 413-236-8888.   

Article by Steve Barnes for the Times Union.


Trio of free Staged Readings directed by Tony F. Sias of Karamu House held at Oberlin College’s  Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater on June 23, 24, and 25  

As communities across the country, and in Northeast Ohio begin the many celebrations  surrounding Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved  African Americans, nationally acclaimed playwright, and novelist Ifa Bayeza is currently writing  a drama, The Rescue of John Price, and will premiere free staged readings with an accomplished cast and crew at the Irene and Alan Wurtzel Theater at 67 Main Street on the  campus of Oberlin College, June 23, 24,25, 2023 at 7:00 pm. 

Bayeza has been commissioned by The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theater Project founded by  Pat Spitzer and her husband automotive business leader Alan Spitzer to complete the play in  2024. Based on historical events, The Rescue of John Price is about a runaway slave who in  1858 traveled from Kentucky to the abolitionist sanctuary and utopian college town of Oberlin,  at the height of the frenzy over the Fugitive Slave Act. When slave catchers threatened to  kidnap John back into slavery, hundreds of Oberlin and Wellington citizens led by a  revolutionary group of rescuers prevented his capture and helped him on his quest for true  freedom.  

“Through this distilled dramatization of the rescue of this one man from the ravages of slavery,  I hope that audiences will ponder today, the pivotal role, the essential role, that African  Americans have played in the making of this nation and the fulfillment of its promise,” said  Bayeza. “That journey, from enslavement to freedom, which has been hard-fought and is  ongoing, has brought benefit to all lovers of democracy.”  

Tony F. Sias, the CEO & President of the Karamu Performing Arts Center in Cleveland is the  director of the anticipated drama and the staged readings. “The Rescue of John Price is not just entertainment,” said Sias. “It’s about educating the community about this historically seminal  moment in time.”

Bayeza is also educating the community by conducting several workshops, discussions,  interviews, and a host of other activities, She also hopes to get feedback about her work thus  far. On Monday, June 19, the official Juneteenth Holiday, there will be a “Conversation with Ifa” at the Burrell House in Sheffield, Ohio Metroparks. This landmark is the last known location  where John Price stayed before being whisked to freedom in Canada.  

The event is hosted by The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theater Project and the Lorain County  Racial Equity Center and the African American Fund, an affiliate fund of the Community  Foundation of Lorain County. 

Considering our current cultural climate, Bayeza added that we can all learn from The Rescue of  John Price. “The respectful and earnest collaboration of Oberliners, white and black, men and  women, old and young in creating what was almost a utopia, one that we struggle to envision  even today, is central to this story – people of all backgrounds, persuasions, and experiences,  living and working together for the progress of all.” 

Oberlin-Wellington Rescue Theater Project Co-Founder Pat Spitzer conceived the idea of  creating a play about a historic event even 30 years ago and is thrilled Bayeza is bringing that  vision to life. “For progress to be made, we must work together. I think people want to walk the  walk with this history. I would just like to see the day when everybody wants to help  everybody. That’s the ultimate goal.” 

This summer’s staged readings of The Rescue of John Price are made possible by a  generous legacy gift from the Fischer Family (Michael and Susann), in honor of the late Gay  Fischer, who cherished her years at Oberlin College in the 1950s. Ifa’s community events are  thanks to support from the Community Foundation of Lorain County. Free tickets for the  staged readings are available on the website,, or through Eventbrite. For other  community events, go to: 


Ifa Bayeza is an award-winning playwright, director, novelist, and educator. Plays include THE  TILL TRILOGY (The Ballad of Emmett Till, That Summer in Sumner and Benevolence); String  Theory; Welcome to Wandaland; Infants of the Spring; the musicals Charleston Olio, Bunk  Johnson … a blues poem and KID ZERO and the novel, Some Sing, Some Cry, co-authored with  her sister Ntozake Shange. A finalist for the 2020 Herb Alpert Award in Theatre and for the 2020  Francesca Primus Prize, Bayeza is the recipient of two commissions from the National Trust for  Historic Preservation and a 2022 MacDowell fellowship. Bayeza holds an MFA in Theater from  UMass Amherst and is a graduate of Harvard University. The TILL TRILOGY (The Ballad of  Emmett Till, That Summer in Sumner, and Benevolence) made its world premiere, in rotating  repertory, at Mosaic Theatre Company of DC in October 2022.