Center Stage features workshop readings of three of Thomas Bradshaw's controversial and thrilling plays, Southern Promises, Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist, and Mary, on consecutive nights as part of their Play Lab series.
Southern Promises takes an unflinching look at slavery, allowing the slave owners to be so capricious that their dramatic roles resemble those of the gods in the tragedies of Euripides. Neither the slave owners nor the slaves can see their own lives clearly as they muddle about in confusion, moving from one scene to the next as though blind. "In our media, often, slave owners are portrayed as evil and the slaves are portrayed as noble martyrs," Bradshaw says in an interview with City Paper. "I think people in general try to do good, but most of the time people believe they are doing the right thing. I tried to show the ways in which slave owners tried to justify slavery and reconcile what they are doing to themselves. Obviously religion plays a large part in Southern Promises since they see it as being divine will."
Bradshaw has said that these plays work against the psychological realism so often found in American drama, a stance epitomized by Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist. The play deals with the life of the presidential candidate and senator from South Carolina who was one of the nation's fiercest segregationists while also, secretly, raising a half-black daughter. Rather than finding a third position that would psychologically reconcile these aspects of Thurmond, Bradshaw allows them to rest, uncomfortably, side by side. "I simply show you what he is doing without explanation," Bradshaw says. "And the reason I do that is because a lot of human behavior can't be explained. It would absolutely be false to attempt to explain it. The attempt to explain it would strike a very false note with the audience."
Bradshaw is coming to Baltimore for the workshops because he values the view of the audience, especially, he says, in a city like Baltimore that straddles the North and the South.
"I might even make some edits," he says, even though Mary, the most recent of the three plays, premiered two years ago. "It's also like a date with Center Stage," he says. "So we can see how it is to work together."
Mary will be performed Jan. 25 at 8 P.M., Southern Promises Jan. 26 at 8 P.M., and Strom Thurmond is Not a Racist Jan. 27 at 2 P.M.