When Heritage and Personhood Collide

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THE MAGNOLIA BALLET, PART I
by Terry Guest
Williamston Theatre, Michigan

 

“ARE YOU a Mitchell man, or are you a faggot?” demands a father, shouting in the face of his teenage son. It’s a chilling, heartbreaking question that’s repeated throughout Terry Guest’s new play, The Magnolia Ballet, Part 1. The work by the Chicago-based playwright who grew up in the South is a lyrical, tightly choreographed play that’s getting a rolling world premiere. It opened in Chicago in early 2022, had a second showing at Williamston Theatre in Michigan in October, and will get a third premiere in Detroit in June 2023. The latter two productions are sharing a director, technical staff and two of the four actors.

            The Williamston production was stunning, leaving many in the audience clearly affected as they gave the ninety-minute show a standing ovation. Guest, himself a gay Black man, has written a play that makes no apologies or accommodations to polite sensibilities, and he isn’t concerned with making those who are uncomfortable any less so.

            Set in modern-day Georgia, the action moves back and forth through the generations, as far back as the slave ship that brought over the Mitchells’ ancestors.

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Bridgette M. Redman is an independent arts writer and travel journalist.

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