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