Op-Ed

Give accolades to Ky.-born playwrights

George C. Wolfe
George C. Wolfe

Nathan P. Dazey’s butter churns are probably better known to fans of Antique Road Show than any of playwright Charles T. Dazey’s (1858-1938) mostly single-digit performance Broadway melodramas (1896-1906) are to theater fans.

So it is understandable that Dazey was not mentioned in the recent article about overlooked Kentuckians who have contributed to American popular culture.

Those chosen were Iwo Jima hero Franklin Sousley; musicians Les McCann, Nick Lachey and Bryan Tiller; film directors Tod Browning and Gus Van Sant; and actors Florence Henderson, Michael Shannon and Melissa McBride.

But how is it that the paper overlooked Maurine Dallas Watkins, Marsha Norman, Suzan-Lori Parks and George C. Wolfe?

Maurine Dallas Watkins, born 1896 in Louisville, a graduate of Transylvania University, was a reporter turned playwright, whose comic play “Chicago” ran on Broadway for 172 performances in 1926-27. After Watkins’ death in 1969, her estate allowed John Kander, Fred Ebb and a wealth of Broadway acting, dancing and singing talent to recast the play as a Broadway musical.

That show opened in 1975 to great acclaim and ran for 936 performances. Currently, in its 20th year the revival of “Chicago: The Musical” as of Jan. 8 — has had 8,396 performances.

Marsha Norman, (born in Louisville) is an active playwright and teacher in New York. A revival of her play “The Color Purple” (she wrote the show’s book) has run 450 performances until closing Jan. 8.

Additionally, Norman has had four other shows run on Broadway “Night Mother” (for which she won a Pulitzer Prize), “The Red Shoes” (1993), “The Secret Garden” (1991) and “Bridges of Madison County” (2014). Finally, and almost as notably, Norman is co-director, with David Lindsay-Abaire, of the Juilliard School of Drama’s playwriting program and a leader of the Dramatists Guild of America.

Suzan-Lori Parks, (born in Fort Knox) was the first African-American female to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Topdog/Underdog” (2002). Additionally, Parks has had a second Broadway production, “The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess,” which won 11 Tony awards and ran for 293 performances.

Parks is a playwright in residence at the Signature Theatre, an off-Broadway theatrical icon. During 2016, her play,The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, a.k.a. The Negro Book of the Dead,” ran Nov. 13 through Dec.18 at the Signature which will later produce her plays, including “In the Blood.”

George C. Wolfe, born in Frankfort, is multi-talented: playwright, director, producer and actor. As an actor he had roles in “Garden State” (2004) and “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006).

But he is best known as a Broadway director and producer. “Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed” won numerous Tony nominations and four Drama Desk Awards. “Jelly’s Last Jam” (1992) and “Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk” (1996) also were no slouches in the awards department.

He directed the initial Broadway productions of “Angels in America” (parts I and II) and Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog.” TV credits include “Lackawanna Blues (2005) and HBO’s upcoming “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” starring Oprah Winfrey.

Wolfe directed “Nights in Rodanthe” (2008). Finally, between 1993 and 2011 he produced 14 Broadway plays that included three of his own plays, and ending withA Free Man of Color.”

I take no offense with the individuals listed in the article. They are deserving of our attention. It’s just that I don’t understand why Maurine Dallas Watkins, Marsha Norman, Suzan-Lori Parks and George C. Wolfe — all of whom have accomplishments that equal or exceed those of the people highlighted — were not included.

William H. McCann Jr. is president of Kentucky Playwrights Workshop, Inc. and editor of the Kentucky Theatre Yearbook. He lives in Corinth and teaches stagecraft at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

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