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Campus Hosts Play that Tells Stories of Physical, Sexual Abuse

January 28, 2013

A powerful one-woman play that explores the troubling world of physical and sexual abuse debuts Feb. 23 as part of Arts UC Merced Presents.

“Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men,” written and performed by actress/poet/playwright Dael Orlandersmith, tells the often difficult and uncomfortable stories of six boys and men who have seen, suffered or committed abuse.

The 2012 play has been performed only at two other venues — the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago — and is so new that the script hasn’t yet been published.

A single performance is scheduled at UC Merced. Following the play will be a panel discussion that includes UC Merced faculty and Orlandersmith.

Gail Benedict, producing manager of Arts UC Merced Presents, said “Black n Blue Boys” deals with dark themes and a tough subject matter. The panel discussion allows audience members to talk about the experience of watching the play.

The drama may be one of the more controversial performances brought to campus, she said. But part of the Arts UC Merced Presents mission is to find and host experimental, enriching and potentially challenging material.

“This is an amazing opportunity to have someone of this caliber come to our campus,” said Benedict, who saw the play at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

The arts program also helps connect the community with the university.

Benedict said a supportive board helps suggest ideas and contacts, and that is where Orlandersmith’s name surfaced.

Orlandersmith grew up in New York and once was a social worker. She won an Obie Award for her play “Beauty’s Daughter” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her play “Yellowman.”

In “Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men,” Orlandersmith becomes each of the characters — who vary in both ethnicity and age. Their stories are frankly told and with some sexually explicit language.

Due to raw language and the material, the play is not recommended for young children.

Benedict and arts Professor Dunya Ramicova, the artistic director and faculty adviser to the arts program, are reaching out to UC Merced professors who might want to have their students attend or offer extra credit for those who see the play.

Katherine Steele Brokaw, an assistant professor of literature, is one faculty member who will encourage and provide extra credit to her Shakespeare students who watch the performance.

“From what I understand, the play really speaks to the power of art to tell and convey difficult emotions,” she said.

“As a Shakespeare professor, I am hoping that students make connections between this new piece of theater and the theater of 400 years ago,” Brokaw said. “Both tell stories that audiences need to hear.”

“Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Dr. Lakireddy Auditorium on campus. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 general admission.

For more information and tickets, visit the Arts UC Merced Presents website.