Lekethia Dalcoe is a playwright and actress from Houston, TX, who now resides in New York City. She holds a MA in Theatre from Texas A&M University- Commerce and a MFA in Acting from the New school for Drama in NYC. Her recent playwriting credits includes, “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red" (Full-length) commissioned by the “Billie Holiday Theatre” 2017-2018 season, produced by the Congo Square Theatre in Chicago for its 2015-2016 "Power of Her season"; directed by Tony nominated actor/director Harry Lennix, selected for Capital Stages (2016) Playwrights' Revolution staged reading series, also produced at the Venus/Adonis festival (2015) in New York, and as a staged reading for "The Keep Soul Alive playwriting series at The National Black (NBT) in New York. Her play recently won, best theatrical Production and Director for the 2016 Chicago Black Excellence awards and Best Play for the 2018 Audelco Awards. Other plays include: “Butterflies in the Mist“ (Full-length),“ and “An Ancient Tale of Debauchery, and "Valley of Bones."
I’m a social artist, who uses the art of writing to evoke conversation and understanding of black people and their plights in society. I give voice to characters whose voices are often silenced in the real world. Those voices are endowed with ethereal language, heartbreaking melodies, and the sheer brazen truth. The character are unapologetic in their search for understanding, self love, and empowerment.
Combining elements of historical drama, magical realism, and Southern gothic, my work tends to pivot between two worlds; one steeped in realism, the other in a nightmare or dream. They're often allegories, in reference to African-Americans’ desire to learn more about their history, but also a fantasy in which justice and redemption come from a clearer path than they do in real life. When dealing with the black body, I believe that the medium of writing is a far more tangible way to administer fairness than what American politics or society have historically shown.
My writing is hardly conventional in its narrative structure and is loaded with fantastical elements, such as portraying a purgatory-esque world, or as I call it, “The holding space.” It’s a metaphor saying, that both physically or mentally, the whole country is stuck. The characters in my writings are often in some “holding space”, unable to move forward, because there has been no accounting for the crimes done to the black body in the real world; thus no reconciliation. I like to explore, what does that “holding space” look like . I ask myself, how is the idea of being “stuck” manifested in my stories? I also like to explore the rules of the holding space through an exploration of the stage directions, inarticulate sounds, music, and how the space in itself is another fully lived character; a character that moves, breathes, changes, and effects the bodied characters as well. The idea of the setting being alive is reminiscent of effective tools employed by the great playwrights I admire such a Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams. I want my worlds to "moan" and I want the audience to see the physicality of that moaning come alive on stage.
The souls of black America are in jagged shards in my plays, just as they are in real life. I want to try to piece those souls together.
"Shackled, bound, and trapped within someplace between reality and make believe, lies swollen bellied, bloodied Mary Turner, the accused murderer Sidney Johnson, and the loving husband Hayes Turner. All are haunted by the voices of the mob that resides in an abyss that tangles, throws, and switches the elements all in an effort of stopping the memories. Their torture continues even in the afterlife. Sidney has reluctantly been given the task to force Mary to remember the horrible accounts of her lynching so they both can move on. In this world entangled in history and unforgivable acts against humanity, to forget is to forever perish just like the countless stories before them, trapped within old newspapers and forgotten memories."
"Crickets chirp loudly, the smell of smoked meat on the grill looms, swamp pop music bellows, and it’s hot as hell in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Old Charlie is awaken by the sounds of the crickets and an eerie feeling that something, or someone, has returned. He curses at the phantoms floating all around him. He hears her voice calling out to him, after all these years Sulaa has returned. This is a coming of age story, sprinkled with magic, music, adventure, and an attempt to find solace in a newplace, far beyond the bounds of a world that destroys little black boys "black magic." Sulaa mustshow him the way, and Charlie must choose to find his magic once again. This "Peter Panish" story explores the possibility of finding far away lands where little black boys can spread their magic as far out as they please and escape the limitations of our world."
"Black women are blown around endlessly by the unforgiving wind as punishment for their transgressions. This is where the loose women go. They are poor, black, and forgotten.Their necks are marked with fingertips, their faces are black and blue, and their dresses have all been ripped. Slashes abound. Holes in heads. Blood...there’s always blood. Black women aren't protected here, just as they aren't in the real world. Here their bodies are only for the pleasure and entertainment of others. Maybell is a prostitute from the Harlem Renaissance, who was killed by her lover. He now taunts her, for it is his bidding. Madame, a fallen angel and gate keeper of Hell, forces them to reenact her murder over and over for her own pleasure. When an unexpected and forbidden love blossoms between Maybell and a fiddler player, who sold his soul to the devil to fiddle better than any man, the need to escape propels them on a journey of self love and discovery."
"Guided by Death, Ruth travels through the many layers of systematic Hell, called the VALLEY OF BONES, where the tortured souls of black folk killed simply because of blackness reside, in order to rescue her grandson’s wandering spirit, and complete some task given by God."
New, gripping play at Billie Holiday Theatre commemorates the lynchings of eleven African Americans– including Mary Turner and her unborn baby– in 1918 Brooks County, Georgia.
‘A Small Oak Tree Runs Red’—Explosive, powerful theater at Billie Holiday Theatre
"Sitting in the audience you feel your emotions being touched, your anger being tapped. Dalcoe chooses to educate us about our history by having murdered slaves in a holding area between their death and heaven."
"We Want Poems that Kill": Removing the White Gaze from Black Stories Onstage- by Lekethia Dalcoe
"By having power over our own art, black writers can destroy how we are often falsely portrayed, and give birth to new dramas that show black life in its truest, most unapologetic form: free of escapism and full of the raw truth."
Interview begins at 22:24
Host Kim Singleton interviews LeKethia Dalcoe on her play "A Small Oak Tree Runs Red". The play was inspired by the events around the lynching of Mary Turner in 1918.