Book Review: Underground, Monroe and The Mamalogues

In Underground, Thompson examines masculinity, power, protest and privilege. Kyle surprises “Dix” (Mason) when he shows up uninvited to his hideaway home in upstate New York. From the outset, I was skeptical about the purpose of his visit as Kyle went about furtively going through Mason’s things and taking pictures. He came off as a hustler and I was trying to figure out what game he was running. Slowly their past is revealed, as are Kyle’s motives, and Mason becomes more assertive. Having risen above poverty, he no longer feels that the Black male struggle is his fight. He fought. He won. He’s done.

Monroe is based in part on a real lynching that took place just outside the city of Monroe, Louisiana in 1919. George Bolden*, an illiterate man, was lynched after being accused of writing a letter to a white woman. The play opens up with a community viewing strange fruit hanging from a tree. We get to see the impact on the young man’s loved ones as they cope with the brutality of his death and the terror it instills. His sister Cherry cleaves to her religion while his best friend Clyde makes plans to escape the violence and Monroe.

Of the three plays The Mamalogues was the most humorous and lively. Here Thompson turns her lens onto Black single mothers with the aim of dispelling stereotypes and shedding light on issues of inter-sectionality. To this end, Thompson’s group of mature successful women hold conversations with the audience about traditional views on marriage, ageism, homosexuality, the school-to-prison pipeline, how to train your child to survive being called the N-word and other basics of “parenting while black and living in the age of anxiety”.

The common thread in all of these plays is the Black middle class. Thompson is particularly interested in the costs, as well as the benefits, of class ascension.

*If you would like to read more of George Bolden’s story, it is featured in the book Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.

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