Top 10 Plays I’d Like To See With An All-Black Cast

I’m a theatre major about to graduate this year (#blessed) and I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite plays and what I might want to do as a thesis project. I’m primarily interested in directing, specifically using non-traditional casting — which got me thinking about some of my favorite plays, and how much better they’d be if they were ever cast with Black people! So I asked my Facebook friends which of their favorite plays they’d like to see with Black casts and got some greats suggestions. Without further discussion, here are 10-ish plays that would be better with a Black cast.


1. reasons to be pretty

Okay, so before I say anything I guess I need to say that I think Neil LaBute’s plays suck. I think he’s able to capture human speech patterns in a way that I wish I was able to, but his plays feel like the least exciting version of contemporary realism to me; I can’t stand his work. But when I asked this question on Facebook and a friend suggested this one, I thought about it — what if what I dislike so much about his plays are that they’re always cast with white people? Like, completely white casts. reasons has the opportunity to be a really wonderful examination of how important physical beauty can become in a romantic relationship. Thinking about reasons with a Black cast already makes me like the play so much more. Think about it: instead of just relationship pressures, there’s the societal pressure for Black women to conform to white standards of beauty. There could also be a really interesting subtextual discussion about misogynoir between the two main protagonists. Casting Black actors in reasons to be pretty transforms it from an okay play that’s overdone in Acting 101 courses in theatre departments throughout the country to one that initiates important conversations about race and beauty in relationships.


2. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

I love Angels in America. You should love Angels in America. I am almost willing to say that Angels in America is the best play written in the past twenty-five years, but that feels like a lot of commitment and I might change my mind. There are a few roles that are race-specific (The Rosenbergs, Roy Cohn) but why couldn’t Prior be Black? Or Harper? Or Joe? Or even Louis! There are Black Jewish people! Who wants to direct this? I would buy a ticket every night to an all-Black production of Angels in America.

I vote for Drake to play Louis

I vote for Drake to play Louis


3. August: Osage County

August: Osage County is really just a story about family. And if anything is more interesting with Black actors, it’s family drama. August Wilson knew this when he wrote his plays, and the same can be true for Tracy Letts’ play. In centering it around a dying matriarch, Letts has unintentionally given the play the perfect setting for an all-Black cast by centering it around a dying matriarch (A Raisin in the Sun is my favorite example of another play that deals with Black matriarchs). Plays like this are not just “good,” they’re important, and a Black cast would only highlight its importance!


4. Uncommon Women

Ever since reading Uncommon Women, I’ve wanted to direct it because the play is so malleable. The play follows a group of gal pals from their all women’s college days into adulthood. The play is supposed to be partially autobiographical, with the college in the world of the play being based off of Wendy Wasserstein’s alma mater Mount Holyoke, but the actual college is never specified in the world of the play. I want to direct it with an all Black cast and base the college off of Spelman College. It would be like A Different World but better. Also, personally, a play written by a Jewish lesbian and cast with Black women that centers around women and their relationships with their friends sounds like the only play I’d want to see for the rest of my life.

Uncommon Women is basically this, just a little gayer

Uncommon Women is basically this, just a little gayer


5. Stop Kiss

So if you’ve been in a college theatre program in the past ten years and read this website, you have undoubtedly read Stop Kiss, performed a scene from it with a girl that you crushed on, and googled Diana Son to see if she was a lesbian (she is not). This is another one of those plays that I am baffled by that the cast is almost always white. Nothing about this play says white people, and yet every version I’ve seen resembled the Wonder Bread of my youth. And I kid about it, but I’m so frustrated by this because as a Black queer person, I have literally never seen myself onstage. I cannot think of one play where the main character is a self identified Black queer non-binary human. And I think a lot of times we say, “Oh, well, let’s wait for someone to tell that story,” and it’s like, we don’t have to wait! It’s right here! Diana Son literally wrote it for us — you just have to cast a Black person in the show and then you can tell the story of a Black queer person! It’s that simple!


6. The Seagull

This is one of Anton Chekhov’s greatest plays and it’s a family drama. And we already know how well family drama and Black characters mesh! Plus, I recently reread The Seagull for class, and it’s 100% just a story about posh rich people with too much on their minds. Why don’t we ever get those stories with Black folks? Why can’t Konstantin be a struggling Black artist? Why can’t Nina be a young Black actor whose parents don’t support her choices who works her ass off, falls in love with the wrong man, and ends up unhappy? Y’all, I’m getting chills thinking about this. This could be SO GOOD. SO GOOD.


7-9. Everything by Tennessee Williams

Seriously. It’s been done before. Have you seen a Tennessee Williams play with a Black cast instead of a white cast? It’s AMAZING (Check out pictures from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire — you will fall in love). I can’t articulate why, but the stakes feel so much higher when Black actors take on these roles for me; I’m so much more invested in the show. Williams is one of America’s most prolific playwrights; and one of the things I love about his work is the malleability of it, from a director’s standpoint. I love directing Williams because it can become whatever you want it to be. He tells American stories. Period. And guess what? Tons of Black Americans go to the theatre and would LOVE to see themselves on stage in some of America’s greatest stories.

Don’t worry, the American theatre is bound to get it together eventually!

Don’t worry, the American theatre is bound to get it together eventually!


10. Grease

So, I haven’t included any musicals up til now because they feel, even for me, so much harder to re-imagine to me than plays. But, someone on Facebook suggested Grease and, well, duh. Grease is the perfect option. Because Grease is white as hell. I think we all know that. I remember counting the Black people in the last scene of the movie when Sandy discovers she can be a sexual being, but unfortunately chooses Danny instead of Rizzo. There are a total of three. I say we take those three Black kids and make them the stars of Grease. Grease has been done over and over and over and it’s always the same. Why do people think about white people when they think about the 50s? Black kids weren’t falling in love in the 50s?

Imagine: the Pink Ladies as unfriendly Black hotties

Imagine: the Pink Ladies as unfriendly Black hotties


Loving theatre can be hard for a Black person. Especially a Black queer person. I support the arts because I think they’re important, because my friends have something to do with the production, or just because I love live theatre, but it hurts that I have to wait until August every year to go to the Black Theatre Festival before I’m positive that I’ll see Black people on stage. It makes no sense to me that in 2015, I have seen over 15 plays so far, and only one of them has had a single Black person in them. And what kills me is that so much of the argument that I hear from regional theatre directors is “Oh, Black people aren’t writing good enough plays,” which, A) is a lie (Have you read Suzan-Lori Parks? Lynn Nottage? Lydia Diamond? Lorraine Hansberry? August Wilson?), but it’s also just lazy. It’s one thing to say that Black people aren’t writing plays — it’s another not to hire Black actors.

I asked if anyone on the Speakeasy wanted to talk about their experiences in the theatre, and Leticia R. and I had a really amazing conversation about blackness, queerness, and theatre. Something she said that I really appreciated was, “The landscape of theatre is an interesting one to me, as a place that has been open to white male queer bodies, rarely do we look it as a place that needs to be critiqued in its handling of individuals that don’t fall into the white cis male parameters.” I think it’s that caution to critique that has theatre in a stagnant state, though. People see theatre as this thing that’s for the underdogs or the outcasts to come and find a home, but look at the stage. The way that it’s functioning right now, it seems unlikely that a Black person, let alone a Black queer person, could go to the theatre and see a community that they’d assume would openly embrace themselves. The thing about being ahead of the game is that you have to stay ahead of the game for it to matter. So what if the theatre accepted white cis gay men in the 70s if Black queer women don’t feel like they have a place in 2015? The past is only useful to us as a catalyst for better theatre in the future; right now it feels like we’re stuck in the past.

Being able to make a list like this was really exciting while also being really depressing. On the one hand, now I have all these awesome ideas for reimagining great plays. But on the other hand, why does it seem like I’m the only one thinking about this? In the grand scheme of capital-A American capital-T Theatre, me casting Black actors in and directing a 10 minute Neil LaBute scene for a workshop performance that’s only seen by my 150 person theatre department probably isn’t going to make a big deal. I guess I just want to know what needs to happen for this to be something people want to talk about. Why are we so complacent, and so willing to keep doing the same thing?

What are some of your favorite plays that you think would be better with Black actors? Give me some more thesis ideas, y’all!

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 252 articles for us.

33 Comments

  1. I love all of these suggestions!

    Just wondering if you’ve seen or heard the music to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new musical Hamilton, about Alexander Hamilton and the Revolutionary War? He’s been talking a lot in interviews about the importance of POC representation on Broadway and casting all POC to play the Founding Fathers. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat all week and I LOVE it!

  2. I love all of these ideas, I’m positively salivating over the idea of an all black August: Osage County. I got to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof performed with an all black cast quite a few years ago (Terrence Howard, James Earl Jones, and Anika Noni Rose aka the voice of Princess Fucking Tiana) and it was astounding. Anika’s performance was BREATHTAKING. I loved all of the suggestions here and I’m really excited to see what you ultimately end up doing!

  3. This is such a good article! I completely agree that changing the cast can really transform a work of fiction in a fascinating way. Probably why I love so many tumblr posts about racebent casts! One of the wonderful things about plays is the way that the same words can be transformed just through the people doing it. I hate ‘stunt’ casting where they just switch things around for no reason (i once saw a version of romeo and juliet where the genders of the actors who played the characters were switched… and it was nonsense) because there is so much power in the context.

    • I love that you say there’s power in context because that’s so important!! i’m not neccessarily advocating for changing race races in plays where race is important to the context of the play (although Lin Manuel Miranda and “Hanilton” prove this has the possibility to work out amazingly if done right) matter to the play, but if race isnt specified, why is white always the go to?

      • Even though the people portrayed in Hamilton were actually white in real life, them being white is not important to the story being told. Which is why the casting of POC in those roles works. I’d argue that it makes the story even more relatable for modern audiences. A Latino man rapping about immigrants getting the job done is super relevant to everything happening in this country right now in 2015, even though the character saying those things was actually a white man in 1776.

        Changing the race of a character in a show where race *is* important can also work if done thoughtfully. I’ve seen Miss Saigon with both white and Asian actresses cast as Ellen (Chris’s American wife); casting an Asian woman in that role adds depth to the story and to Chris’s character that you don’t get with a white woman in the role.

  4. This is such a great article! I’m kind of obsessed with remaining classic plays to make them less of a fest of white men.

    An awesome all-Black production of All My Sons just toured to Cambridge, England, where I live 🙂 Arthur Miller improves the same way Tennessee Williams does.

    More of a British one obviously but I’d love to see Top Girls with Black actresses playing the sisters. It’s such a great piece about women and family, and the destructiveness of particular kinds of feminism, and the problems of joining in a system that’s weighted against you.

  5. I think there’s still a (mis)perception by many theater producers that a) black people don’t go to the theater, and b) the older white people who make up the majority of theater audiences aren’t as likely to see a show with a black/POC cast. I also think these perceptions are being proven wrong, slowly but surely. When there is a show on Broadway with a majority-black cast (like The Color Purple, or any August Wilson play), black people come out in droves to see it. And everyone and their grandmother (literally, I was behind no less than 3 ladies who had to be well into their 70s at the box office the other day) is willing to mortgage their children for a ticket to Hamilton. I think each success like this makes producers more willing to take a chance on something “different.”

  6. There was a phenomenal adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie produced by a South African company “Mies Julie”, that we were fortunate enough to have tour here in Vancouver. Some Ibsen done by a similar company would be great.

    On a tangent, I would love to see “5 guys named Moe”” with an all-female

  7. Basically, whenever a play is cast with all white actors, it’s lazy casting. End of story.

    I would love to see “Sweeney Todd” with an all black cast. I think Chuck Cooper and Lillias White would make an excellent Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. And Billy Porter as Pirelli. And Audra McDonald as the Beggar Woman. Okay, I’m done now…

  8. I’ve always wanted to see Next to Normal with a non-white cast. I saw a production of it with a black Diana, but the rest of the cast was white.

    I second August: Osage County with an all-black cast. When I saw the show on Broadway, Phylicia Rashad was Violet.

    Essentially, any family play (or musical) should be done with a non-white cast.

  9. First, everyone should bask in the gloriousness that is debbie tucker green.

    Second, every Sondheim musical ever, but especially Sweeney. Leave the Judge white though, and the Beedle, potentially.

    Also it really saddens me that Stop Kiss doesn’t get a more diverse cast, because Diana Son literally writes that the cast should reflect the diversity of NYC. The Pasadena Playhouse did pretty well though, in my opinion.

    I’m not into theatre at all. Nope.

    • Yes, the only production of Stop Kiss I’ve seen cast one of the two leads (the teacher from out of town) as black and I actually thought the show was written that way. I can’t imagine that show with two white leads, partly because the actress in question was amazing, but also because so much about the show–the difficulty the couple have communicating early on, the teacher’s commitment to her career helping kids in NYC, the white traffic controller’s need to prove herself to the teacher’s family, the teacher’s family protectiveness, the fact that people didn’t see them as a couple–felt deeply grounded in and affected by the characters’ races.

      I’m going to keep my head canon the way it is, but it saddens me that other people don’t have that.

      • I know, that’s why I suggested it.

        I want to see something like it on stage out of childish nostalgia, why the hell does a musical based of a fairytale have to be full of white people, and because I think crystalline shoes ect look more stunningly beautiful on people with darker skin tones than lighter tones.

  10. I found this really interesting…. I’m a huge proponent of the idea of completely color-blind casting except where specific to the plot (Ragtime, for instance- the race of each character is central to the plot) or a very specific directorial choice (like the concept of adding the layer of race/beauty to Reasons to be Pretty- which I’d pay a lot of money to see, btw)

    But, I remember reading an article ages ago by the director of an all-black production of Oklahoma in which he said that color-blind casting shouldn’t exist, because color-blind audiences don’t exist. What do you think? Do you think that race changes the context enough that colorblind casting doesn’t work?

  11. I realize this is a musical, but I recently saw Matilda, and the child who played Matilda was the first non-white/Filipino actor for the role. I noticed that there were far more POC, specifically children, present at the theater for this show than any other show I’ve been to. It made me realize that little future actors are missing an opportunity to become interested in theater when they do not have a chance to see themselves present in these roles right now. So thank you for making this!

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