‘The Fall Of The Kings’ Writer/Director Talks Using Art To Combat Black Mental Health Stigma

Photo: Kristen McFarland

Photo: Kristen McFarland

Writer and Director, Mai Sennaar is an alum of the Tisch School of the Arts. In 2012, at the age of 19, her first play, The Broken Window Theory, premiered at the famed Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe in New York City starring Tony award-winner Tonya Pinkins and was directed by Tony award-nominee Michele Shay.

Her latest play The Fall of the Kings, a 2014 Atlanta Black Theatre Festival selection, tells the story of an African-American heiress and her Caribbean husband fighting to sustain their family in the midst of an economic disaster. The play is about class and differences within the African diaspora, about colorism within the African-American community, female identity, mental health and resilience.

The Fall of the Kings, produced by Walter E. Puryear, III, opens September 52015 in New York City and features an award-winning production team hailing from Broadway, film and television. Choreographer, Dyane Harvey-Salaam’s credits include The Wiz (original stage and film versions) and the classic Spike Lee film School Daze. Set designer, Christopher Cumberbatch’s, work has appeared both in theater and in the Spike Lee films Crooklyn and Malcolm X. Composer Diana Wharton was a founding member of Sweet Honey in The Rock and composer for Ntozake Shange’s Broadway hit For Colored Girls.

BlackDoctor.org recently spoke with Sennaar to learn more about the production.

BDO: Please share the inspiration behind The Fall of the Kings

MS: The Fall of the Kings is the first in a trilogy of plays that explores black presence and identity across the African diaspora during World War II. It follows the story of a black ballerina, the daughter of a black American heiress and a Cuban father. She comes into womanhood in Boston during her family’s battle over her dying grandfather’s estate. I’m fascinated by the ways in which the human spirit manifests and develops when in collision with conflict. I was also inspired to write the play after reading the seminal work of Djibril Tasmir Niane, Sundiata, which explores the life and times of the Malian king Sundiata Keita. The production has an array of influences including American cinema from the Golden Age of Hollywood and iconic black music, most notably Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You album and Soro by Salif Keita. I wanted to tell a story that explored the ways in which shared traditions of identity across the African diaspora persist throughout history. I also wanted to tell a story about family conflict, gender roles, sexuality, and spirituality in a time when women were particularly repressed. The Fall of the Kings is all these things.