This article first appeared Friday, September 17, 2021 in The Charlotte Post
by Ashley Mahoney
Coolidge Harris II's "Greenwood," which won the African American Playwright's Group and Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts BIPOC Playwright's Festival, debuts at Matthews Playhouse Sept. 17-18. Coolidge Harris II explores the history of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre through the lens of a love story.
As the winner of the African American Playwright’s Group and Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts inaugural BIPOC Playwright’s Festival earlier this year, his play “Greenwood” made the Matthews Playhouse season. Elizabeth Flax was named director. “Greenwood” makes its world premiere at Matthews Playhouse on Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Two shows will take place on Sept. 18 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., with a talkback with the cast and creative team following the 2 p.m. performance. Keep in mind it is a historical drama with mature content and adult language.
Massacre history Dick Rowland, a Black man, was accused of sexually assaulting Sara Page, a white woman. The accusation would later be proved false, but not before Black Wall Street, also known as the Greenwood business district, was burned to the ground between May 31-June 1, 1921. Scholars believe up to 300 people died during the massacre. “It is especially important and relevant in that this is the 100-year commemoration of the event,” Harris said. “It’s just a blessing to be able to bring this story to life on stage in the 100-year commemoration of the Black Wall Street massacre.” The massacre was largely covered up for decades. Tulsa Public Schools piloted a program which expanded across Oklahoma, teaching the history of the massacre. Oklahoma leaders said in 2020 teaching about the massacre would be introduced to school curriculum beginning last fall. Learning about Greenwood was a deep dive for some of the cast. “It was a dive into history, and that's what I love about it,” said Diatra T. Langford, who plays Lucile. History meets stage Harris crafted a story following Lucile and Red-Manning. Lucile struggles with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder, which prevents her from going outdoors. “You never see Lucile outside of the boarding home,” Langford said. Lucile’s view is confined to looking out of her window, and her world is filled in by her friends in the boarding house. “There is a love and a respect between her and Red-Manning, and he will do anything for Lucile,” Langford said. Little did they know the world will come crashing down around them. “The thing I really love about it is the imagination Coolidge put into it to have given the damsel in distress, if you will, agoraphobia,” said Carle Atwater, who plays Shriner. “Just the fear of not being able to go outside and breathe air without having a major traumatic experience. I thought that was very, very interesting. I went, ‘oh my goodness, that's quite unique,’ and how that gets her to where they are and how that ends up putting her agreeing to basically, ‘OK well I guess I'm going to die now, because my phobia is not going to let me go outside to escape the impending danger.” Tickets are $16 for adults and $14 for seniors, students and children. Seating will be reserved and limited to accommodate physical distancing. Masks will be required for the performance.