Playwright Larry Muhammad.
Interview by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Bard’s Town Theatre and Kentucky Black Repertory Theatre presents a double bill of African-American themed plays to kick off Black History Month this year – Double V, about a crusading black newsman during World War II who helps persuade President Harry Truman to integrate the US military, and Derby Mine 4, about an African-American miner, rare in today’s coal industry, who rescues colleagues trapped underground by a methane explosion.
Written by local playwright Larry Muhammad, the two, hour-long dramas will be performed at The Bard February 1, 2 and 3, each night at 7:30 pm. We asked Larry to answer a few questions about the plays.
Keith Waits: When was Kentucky Black Repertory theatre founded?
Larry Muhammad: 2013, and we became a 501c3.
KW: Who have been your most important collaborators?
LM: There have been many. Bill McNulty, the Actors Theatre alum, was my personal dramaturge for the first five plays i wrote. Billy Bradford, of YPAS and Trinity Theatre departments, has directed three of my plays, “Double V” Jockey Jim, and Buster! The Louis Coleman Musical. J.R. Stuart directed Henry Bain’s New Albany, a very successful production that was part of the New Albany Bicentennial.
I’m thrilled to be working with Kathi Ellis and Clyde Harper on this production.
KW: Your plays are invariably about African American history, especially in Kentucky. How do you choose your subjects?
LM: Not invariably, we have two brands. We have plays by Cisco Montgomery, which include the homegrown terrorism play Murder the Devil and Booty of the Year, a sibling rivalry play involving female wrestlers. Kentucky Black Repertory Theatre, which puts African American Bluegrass history onstage, brings to life Kentucky’s largely unsung Black heroes, many of whom I discovered as a Courier-Journal reporter, like The Magnificent Stephen, about Stephen Bishop foremost explorer of the mammoth cave, Frank Stanley Sr., the late Louisville Defender publisher who is hero of “Double V”, and Henry Bain, Pendennis Club headwaiter who is hero of Henry Bain’s New Albany.
KW: How much were you aware of Frank Stanley Sr.’s life before you decided to write Double V?
LM: When I was a reporter for the Chicago Defender, which owned several papers including the Michigan Chronicle, Tri-State Defender, and Louisville Defender, Stanley had a reputation as one of the company’s top news executives. Years later as a C-J reporter I was assigned to write a Black History Month profile on Stanley because his widow Vivian Stanley had donated his papers to the University of Louisville. That led me to explore his legacy and write the play.
KW: Is Derby Mine 4 based on a true story?
LM: True in the sense that characters in the play reflect actual experiences of African Americans, women, union members and black lung victims in the coal mines, but I created the narrative. I was commissioned by Kentucky Playwrights Workshop to write a play and coal mining is a topical issue in Kentucky and elsewhere. It gave me a lot to work with, so I developed a play around that.
KW: Are there relationships between the two plays? Why do you have them paired together?
LM: They are both African-American themed dramas, performed in observance of Black History Month. Each one runs about an hour, so we are doing them as a double bill, with an intermission, for a full 2-hour evening of theatre. They have separate directors and casts, there’s no other connection except I wrote them both.
A Black History Month double bill: Double V & Derby Mine 4
February. 1, 2 & 3, @ 7:30 pm
The Bard’s Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40204
$20 cash at the door
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.