Playwright Mary McCullough taps into themes both large and small — everything from the Great Migration to Alzheimer’s disease — but her focus is always on the intimate details that bring her characters to life.
McCullough, who has just been named playwright–in–residence at Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall (a virtual celebration takes place Friday), is looking forward to a year of developing new work and seeing at least one of her plays, “Smoked Oysters,” mounted in the fall.
“I am very aware that I am following in the footsteps of such talented playwrights as Patricia Elam Walker, Jacqui Parker, and Peter Snoad,” she says. “I’m a little nervous, but also very excited.”
The playwright-in-residence appointment is the culmination of many years of writing, advocating, and touring. McCullough is one of the founders of the Streetfeet Women, a writing and performance group, which just published a new anthology of poetry and prose called “When Metaphors Are Not Enough,” celebrating women and girls. But McCullough says she honed her playwriting skills through workshops hosted by ACT Roxbury and TC Squared Play Lab.
“I tend to write about women, and Black people,” she says. “I want to explore the complexity of who we are as African-Americans.”
“Smoked Oysters” takes its title from a sensory memory. It follows a couple whose familiar world is shrinking just at the moment they are finally ready to see the world with a trip to an exotic locale. The exploration of memory loss, and the struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, may be familiar to audiences, but McCullough’s view through the lens of a Black family offers a unique insight while connecting with universal heartbreak.
Dawn Simmons, an accomplished Boston theater director and cofounder of the Front Porch Arts Collective, will direct “Smoked Oysters” for a full production scheduled for the fall.
“We’re not sure what the situation is going to be in terms of having a live production,” McCullough says, “so although I feel the script is in good shape, I’m thinking about how to adapt it for a virtual production.”
Depending on COVID restrictions, McCullough also hopes to develop new work and revive a play she created when she was the METCO director in Weston schools. “Going to the Promised Land,” which explores the Great Migration, calls for a multigenerational cast, along with music and dance from the 1920s.
“I’m hoping to have the opportunity to work with other performing arts organizations that are part of the community,” she says. “Right now, we need uplifting stories. The people who moved up from the South during the Great Migration experienced trials and tribulations but were full of hope and the effort to realize their dreams. The story is very timely.”
The other Marathon
The 23rd annual Boston Theater Marathon returns for a Zoom edition April 1-May 28. One 10-minute play will be available for viewing every day at noon (except Sundays), and each play will be followed by a question-and-answer period with the audience. The 50 New England playwrights who are participating in the marathon partner with a local theater company for casting and direction. This year’s playwrights include Melinda Lopez, Kirsten Greenidge, Jack Neary, Cliff Odle, both Miranda and John ADEkoje, and many others.
The marathon is free, but viewers are encouraged to donate to participating theater companies and/or the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund, which provides financial relief to area artists in need. (Audiences need to download the free Zoom app to participate, and it is recommended they call in a few minutes before “curtain” time. Go to www.BostonPlaywrights.org for the link and full schedule of plays and cast lists.)
Teatro Chelsea hosts festival
Teatro Chelsea is launching a new Latinx play festival, A-Tipico, April 9-10 and April 15-17. The festival showcases new work selected from 46 scripts. The plays will be presented “workshop” style, with professional actors reading scripts, followed by audience feedback to help the playwrights continue to develop the work. Each play will be performed at 7 p.m. The schedule is: “Before We Focus on Others,” by Diego Lanao (April 9); “Malas Mañas,” by Alejandra Ramos Riera (April 10); “Anormales,” by Fernando Vieira and “SAA (not that one)” by Luis Roberto Herrera (April 15); “Binary Star,” by Guadalupe Flores (April 16); and “Flood” by Alicia Margarita Olivo (April 17). The suggested donation is $10; go to www.teatrochelsea.com.
Solo plays online in April
A pair of one-woman plays hosted by local theater companies will be available digitally in April.
“Unveiled” can be viewed April 2-18 through New Repertory Theatre Company. The exploration of five Muslim women’s lives in a post-9/11 world was produced in 2018 at New Rep’s BlackBox Theater in a co-presentation with Greater Boston Stage Company. The digital production was written, performed, and videotaped by Rohina Malik ($25; www.newrep.org/productions/unveiled-digital).
Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith’s “Until the Flood” screens April 17-May 2 through Merrimack Repertory Theatre. The play is a wrenching, documentary-style consideration of the shooting of Michael Brown, a Black man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Orlandersmith created eight characters who embody the wide range of individuals whose lives are forever changed by the killing. Maiesha McQueen, who appeared in the national tour of “Waitress,” stars. ($19; www.mrt.org/flood)
A new home for ‘Home Office’
The second season of playwright John J King and dramaturg Ramona Rose King’s delightful Web series “Home Office” is now available on YouTube (www.youtube.com/JRexPlays). The five episodes in the second season trace the couple’s move from Boston to Queens and the new challenges they face in New York City, living and working from home in cramped quarters.