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College Celebrates 165th Commencement May 26

Fulbright Scholarship to Take Jennifer W. Kyker '02 to Zimbabwe

Boram Lee '04 Wins International Public Policy Fellowship

Suchi Saria '04 Wins Full- Tuition Scholarship from Microsoft

Sure to Be a Virtuoso Performance: Sara Curtin '02 Speaks for the Class of 2002

Red Pegasus Class Takes Wing

DAAD Scholarship Music to the Ears of Katherine Kaiser '02

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Students Teach Each Other about Bioethics by "Cloning" National Council

Mount Holyoke Actors Take to the Italian Stage

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Mary Renda: Teaching Students to Think Historically

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Weissman Center Honors Students

On Broadway with Suzan-Lori Parks '85

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

May 24, 2002

On Broadway with Suzan-Lori Parks '85

Suzan-Lori Parks '85 (front, third from right) in New York City with MHC friends and Topdog/Underdog cast members

By John Lemly, professor of English

During the intermission of Suzan-Lori Parks's '85 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog, a familiar figure waved at me unsubtly across the theater. Elegant in a creamy long leather coat, it was the person I was looking for—the playwright herself, who was in New York briefly from her teaching job at CalArts. The week before she had agreed to meet me and my modern drama class after the show and “hang out.” We hugged, then she introduced me to her producer, Carole Shorenstein Hays, who invited all twenty-four of us to join her later at a nearby bistro.

Although the show was just days before finals, students had snapped up the tickets to the play, some having studied Suzan-Lori's works with me, others having heard her at commencement last year, and everyone eager for a night on Broadway. The office of the playwright's classmate Rochelle Calhoun, sometime actor and acting dean of the College, along with MHC's English and African American and African studies departments, had generously subsidized the trip. A few faculty members—an ad hoc fan club calling themselves Devotees in the Garden of South Hadley (after the early play Suzan-Lori directed on campus in 1996)—filled out two vans. Now we were all mesmerized by Suzan-Lori's story of the intense family struggle of love and hate between two brothers named Lincoln and Booth.

By play's end, we caught our breath, bunched our way out into the soft evening, and strolled down 46th Street, led by our hosts, two of the most creative women in theatre today. (Hays, with a couple of Tony Awards to her credit, is currently producing four of Broadway's new plays.) Arm-in-arm, two students—from rival campus a cappella groups—improvised rap songs to the May night. But the magic was just beginning.

We were ushered into trendy B. Smith's, told to make ourselves comfortable and to order what we liked, as guests of Hays. In a few minutes, legendary bluesman Paul Oscher (Parks's husband) showed up with the entire cast in tow. Both Lincoln, Jeffrey Wright (Amherst College '87), and Booth, rapster Mos Def, joined us. Unwinding after their exhausting performance, they started chatting with students, who soon were acting like they did this every night. Talk ranged widely—how the play had grown since last summer's production at Public Theatre; Wright's student days at Amherst; what Suzan-Lori would wear to the Tony awards; her abiding love for Mount Holyoke; and Oscher's and Hays's own extraordinary careers.

Hours passed until midnight's thoughts of pumpkins and unfinished papers finally tore us away. On the street outside the bistro, Paul Oscher played blues harmonica, serenading an enchanted group, reluctant but almost content to head back to South Hadley. Robins were greeting the dawn as we rolled into town, still dreaming of the kindness of strangers.

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