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The competing interests of a high-class, sheltered Black woman and her activist grand-daughter collide in “The Nacirema Society.” The Theatre North production, featuring an all-Black cast, opens on Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. inside the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
Focusing on a fictional community of aristocratic Black women during the Civil Rights Movement, the goals of a group of young, Black activists conflict with the goals of their wealthy, insulated grandmothers who have been able to ignore the calamity afflicting most Black people during the period of racial upheaval.
Set in 1964 Alabama, Dr. King is set to visit Montgomery to spearhead a voter registration drive. “But Grace Dunbar, the matriarch of Montgomery’s most aristocratic Black family and President of the Nacirema Society, has other things on her mind,” according to the play’s description.
“It’s meant to be a comedy of manners, an upperclass comedy,” Director Frank Gallagher told The Black Wall Street Times ahead of the opening day.
“This society of well-off professional class women, mostly widows, are disconnected from the civil rights movement of the 60s,” Gallagher explained.
Theatre North’s “The Nacirema Society” highlights old vs. new, change vs. order
For 65-year-old Grace, the matriarch of the community, festivals and balls appear more important than marches or protests. That doesn’t sit well with her grand-daughter, Gracie, who wants her community to be more active in the civil rights movement.
Living in an upscale Victorian home with her own chauffeur, Grace resides in a social bubble. Yet, more conflict arises when a 40-ish year-old woman named Alfa shows up at her door, claiming to be the daughter of Grace’s late husband and their maid.
“Alfa has a daughter who is trying to graduate from college as a doctor. And she needs money. Alfa is a very fun character. She’s not nefarious. Just a mom trying to do what’s best for her daughter,” Director Gallagher said.
While the play is fictional, the term “Nacirema Society” is based on a real North American indigenous culture anthropologists discovered in the early 1900s, according to a report published by Canada’s Simon Fraser University.
For Director Frank Gallagher and the all-Black cast of the Theatre North production, the play’s theme revolves around change vs. order.
“Do we cling to the old or look for a new that’s better? Grace clings to yesterday. Her grand-daughter Gracie is looking for a better way to go, a better society. There’s that sense of hope there,” Gallagher told The Black Wall Street Times.
For those who might not be used to attending theatre productions, Gallagher said it’s an experience worth paying for.
“There’s nothing like that experience. The audience is just as much a part of the community as the director or actors.”
“The Nacirema Society” opens May 21 through May 29. For more information on how to purchase tickets, visit the Tulsa Performing Arts Center website.