The Ohio State Murders was commissioned by the Great Lakes Theater Festival of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1989. It was directed by Gerald Freedman for the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s thirtieth anniversary season as a part of the nonprofit company’s 1992 Adrienne Kennedy Festival. The play is presented in multiple brief scenes filtered through the memory of the present Suzanne, who acts as narrator. From the stacks of the university library, the writer relives the debasing experiences of Suzanne as a college student from 1949 to 1951.
As a black student, Suzanne is the target of insidious, as well as overt, racism critically destructive to her ego identity. She is told that certain streets are regarded as exclusively white and that an English curriculum is considered too difficult for black people to declare as a major course of study; in the face of such racism, Suzanne’s self-concept deteriorates. She becomes uneasy, anxious, and frightened. Even her white dormitory mates seem to her to be capable of racially motivated murder.
Suzanne’s sole source of joy in her freshman year is a required course on the Victorian novel taught by Robert Hampshire, an unemotional white man in his first year of teaching at Ohio State. Fascinated by Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), Suzanne begins to draw parallels between her life and the successively restrictive, tragic life of Tess. The present Suzanne concludes that...
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