Who was Ron Milner?
A rather prolific playwright who emerged from the Black Bottom area of Detroit, Ron Milner holds the distinction of writing the first play by an African-American to be produced by Joseph Papp at the Shakespeare Festival at Lincoln Center in New York.
Milner's work was part of the Black Arts Movement of the mid-1960's. His plays, written from 1966 to 2002, focus upon the social and psychological struggles of the Black working class. As a moralist, Milner created didactic plays that examine the nature of the lives of African-Americans, plays that also raise people's consciousness. Interestingly, too, his plays incorporate the rhythms and "riffs" of jazz; What the Wine Sellers Buy and Jazz-Set, which employs a jazz orchestra as a form to create the dramatis personae, are wonderful examples of this technique that weaves throughout his dramas. Milner writes that he uses the jazz form--"our music"--as a method of all expression and existence. Milner explained his decision to use this method:
....our music simply spoke of us and to us--and let the world react as it chose. I decided to approach my plays, the writing of them that way....I saw each of the characters as a particular musical instrument.
Milner's play Checkmate which starred Ruby Dee, Paul Winfield, Denzel Washington, and Marsha Jackson attained international, as well as national, acclaim. Concerned with the lives of two couples, who are separated by age and attitudes as they are generations apart, Checkmate examines the "crisis" of young blacks' concerns with upward mobility at the expense of their personal relationships in contrast to the older generation's dedication to one another and their compromise as opposed to the younger couple's competition.
Ron Milner's plays are among the most produced, authentic, and respected; truly, his dramas have become staples of African-American theater.