Owen Dodson Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Owen Dodson—teacher, director, and critic—made many valuable contributions to African American drama as he encouraged and trained actors and playwrights, his plays remain his most significant theatrical accomplishment. Dodson, the author of at least thirty-seven plays and a dominant director in African American university theater for more than thirty years, was not the first black dramatist; however, he was one of the first black playwrights to consistently write and direct serious African American plays. Therefore, he is a literary forefather of younger generations of black playwrights such as Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson as well as black directors, including Lloyd Richards. He has been hailed as the dean of African American drama.

In Dodson’s plays, themes, plot, and characters are upstaged by language. His most widely known theatrical works are verse plays. He was one of the first playwrights, white or black, to effectively use verse drama. Even when Dodson wrote other types of plays, language remains, more often than not, the most potent element.

The epigraph (“It takes a powerful long ladder to climb to the sky/ An catch the bird of freedom for the dark”) for Dodson’s first volume of verse, Powerful Long Ladder, has relevance for his plays. The ladder is a metaphor for whatever individuals need, and the bird of freedom represents goals and desires. In The Shining Town, black women need to endure in order to reach financial stability. In Divine Comedy, the churchgoers need to turn away from a con man and empower themselves to obtain life’s basic necessities. In The Garden of Time, the characters must realize that racism affects love. In Bayou Legend, Dodson’s second full-length play, which critics have described as a fantasy and an allegorical poetic legend, Reve Grant fails to learn until it is too late that to compromise one’s life is to compromise one’s soul. He “chose the kingdom of compromise, of nothing, of mediocrity” as he longed for wealth and power.

The Shining Town

The setting of this one-act play is a subway...

(The entire section is 883 words.)