Moving Marginal Characters to Center Stage

If you looked only at the subjects Suzan-Lori Parks has tackled--racism, homelessness, sexual hypocrisy--you might mistake her for a polemicist. Yet her dislocating stage devices, stark but poetic language and fiercely idiosyncratic images transform her work into something haunting and wondrous. Not one but two of her plays revolve around a character who makes a living as an arcade attraction playing Abraham Lincoln; patrons pay to impersonate John Wilkes Booth, grab a pistol and shoot him. (The image simply "burned itself into my mind," she explains.) Her spiky plays often take place in a strange nowheresville and feature Greek-style choruses or...

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