'My America'

"My America" (Violet LeMay / Special to The Baltimore Sun / September 21, 2012)

Blessing's monologue will be performed by Michael Emerson, who portrayed the character of Ben on the ABC television series "Lost."

"When you witness something that extreme, you can't help but carry it around with you," says Blessing, 62. "For a young person to be that desperate sort of imprints itself on your psyche.

"It's also a reflection of the world and the society that we live in. Suicide may be more shocking when it happens in this country, because we have a more elevated lifestyle here. We're not starving in the streets."

If there was a newspaper article about the article, Blessing never read it. Nor did he seek to learn details about the victim: his name, age or specific problems.

It may be that understanding one person's reasons for ending his life is less important than exploring the reasons to keep breathing.

"Suicide assaults our most fundamental belief that life is worth living," Blessing says. "Those of us who are still walking around tend to think that it is, but it's not chiseled someplace on a mountain. When someone chooses to die, it reminds the rest of us that we're survivors."

Lydia Diamond

When Barack Obama was elected president, it set off a confusing mix of feelings inside playwright Lydia Diamond that she's still trying to sort through.

Make no mistake: Diamond was ecstatic. Not only did she deeply believe in Obama, he and the first lady had come from the same erudite and economically privileged African-American class that Diamond had grown up observing.

"When Barack Obama was elected, it turned something in me in terms of my own American-ness," says Diamond, 43. "I felt a level of inclusivity that I hadn't felt before. That which I had written would never happen, had not only happened, but so grandly.

"But it left me with a feeling so complicated that it's hard to put into words."

As the only child of a single mother who was an academic, Diamond grew up in college towns and had a bird's-eye perspective on the travails of these mixed-race, elite hamlets.

Diamond's best-known play, "Stick Fly," just ended a three-month run on Broadway. The work is a comic exploration of the fissures within a well-to-do African-American family, where disparities in social class are every bit as debilitating as issues around skin color.

After Obama was elected, Diamond's anger about racial prejudice didn't magically evaporate. She also felt protective of Obama and worried that someone would harm him. And she feared that Americans would become complacent.

As she puts it: "I was concerned that white people who had worried about these issues would say, 'Oh, now everything is all right' and feel absolved."

So she wrote a monologue that's a humorous riff on her mixed feelings, while simultaneously teasing the audience. Viewers never are quite sure who's speaking to them — Diamond herself; the actress Tracie Thoms; or a character Thoms is playing.

The answer, of course, is all three. Thoms starred in "Stick Fly" on Broadway, and Diamond wrote the monologue with the actress in mind.

But what comes through most strongly in Diamond's monologue is her ebullience and a renewed optimism.

"I would like to thank our country," the monologue concludes, "for 'Project Runway,' the NFL, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, anti-depressants, Ambien, HBO and Denzel Washington and amber waves of grain."


Center Stage at 50: A Weekend of Activities

Baltimore's venerable regional theater has a slate of activities planned for its 50th anniversary weekend. For details, call the Center Stage box office at 410-332-0033 or go to centerstage.org.

"An Enemy of the People" Henrik Ibsen's incisive drama is currently receiving a spate of productions around the U.S., perhaps because its examination of a corrupt political system couldn't be more timely. Center Stage's production is set during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, when television became a major factor in the political dialogue.

"As we are running up to the election, this is a wonderful piece to investigate the role of the citizen, the role of the individual, and to have the debate about the majority and the minority," says Center Stage artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, who is directing the production.

The show runs Thursday through Oct. 21 at 700 N. Calvert St. $10-$60.

"My America" The gala celebration at 7 p.m. Friday will feature appetizers, live music, performances and a screening of several three-minute monologues. $75.

An Open Conversation with the "My America" Playwrights. Kwei-Armah will moderate a panel discussion with national and local playwrights, including Christopher Durang, Lydia Diamond, James Magruder, Rich Espey, Polly Pen and Gwydion Suilebhan. Free. Noon Saturday, Center Stage's sixth-floor rehearsal hall.

50 Fest: From Page to Stage. The 17th annual Baltimore Book Festival extends down Monument Street this year courtesy of Center Stage and, on Saturday, inside the theater itself. There will be costumed characters, street painting, backstage tours, workshops, and live performances. Noon to 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Free