PLAYWRIGHT, SCREENWRITER, PERFORMER
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
If “What to Send Up” is a receptacle for the rage that is part and parcel of life for many African-Americans, a piece that encourages its audience to respond with cathartic yells and tears, it is also shaped by a rarefied theatrical intelligence. You may not be entirely aware of its artistry until after it’s over, or realize that the show you’ve seen is also a very good play.
Decades of moviemakers, novelists and playwrights have been trying to unlock the mysteries of Sam Shepard. This woman is the first to convince me she’s got a key. “Is God Is” signals the arrival of a very good playwright. It also feels like the staking of a major claim.
The context for this unleashing was supplied by the evening’s performance piece, “What to Send Up When It Goes Down,” Aleshea Harris’s bracingly potent memorial to black men and women killed by police. And it was apparent from the collective volume that the subject was striking a nerve with everyone — black, white, Asian, Latino — who passed into the theater from a lobby papered with photos of African American shooting victims.
BEN BRANTLEY, NEW YORK TIMES
WESLEY MORRIS, NEW YORK TIMES
Aleshea Harris’s play Is God Is (directed by Taibi Magar at Soho Rep) won the 2016 Relentless Award, an OBIE Award for playwriting in 2017, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award in 2019 and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
What to Send Up When It Goes Down (directed by Whitney White, produced by The Movement Theatre Company), a play-pageant-ritual response to anti-blackness, had its critically-acclaimed NYC premiere in 2018, was featured in the April 2019 issue of American Theatre Magazine and received a rare special commendation from the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
Harris was awarded a Windham-Campbell Literary Prize and the Mimi Steinberg Playwriting Award in 2020 and the Hermitage Greenfield Prize in 2021. She has performed her own work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Orlando Fringe Festival, REDCAT, as part of La Fête du Livre at La Comèdie de Saint-Étienne and at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Harris is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and has enjoyed residencies at Hedgebrook and Djerassi.