10 Works Over 5 Years by Black Playwrights. All Intended to Unnerve.

Spoiler alert: These 10 plays, presented in New York over a mere five years, intend to unnerve. Oftentimes, the most outrageous of plot twists are what make that happen.

In an invigorating act of theatrical demolition, Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins resurrected — and exploded — Dion Boucicault’s dusty 19th-century melodrama about a doomed romance on a slaveholding plantation. This artfully layered play uses meta-theatrical monologues, strategic colorblind casting and an avalanche of cotton balls to explore the crippling absurdity of conventional ideas of race, then and now.

Four of the white O’Mallery siblings gather by picnic tables for a party that is actually a decoy to the lure the crack addict fifth to an intervention. Ten minutes of low-rent hilarity later, after a blackout, the scene continues, but now the O’Mallerys are black. How that does and doesn’t change our view of them is the first of several detonations set off by this booby-trapped comedy.

The show that proposes that we all might need a “safe word” when it comes to discussing race. This production from the innovative Lightning Rod Special begins as a middle school history lesson about the underground railroad. What follows is a boundary-crossing, id-plumbing portrait of an interracial love affair between the class’s teachers — Ms. Kidwell is black and Mr. Sheppard is white — that reminds us that theater still has the power to shock.

This haunting, grief-steeped work, inspired by the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer, imagines an afterlife in which the spirits of young black men try to comprehend how and why they died. The answers do not come easily, if at all. A choral tone poem of a play in which current history becomes an endless, cyclical nightmare.

The winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this is a play created expressly to discomfort, and turn the tables on, its audience. A show that begins as a domestic sitcom reminiscent of “The Cosby Show” annotates, rewrites and ultimately dismantles itself, while asking acute and troubling questions about how the African-American experience is framed, contained and shrunken by the white gaze.

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