Bird of Pray: Exploring the Experiences of Gay Black Soldiers

Actors Cornelius Davidson and Devante Lewis in Bird of Pray by Darrel Alejandro Holnes. (Photo by Jake King via Kings County Politics)

A new play, “Bird of Pray,” by playwright and poet Darrel Alejandro Holnes, a professor at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, “takes audiences into the world of gay black servicemen during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy years,” writes José Negroni in Kings County Politics. Holnes was interviewed about the play, which will have another performance on Wednesday, June 27, and is part of a series of works that the playwright has written on the experiences of Black soldiers.

KCP:What’s the “Bird of Pray” about?

Darrel Alejandro Holnes: The play is about two African American soldiers who, together, navigate the dangerous terrain of unrequited love, the inescapable memories of war, and suicide. This theatrical journey into PTSD explores the hidden corners of American history and the legacy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell through magical realism, dialogue, and dance.

Why did you choose to work on “The Sandstorm Cycle,” a series of plays that draws on the experiences of black soldiers?

I started this series after hearing the stories of soldiers I knew personally or were connected to through friends and family. The majority happened to be African American and I was fascinated by the intersectionality of their stories, by the intersectionality of our stories.  As people of African descent, our lives are at a constant crossroads with our gender, sexuality, religion, and class. I was very inspired by how these stories stood at those many intersections and at the same time transcended them to tell universal stories about finding life in the contradiction of killing people to save people, in the crux of our anxieties about building empire while also being its subject; it’s a paradox I live everyday, and one with which many of these African American soldiers struggled.

I’ve also been really disappointed by the erasure of LGBT stories from American history and am determined to write LGBT and POC stories into the history of the American stage. That’s my way of being the change I want to see in the world. By raising awareness, I hope to inspire people to think more compassionately about these soldiers, especially as the nation continues to debate the undeniably great value of trans soldiers in the military.

Holnes speaks extensively about the role of magic and magical realism in grounding the play “in many different histories.” He cites African diasporic rituals and traditions, especially death rituals and folk dance, as well as inspiration drawn from spiritual practices common in Tibet, Aboriginal Australia, and other parts of the world. For more from Holnes on fellow playwrights and poets in Brooklyn, and a discussion of the development of the play, go to Kings County Politics.

Bird of Pray is scheduled to be performed at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27 at The Brick Theater, 579 Metropolitan Ave. in Williamsburg. 

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