Baltimore-born and -raised playwright Mai Sennaar is gearing up for a significant new step in her blossoming career. The world premiere of Sennaar's ambitious drama "The Fall of the Kings" will be held Sept. 5 at one of the New York City's historic landmarks, the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx.
"I hope to hit New York hard, do well and move [the show] to other places, especially my hometown," Sennaar, 23, says.
She describes "The Fall of the Kings" as a tragedy that reflects "a conglomeration of influences" -- the marketing tag for the piece is "a new American drama with Afro-Caribbean roots."
The play focuses on a prominent African-American family in Boston during the 1940s. Why Boston?
"I was reading Kahil Gibran at the time I was writing the play, and I found out he once lived in Boston's South End," Sennaar says. "I took that as a sign."
The plot of "The Fall of the Kings" involves "a former field hand from the Caribbean who marries into the family at a time when the patriarch is dying," Sennaar says, "and he has a confrontation with the patriarch's attorney. The play is about class and differences within the diaspora, about colorism within the African American community. The issues are very complicated."
The play's ultimate theme is simpler -- and familiar.
"The message is 'do your thing,' " Sennaar says. "But that's in the 1940s, a time when it was more difficult to do that."
"The Fall of the Kings" has had readings at New York University (Sennaar, who first attended Howard Community College, is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts) and the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, among other places.
The reading in Atlanta caught the attention of seasoned actor and teacher Julius* Hollingsworth. He recommended it to producer Walter E. Puryear, who was involved in the transformation of the Andrew Freedman Home from a retirement facility to an arts center with lodging. Hollingsworth is in the cast for the premiere production of "The Fall of the Kings."
This will not be Sennaar's first venture into the New York area theater scene. In 2012, while she was a senior at NYU, her first play, "The Broken Window Theory," was performed at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on New York's Lower East Side with a cast that included Tony Award-winning Tonya Pinkins.
"I got into theater when I was attending Howard Community College," Sennaar says. "I entered a play competition and people were very encouraging. So I applied to NYU and, by some miracle of God, I was accepted. I was surrounded by excellent mentors there."
Sennaar also had positive influences at home growing up.
"My parents are in the arts," she says. "My dad is an entertainment broker. My mom is a composer who was a founding member of Sweet Honey and the Rock [in 1973] and wrote music for 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide' [which opened on Broadway in 1976]."
Sennaar's mother also contributed to "The Fall of the Kings."
"My mother has composed a classical-jazz score for 'The Fall of the Kings,' " Sennaar says. "The score is like a character in the piece, the way music is in the movie 'Laura.' "
The reference to "Laura," a 1944 classic, reflects a major interest of the playwright and helps explain why she chose to set "The Fall of the Kings" seven decades ago.
"I love the 1940s," Sennaar says. "I have an obsession with old movies, especially Bette Davis. There was a grandeur, a beauty and style you don't often see today."
*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Julius Hollingsworth. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.