Sammart Williams

(b. 1946)

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(b. 1946), playwright and actor.

Born 20 January 1946 in Burgaw, North Carolina, Samuel Arthur Williams, who from an early age wanted to become a writer, received encouragement from his mother, an English teacher and drama director. He graduated from Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland (1968), where he majored in political science in preparation for the legal career many members of his family wanted him to pursue.

One of Williams's plays, Home, was selected as a Burns Mantle Yearbook “Best Play of 1979–80"; it also received a Tony nomination and a John Gasner Play-writing Medallion. In addition to Home, Williams has written twelve or more representative works and acted in numerous productions with noted theatrical groups including the Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia, an organization he joined soon after arriving there in 1968, and the Negro Ensemble Company of New York. Williams travelled to New York in 1973 and found there the kind of artistic experiences to which he had long aspired. His talent as an actor initially paid greater dividends than did his writing talent.

Williams's range as a playwright encompasses numerous themes, among them crime, shame, pride, confused sexuality, and transcendence. The Negro Ensemble Company, an organization that Williams joined in 1974, produced five of his plays: Welcome to Black River (1975), The Coming (1976), A Love Play (1976), The Frost of Renaissance (1978, in workshop and showcase) and Brass Birds Don't Sing (1978). Welcome to Black River dramatizes the exploitation and racism experienced by a Black sharecropper in the 1950s in North Carolina. The Coming depicts the experiences of a New York skid row bum who has the delusion that he is talking to God, who in this drama is an incarnation of several unsavory character types. Conflicting value systems of West Indian Blacks and African Americans receive attention in Eyes of the American (1980). The propensity toward capitalism, embodied in the American, becomes his nemesis as his worldview is adopted by his West Indian brother. Both men get what they deserve, learning that each should have been more suspicious of the other. The arrogant American now has a chance to experience the circumstances he once derided.

Another prominent theme in Williams's plays is sexuality. A Love Play (1976) dramatizes an exploration by four female characters into lesbianism, a pursuit motivated, in part, by their disappointing relationships with the men in their lives. Kamilla (1975) tells the story of a married woman whose dream consciousness forces her to admit to the realities of her sexual preference. The Last Caravan explores another dimension of sexuality as an aging protagonist seeks nontraditional cures to restore his fading virility.

Crime and corruption come to the forefront in several of Williams's plays. Do Unto Others (1976) dramatizes crime, revenge, and deception in the fury of a woman who escapes a death plot set by her husband, a Chicago numbers racketeer. The Sixteenth Round (1980) produced by the Negro Ensemble Company in 1980, tells the story of a desperate fighter who intentionally loses a fight, thereby inviting the wrath of an underworld figure out to kill him. Eve of the Trial tells the story of a Russian expatriate stranded in Louisiana. The drama, part of a series of dramas drawn from Chekhov's short fiction, reveals intolerance and the corruption of the legal system.


Subjects: Literature.

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