Underground, Monroe, & The Mamalogues: Three Plays by Lisa B. Thompson

Underground, Monroe, & The Mamalogues is a collection of three plays by playwright and scholar Lisa B. Thompson that cover a range of topics and themes, including protest, motherhood, migration, trauma, and the black middle class. Underground features two old friends discussing politics and protest in the post-Obama era, with a tension lying underneath. Monroe is a 20th century period play that looks at the impact of a lynching on a family and dreams of leaving 1940s Louisiana. And The Mamalogues features three black middle class single mothers sharing stories at a support group, thinking about their children’s lives from birth to leaving home.

This is an engrossing selection of plays that are quite different, but all look at the black middle class (which is what Thompson works on) and different elements of race, gender, and respectability. Underground is the most gripping, a play that draws you into one evening when two old friends find themselves back together in a snowstorm discussing the best methods for bringing about change and their thoughts on radical politics. Kyle and Mason are complex characters and their viewpoints become particularly charged and important given current Black Lives Matter protests and action. The Mamalogues also focuses on a single discussion in a single point in time, and really considers the intersection of race and class, but is also funny and frank. Even reading both of these plays gives a real sense of the dialogues happening, but it would be great to see them performed.

Monroe is different again, a play that spans a period of time just after the lynching of Cherry’s brother, and looks at the dream of migrating away from Louisiana to somewhere that might be better. The historical setting and greater number of characters onstage makes it feel more traditional, but it also has a lot of ambiguity. All three plays have detailed notes on performance, including suggested playlists, so this copy would be useful for those studying theatre, but the plays are accessible and enjoyable so this text shouldn’t be confined only to academic reading. All three plays are relevant to current discussions, but in particular Underground is vital reading for thinking about radical politics and race, as well as being a great, tense play.