Yellowman (play)

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Written byDael Orlandersmith
Date premieredJanuary 10, 2002 (2002-01-10)
Place premieredMcCarter Theatre
Princeton, New Jersey
Original languageEnglish
SettingSouth Carolina
New York

Yellowman is a play written by Dael Orlandersmith. It was the 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama.

Plot summary[edit]

Divided into five parts, the play details the relationship between Eugene, a very fair-skinned black man, and Alma, a large dark-skinned woman. Their story begins in their youth on the islands off the coast of South Carolina. During their youth, mainly covered in first part, Eugene and Alma deal with different vantages on the issues of race and class. In spite of this they become fast friends. During the second part, as they progress through adolescence and through their respective tragedies, Alma and Eugene's friendship crosses over into a more intimate relationship. The third part has a literal rift between the pair when, after graduation, Alma decides to go to school in New York and Eugene is left behind. Part four leads into the consummation of their sexual relationship when Eugene visits Alma in New York City six months later. The final scene has Eugene and Alma planning to marry. The death of his grandfather, also very fair, propels the story to its climax. Eugene inherits everything from his fair grandfather, which upsets his darker-skinned father. Eugene and his father fight, and Eugene finally kills his father landing himself in jail. Alma is left pregnant, and aborts the baby by pushing furniture at the play's close.

Note:The play requires only two actors. All other characters are portrayed by them. They switch between several characters many times in virtually every scene.


  • Alma: aged 38–43. A large-sized black woman. Her complexion is medium to dark brown-skinned.
  • Eugene: aged 40–48. Very fair-skinned, tall, lithe-bodied, and almost feminine featured black man.
  • Ophelia: A large-sized black woman. Alma's mother.
  • Robert: Eugene's dark-skinned father.
  • Thelma: Eugene's light-skinned mother.
  • Alton: A childhood friend of both Eugene and Alma. He's dark skinned. He loses contact with the two of them as they get older.
  • Wyce: Eugene's childhood enemy. When they are teens, the two become friends. This friendship stays throughout the remainder of the show.
  • Grandfather: Eugene's Grandfather and Thelma's father. He's light-skinned as well.

Production history[edit]


The McCarter Theatre, Princeton, New Jersey, commissioned Yellowman. Marion McClinton was asked to work on the play when the play was workshopped at the Sundance Festival (Utah). McClinton was busy and Blanka Zizka (Wilma Theatre co-artistic director) took over. McClinton stepped aside when Orlandersmith wanted to continue working with Zizka. Zizka said that she and Orlandersmith "have worked on the script for three years and through four drafts."[1]


Yellowman premiered Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club on October 1, 2002 in previews and closed on December 15, 2002. Directed by Blanka Zizka the play featured Dael Orlandersmith (Alma) and Howard W. Overshown (Eugene).[2][3][4][5]

The play had engagements at several regional theatres prior to the Off-Broadway production, including the McCarter Theatre (January 10 to 27, 2002), Wilma Theatre (Philadelphia) (February 13 to March 17, 2002), Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, Connecticut) (April 3 to May 12, 2002) and Seattle's ACT Theatre, in July to August 2002.[1][6][7]

In regional theater, Yellowman ran at the Next Theatre in Chicago, Illinois in April to May 2004.[8] The play ran at Stage 773 in Chicago in September to October 2011.[9]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 2002.[10] Orlandersmith won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Yellowman; the award includes a monetary award of $10,000.[11] The Wilma Theatre production won Philadelphia Barrymore Awards for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play (for Orlandersmith).[3]

The play was nominated for 2003 Drama Desk Awards for Best Play, Outstanding Lighting Design, (Russell H. Champa) and Outstanding Actress in a Play (Dael Orlandersmith).[12]

Critical response[edit]

The CurtainUp reviewer of the Philadelphia and McCarter productions wrote: "The characters and situations are carefully delineated, with repetition and a building up of evidence. There are big time generational issues: the remove, the attachment, the racial hatreds, the resentment, the traits handed down, the turning into your mother... This is a wonderful play."[5]


  • Orlandersmith, Dael, and Alexander Street Press. Yellowman. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004.


  1. ^ a b "Orlandersmith’s 'Yellowman' Road Will Likely Lead to New York", January 30, 2002
  2. ^ Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review. Skin Tone as the Subtle Signal For Hatred in the Racial Family" New York Times, October 23, 2002
  3. ^ a b Jones, Kenneth. "Pulitzer Finalist 'Yellowman' Makes NYC Debut, Opening Oct. 22 at MTC", October 22, 2002
  4. ^ Finkle, David. "Review. 'Yellowman'", October 29, 2002
  5. ^ a b Sommer, Elyse; Osenlund, Kathryn; Hitchcock, Laura. "A CurtainUp Review. 'Yellowman'", February 21, 2001; October 18, 2002; April 14, 2005
  6. ^ Ehren, Christine. "Orlandersmith's 'Yellowman' Plays CT's Long Wharf April 3-May 5", April 3, 2002
  7. ^ Simonson, Robert and Ehren, Christine. "New York -Bound 'Yellowman' Opens in Seattle, July 5", July 5, 2002
  8. ^ Jones, Chris. "Complex `Yellowman' puts parental bias in a new light" Chicago Tribune, April 29, 2004
  9. ^ Metz, Nina. "Questions of skin tone cut deep in 'Yellowman'" Chicago Tribune, September 16, 2011
  10. ^ "The 2002 Pulitzer Prize Winners", accessed August 27, 2015
  11. ^ Hernandez, Ernio. "'Yellowman' Writer Dael Orlandersmith Wins Annual Susan Smith Blackburn Prize", February 26, 2003
  12. ^ Simonson, Robert. "'Hairspray' Leads 2003 Drama Desk Award Nominations", May 1, 2003

External links[edit]