Entertainment » Theatre

Playwright Lydia Diamond’s miracle year

by Robert Israel
Wednesday Jan 13, 2010

Playwright Lydia Diamond’s five year old son, Baylor, had consumed a few too many candy canes. He was in the midst of what she called a "post-Christmas buzz," or sugar-high, as she attempted to settle in to talk about her play, Harriet Jacobs, currently at the Central Square Theater, Cambridge, until January 31. Soon Baylor found alternative diversions, giving Ms. Diamond a chance to reflect on what might be called a year of miracles.

She pulled up stakes from Chicago and moved to Boston a few years ago when her husband, John Diamond, joined the Harvard faculty. If the move was disruptive - she had already achieved a growing national reputation with her work at the Goodman and other Chicago-area theaters - she did not seem rattled. Within a year or so, the puzzle pieces of her life as a playwright have come together in remarkable ways as she has claimed Boston as her home.

Finding her way

"I was lucky to find my way into the theatre community in Boston, "she said. "I was hired at Boston University, I became a fellow at the Huntington Theatre, I hired an agent, and my career fell into place."

In truth, her writing career had already been building steam before she and her family relocated to Boston. She had been an actress during her student days at Northwestern, and ventured into the uncertain playwriting waters with productions at small theatres in the Chicago-area, including an adaptation of the work of feisty poet Nikki Giovanni called Here I Am...See You Can Handle It. This led to working with the Goodman Theatre, to the Steppenwolf Theatre, and to commissions of her work for the stage.

"I started out as an actress, but I realized I am a playwright," she said, "and with that recognition of my role comes an understanding of the responsibilities as an artist to tell the stories I think need to be told."

She found one of those stories in a slim history volume published by Skip Gates, the Harvard professor, who had published an annotated edition of the true story of a slave girl, Harriet Jacobs, and how she hid in a crawl space for seven years, watching her children come of age under the care of her grandmother. Titled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Diamond retells her story in her words, rather than presenting Jacobs’ narrative as a history play. It is being presented by the Underground Railway Theatre, under the direction of Megan Sandberg-Zakian, in collaboration with artists from the Providence Black Repertory Company.


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