The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae

In The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae, a modern-day lawsuit is filed against a pair of age-old black stereotypes. Tony Sias, director of Karamu House’s production, calls it a contemporary satire. “The play is about images,” he says. “But I don’t want these characters viewed as caricatures. I’m telling the actors, ‘Downplay the humor, play the truth.’ It’s a fine line to walk.”

Karani Marcia Leslie’s play was an off-Broadway hit when it was first staged more than 15 years ago. Its message is still relevant, says Sias. A young female lawyer -- fed up with the negative stereotypes that have impeded her career -- takes on genial housemaid Mammy and sultry sex-toy Safreeta Mae, both of whom appeared (in one form or another) in countless Hollywood movies through the ’50s. The trial is set in the galley of a slave ship, while video screens flash historical photos and scenes from Gone With the Wind. “I hope audiences realize the power the media has in our lives,” says Sias. “It impacts our youth. It doesn’t have to be all negative.”

Sias says that any uneasiness audience members feel while watching The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman comes from their own views on the subject. While it is somewhat confrontational and controversial, the production isn’t really a race play, he says. “It evokes thought, but it could offend black or white people who are carrying guilt.”

More than anything, Sias hopes viewers walk out of the play thinking about the last century’s stereotypes, many of which are still prevalent today. “Do we laugh at a Mammy character?” he says. “Or do we try to understand why she needed to make those choices to survive?”
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: March 3. Continues through March 25