Feb. 17, 2016

Actors in Lauren Jane Redmond's Legacy Street rehearse at Hartke Theatre.

Original plays by student playwrights will tackle issues of racial injustice, addiction, and the search for something better this month, as the Department of Drama presents the thesis works of M.F.A. Playwriting candidates Lauren Jane Redmond and Tearrance Chisholm. Legacy Stree t by Redmond premiered on Feb. 12. Remaining performances will take place Feb. 18 and 20, at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 21, at 2 p.m. Br'Er Cotton premiered on Feb. 13. Remaining performances will take place Feb. 17 and 19, at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. and 20, at 2 p.m. All performances will take place at Hartke Theatre, 3801 Harewood Road, N.E., Washington, D.C.Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for senior citizens, students, CUA alumni, faculty, and staff; and $5 for CUA students. For more information or to buy tickets, call 202-319-4000 or go to drama.cua.edu. Legacy Street

Lauren Jane Redmond, who lives in D.C., said she began writing her play, Legacy Stree t, while living in Washington D.C.'s Columbia Heights neighborhood during her first year of graduate school. "It's a pretty busy metropolitan area and a couple times a week, I would see two guys who set up a chess board on a folding table outside on the street," Redmond said.

"It didn't look like they had much money, their clothes were dirty, and they would be there for hours standing on either side of the board." Redmond was curious about how a chess set had become such an important part of two men's daily lives. Her interest inspired her to write Legacy Street , which explores the lives of six people living on the same street. Her play begins with an older African-American man and a homeless white teenager playing chess together on the street. Gradually, the audience is introduced to more characters, including a crooked police officer and members of a drug ring. "The play shows these six different characters, how their lives intersect, how they pollute and better influence each other's worlds," Redmond said.Though her play was inspired by life in D.C., Redmond said the stories within are universal. She hopes that audience members will watch the play and be inspired to think about their neighbors with more curiosity and compassion."I think we have a tendency to walk past someone on the street who looks different than us and just 'other' them, by thinking, 'My life is so different than theirs, there's no reason we should interact,'" Redmond said. "I want people to think twice about doing that and open up. I want them to be more empathetic to understand that everyone has a life, and we may have similarities and differences, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should separate ourselves."

Previously, Redmond's one-act play, At the End of the Line/Tunnel Vision was named the winner of the WomenWorks National Playwriting Competition in 2014. Her feminist monologue Little F's was featured in the Ladybits: Unsolicited Commentaries Festival at Rutgers University. Redmond's previous works at Catholic University include her full-length play Us Righteous and the solo show Miller Lite Monologues . Her work has been read at Busboys and Poets in Brookland, the University of Tulsa, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Redmond began working on Legacy Street in the spring of 2015. In the weeks leading up to her opening performance, she said she enjoyed working with actors and the director to bring the show to life. "Actors always bring something to it that, as a writer, you may never have imagined," she said. "That's why I like theatre. It's never solitary. Someone else always jumps in and ends up creating with you." Br'Er Cotton

Tearrance Chisholm, who is originally from St. Louis, Mo., drew inspiration for his play Br'Er Cotton from his own reactions to the race riots that erupted in Ferguson, Mo., following the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager, at the hands of a white police officer, in 2014. The play follows a 14-year-old boy growing up in Lynchburg, Va., with his mother and grandfather."The boy is really upset and angry about the recent killings of young black men in various places around the country," Chisholm said. "He doesn't know where to put his anger, so he plays video games and he has this attitude that gets him into trouble." As the play proceeds, Chisholm said the rage of the main character continues to grow. The point, Chisholm said, is to explore "how anger can be a vehicle for change, but how it can also be counterproductive." "What I was really doing was exploring my own rage and the feeling of futility I had about it, not knowing what to do to change it, and being upset and not knowing where to put that anger," Chisholm said. "When the riots happened in St. Louis, it was hurtful to see, but at the same time, I could understand it."Chisholm said he wanted to write a play exploring the various ways average people can respond to injustice, and how those responses can be valuable. "The play doesn't give an answer of what to do and I don't know what the answer is, but writing it has helped me to be more articulate about it," he said. "The characters represent different sides of my own thoughts on it and it's cool to see them argue it out. Sometimes my reactions are so contradictory." Though Br'Er Cotton has only recently premiered, it has already been named the winner of this year's Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. That award comes with a $1,000 cash award, an invitation to the Kennedy Center for the KCACTF National Festival in April and a professional development residency to be mutually determined. Br'Er Cotton was also named a finalist for the inaugural Relentless Award given by the American Playwrights Foundation in memory of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Previously, Chisholm has received acclaim as the winner of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival's First Place Hip Hop Creator Award in 2015 and as a finalist for the Bay Area Playwrights Conference. Last year, he was also listed as one of Variety magazine's "110 Students to Watch" in the entertainment industry.Though his play has already received accolades, Chisholm said he most hopes that it will inspire audiences to think about racial justice in a new way. "I don't set my goal to change somebody, but the biggest compliment I can get is if people say they talked about the play after the show is over," he said. "I hope this sets the stage for future discussions of race issues and that it can add more perspectives to the audience's awareness."