Works

Plays

The Bridge Party  (1989)

The Will  (1994)

Do You Like Philip Roth?  (2001)

Room and Board  (2002)

Sally  (2003)

A Bed Made In Heaven  (2005)

Martha Stewart Slept Here  (2008)

A Chance Meeting  (2009)

Music History  (2010)

Estate Sale  (2011)

The Lookout  (2013)

Libretto

From The Diary of Sally Hemings  (2000)

Other genres

King: A Reflection on the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [spoken word]  (2005)  

 “Nightsong.” [short story] Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review (Winter, 1989)    

 Synopses

A Bed Made In Heaven

Explores the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Set in 1801 during Jefferson’s first presidency, the play is an imaginative recreation of a complex, vital Sally Hemings who refuses to be identified merely as a mistress and a conflicted Jefferson forced to decide how to deal with a scandal threatening his presidency.  All scenes take place at Monticello.  The play dramatizes the reactions of the Monticello household—Jefferson himself, his married daughter Patsy Jefferson Randolph, Sally Hemings, and her mother Betty Hemings—to the scandal caused by James Callender’s public revelation of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  The play raises fundamental questions about American politics and private life while telling, a story two centuries old whose fascination seems only to grow in the twenty-first century.

Premiered at Performance Network, Fireside Festival of Plays, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2010; Riverwalk Theatre, Lansing, Michigan, 2010;  University of Michigan Residential College, 2011.

A Chance Meeting

Two-person play about a meeting between two African American former employees of a wealthy white Chicago family with very different attitudes about the past.

Premiered at Arthur Miller Theatre, University of Michigan, 2009; U of M Detroit Center at Orchestra Place, 2009. Featuring Met tenor George Shirley and Anthony Lucas; Stage music composed by Erik Santos. Special performance, Chicago, Dramatists Guild Annual Meeting, George Shirley and Keith Williams with Aaron Todd Douglas as narrator, 2013.

Do You Like Philip Roth?

A one-act play about African-American college students at a Midwestern university during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.  Walter and Etta meet at Walter’s apartment.  Walter, intellectual, hip, newly returned from the summer voting rights campaign in Mississippi, is struggling to readjust to life on campus.  Etta, an independent free spirit, tries to gain Walter’s trust.

Premiered at annual conference of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, East Lansing, Michigan, 2001.

Estate Sale

A racially mixed couple (Fred and Sheila) whose political views are also mixed (she’s an ultra-liberal, he’s a right-winger), a scheming contractor (Vlad), a battle-ready, over-sexed estate sale dealer (Roxie) and assorted workmen and customers come together to create that blend of  agony and ecstasy known as an “estate sale.”

Premiered at Renegade Theatre Festival, Lansing, Michigan, 2011; annual conference of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, East Lansing, Michigan, 2012.

King: A Reflection on the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 A spoken word piece, written by playwright/librettist Sandra Seaton to be accompanied by spirituals sung a cappella, traces the journey of Martin Luther King Jr. as he struggled to bring civil rights to the United States.  The piece, a mixture of poetry and brief reflections, remembers Rev. King as an individual with human limitations who nevertheless answered the call to leadership.  His life serves as a model for those, especially the young, who might feel that any imperfection disqualifies them from leadership.  The piece is divided into four sections:  “Nobel-man,” “Chicago,” “Bottles and Rocks,” and “Memphis 1968.”

Premiered at the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan by Sandra Seaton with choral accompaniment by the Detroit Renaissance High School Choir, Ann Arbor Youth Chorale and Michigan State University Children’s Choirs, 2005; at the Virgil Carr Center, Detroit, with Sandra Seaton, tenor George Shirley, and pianist Stanley Waldon, 2013.

Room and Board

A one-act play about a group of young African American women at a sorority house on a Midwestern campus in the sixties.  Etta, the main character, unwilling to follow the rules of the sorority, decides to leave the house but faces racial prejudice in the outside world.

Premiered at annual conference of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, East Lansing, Michigan, 2002.

Sally

 A one-woman drama set at Monticello in the days before Thomas Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826.  The play explores the thoughts and feelings of a mature Sally Hemings as she reflects on her life with Thomas Jefferson.  In Jefferson’s final days, Sally Hemings is determined to insure that his long-ago promise to free all their children at the age of 21 will be kept after his death.

Premiered at the New York State Writers Institute, Albany, New York, 2003; Zabryna Guevara appeared in the role of Sally Hemings under the direction of Langdon Brown. Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 2008; University of Colorado-Denver, 2012: Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 2012.

The Bridge Party

The setting of The Bridge Party is the meeting of an African American women’s bridge club in the South of the 1940’s.  A group of women have gathered for their weekly bridge party hosted by the daughters of Emma Edwards, Theodora, Leona and Marietta.  The play dramatizes the ways in which these women deal with the racism of their era while still maintaining their dignity and sense of self.  At the same time, the women are faced with their own personal dilemmas.  We learn that Cordie Cheek, a young black man, has been acquitted of the charge of molesting a white woman.  Leona, pregnant and separated from her husband, must confront her mother-in-law Mary Jane Barnes.  At the beginning of the second act, Marietta reports that Cordie Cheek has been tortured and lynched on a bridge outside town. The women, still struggling with family issues, are confronted by newly-deputized white officers going house-to-house through the black area looking for guns to confiscate.  Using “mother wit,” Emma Edwards thwarts the renewed attempt of the deputies to seize the guns in the house.  The play ends with Marietta’s speculations about the possibility of race war and the ultimate achievement of justice.

Seaton based the play on family stories describing the way of life of middle-class blacks in the South before the modern civil rights movement.  This play is not a “docudrama” of her family’s life but rather a presentation of a part of the African American experience that is often overlooked.

Premiered at Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois, directed by Paul Carter Harrison, 1990; New Federal Theater, New York, New York, 1998, with Mizan Nunes directed by C.C. Antoinette; at University of Michigan, with Ruby Dee, Adilah Barnes, Michelle Shay, Kim Staunton, and Lynda Gravatt, directed by Glenda Dickerson, 1998. Michigan State University with Adilah Barnes and Amentha Dymally, directed by Mary Job, 2000.

Martha Stewart Slept Here

A play about the challenges and struggles of interior decorating while at the same time maintaining a hygienic environment.  The scene is the Dixieland Trailer Park in Ferndale, Indiana.  Soriana and Emil, a Latvian couple, frightened by a news report about the presence of a “fiend” in the vicinity of the trailer park, come to spend the night with their African American neighbors, Homer and Mattie.

Premiered at Renegade Theatre Festival, Lansing, Michigan, 2009.

Music History

This full-length play brings to life the aspirations and values of African American college students from the South Side and West Side of Chicago.  Set at the University of Illinois in 1963, Seaton’s characters variously go through sorority and fraternity initiations, cope with Northern segregation, and join the civil rights struggle in the South.  When Etta and Walter meet at Walter’s apartment, the sparks are there as well as the conflicts.  Walter, intellectual, hip, newly returned from SNNC’s (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) voter registration campaign in Mississippi, is struggling to readjust to life on campus with an eye to returning to his work with SNCC.  Etta, an independent free spirit, tries to gain Walter’s trust. Etta and Walter must deal with social pressures and racial segregation as they come to terms with themselves and each other in this coming-of-age drama that connects the personal and the political, desire for personal fulfillment and commitment to social change.  Seaton’s characterization, setting, and dialogue capture the times and help us understand the human cost of the struggle for civil rights in ways nothing other than theatre can do.

Premiered at Arena Theatre, Michigan State University, directed by John Lepard, 2011.

The Will

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, “The Will” dramatizes the human consequences of the war as experienced by the Websters, an African American family in a small town in Tennessee.  The Webster sons return from service in the Union army expecting to be treated as full citizens, but they find that victory at home is more elusive than victory on the battlefield.  Their father Cyrus Webster is determined to pass on not only his worldly possessions but also his courage and wisdom to his descendants.  Cyrus’s son Israel does not share his father’s faith.  His demand to be treated with the respect due a returning soldier puts his own life at risk.  When the newly-constituted Ku Klux Klan comes to the house looking for Israel, Eliza, Cyrus’s wife, refuses to disclose his whereabouts.  The rebellion of Israel against racial injustice forces Cyrus to act to protect his inheritance in all its dimensions.  The play reveals both the conflicts of Reconstruction and the range of African American culture.  (The character of Patti was inspired by the life of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, a renowned African American opera singer of the Civil War era.)

Original stage music composed by Erik Santos.

Premiered at Idlewild, Michigan, 2008; Library of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan; 2012; St. Stephen’s Community Church, Lansing, Michigan, 2013, Plachta Auditorium, University Events Series, Central Michigan University, 2013.

Solo Opera: From the Diary of Sally Hemings

A song cycle for voice and piano with libretto by Sandra Seaton and music by composer William Bolcom, was written at the request of mezzo soprano Florence Quivar.  The work recreates the thoughts and feelings of Sally Hemings throughout her long relationship with Thomas Jefferson by means of fictional diary entries.  The 18 songs in this imaginary journal provide a surprising yet persuasive interpretation of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, officially a slave but also the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson. The songs trace the life of Sally Hemings from her earliest memory, Martha Jefferson dying from complications following childbirth, to her sojourn in Paris with Jefferson and finally her life with Jefferson at Monticello until his death.

Premiered at Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C., with  Mezzo soprano Florence Quivar, 2001; Additional performances with Florence Quivar in 2002:  Herbst Theater, San Francisco Performances, Kennedy Center, Washington, D. C.,  Lied Center, University of Kansas, Rialto Performing Arts Center, Atlanta,  Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, University of Michigan; Performances with Soprano Alyson Cambridge and pianist Lydia Brown: Carnegie Hall, 2010;  Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, 2010; CD available on White Pine Music, sung by Alyson Cambridge.  Score available at Hal Leonard.

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