Pearl Cleage's Chain tells the story of Rosa, a 16-year-old crack addict whose parents have chained her inside the house in a desperate attempt to keep her away from drugs. Late Bus to Mecca, also by Cleage, explores the relationship of two women who meet in the bus station and find their lives suddenly joined in unexpected ways.

The Ensemble Theatre will perform staged readings of both on Monday, November 19, as part of its “Celebrating the Creative Journey” series—launched last year as an annual exploration of readings, master classes, film screenings, and special performances that runs concurrently with the organization’s regular season. 

The Ensemble has presented several of Cleage’s plays across the years, including the wildly popular The Nacirema Society and What I Learned in Paris.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Cleage about working with The Ensemble. “I have such respect for [artistic director] Eileen [Morris], and I’m so grateful at how supportive they’ve been of my work.”

After graduating from Spellman University, Cleage sent her writing to mainly African-American theater companies, figuring that they would provide a kind of built-in place for her work. Today she's the playwright in residence at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, and after writing since the 1970s, she’s noticed a pattern.

“We’re all telling the same stories,” she says about contemporary—and classic—playwrights. “These are love stories, family stories, war stories. We all want to connect our experiences to each other.”

She believes theater can be a place for those connections to happen, as well as provide a place for audiences to learn about people different from themselves.

“More and more, I’m seeing a kind of cross-pollination,” she says. “It’s not a black story, or a white story, or even Asian American story. We’re seeing theatrical experiences that are about all of us. I think that’s one way the world has become bigger, but also smaller, in a way, too. But it’s exciting to see.”

The kind of energy and keen perspective finds its ways into Cleage’s plays, and the Ensemble is betting that the themes and questions she brings up in her work will resonate.

Chain and Late Bus to Mecca, November 19. Tickets $5. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St. 713-520-0055. More info at ensemblehouston.com.

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