Mai Sennaar’s play, The Fall of the Kings, is currently playing in New York. (Courtesy Photo)
BALTIMORE – Baltimore native Mai Sennaar has been busy. On September 5, after over a year of rewrites and revisions, her new play will come to life for audiences in New York City.
The Fall of the Kings is set in the 1940’s and tells the story of an African-American heiress, her Cuban husband and a fight over money and family.
It’s the 23-year-old’s second play.
Sennaar said she came to playwriting in a roundabout way. Kings evolved out of short story she wrote about an African American ballerina and a soldier who fall in love. She began working on the story when she was a student at Howard Community College in Columbia. She transferred to New York University, where she studied at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. There, it developed into a play.
“I guess I just really love words,” she said. “Plays are a more challenging medium, because there is so much more to coordinate. Each facet of writing gives me something different, a different kind of challenge.”
Sennaar said that she came to love writing because it gave her a way to make sense of her world. Her father ran a tourism company that specialized in taking African Americans to visit Africa. Because of this she lived in Senegal in West Africa for three years when she was a child. When she moved back to Baltimore, she attended posh Roland Park Country School on a scholarship. She said it was challenging to make the adjustment from being one of a few black Americans living amongst black Africans to one of a few African Americans at a predominately white school.
Now, she says she writes frequently.
“To get out a product like The Fall of the Kings, it requires a lot of discipline – a desire to get it to its best,” she said. Sennaar typically goes through two phases. First there is the inspirational phase where she can dream, explore and be creative. This is followed by the crunch time phase, where she has to work hard to get the finished product done. She said that the play took about a year to write. Then, she had to begin the work of letting the world know about her work.
“It’s about networking,” she said, “lots of rejection.”
Sennaar said because she is a young black woman, she does face some challenges.
“For me the thing is not to think of it that way,” she said. She said she takes inspiration from strong women who came before her like her mother, grandmother and aunt. Her mother, Dianaruthe Wharton Sennaar, is a founding member of the musical group Sweet Honey in the Rock and composer for Ntozake Shange’s Broadway hit For Colored Girls. She also serves as is the musical composer for Kings.
“When I think about being a black women, it’s a tremendous honor,” she said. “There’s just the power of what black women continue to do in the present day…the history that we have. We have this resilient ability to make it happen.”
Sennaar said she would love to take the play beyond New York City, especially to her hometown in Baltimore – but that would depend on how successful it is there first.
“The more Maryland people come up and see us and support us, the easier it will be for Maryland to be receptive to the play,” she said.
Beyond Kings, Sennaar he has a few new things that she is working on. She has a few scripts for short films and screenplays.
“There’s a few ones that I have in development – we’ll see which one shapes up first. Which one shows itself worthy.”
The Fall of the Kings runs Sept. 5 through Nov. 1 at The Andrew Freedman Home, a cultural center located in the Bronx.