The line between entertainment and education is a thin one, but one that Washington, D.C. playwright Odell Ruffin continues to walk bravely. The Michigan University graduate majored in journalism instead of culinary arts but understands the best recipe to feed an insatiable crowd consists of a mixture of recreation and realism. Set to run from April 22 to April 25 at Howard University’s Blackburn Auditorium, Ruffin’s latest play, FACES: Shades of Survival illustrates the story of four women of color whose lives intersect after each of them becomes diagnosed with breast cancer.

Spotlighting one of the world’s most afflicting cancers is a volatile theme that most playwrights tend to steer clear of. Breast cancer, throughout its nefarious history, has dealt collapsing blows to millions of families and although Ruffin doesn’t have anyone close to him that suffers from the disease, introducing a fight story to those that do was a civil duty that he felt compelled to carry out.

“I don’t have any women in my family that suffer from breast cancer but it just feels like it’s the right thing to do,” Ruffin said. “There are millions and millions of sisters that aren’t related to me that need to hear this inspirational story. We always have this negative look on cancer but I wanted to put a face on the survivors so we can inspire the women out there.”

Finding those faces for his cast was tough going for Ruffin. Trying to find women who had lived through breast cancer and were willing to reenact their life stories didn’t exactly ring up the volunteer count, though, Ruffin found his away around the hurdle.

“It’s a very touchy subject with people who do have it and some people don’t want to be associated with that. So, as far as trying to get people to it’s been a tough task,” Ruffin admitted. “It tends to scare people sometimes to deal with it.”

Real life melodramas are what actually drew the Largo High School alumnus to the writing world. Sparked by the stage play Titanic while an underclassman at Largo, Ruffin started developing his own projects upon his entrance to college. Churning out his own features while being fully exposed to Michigan’s writing curriculum established Ruffin as a well-versed dramatist by the time he graduated.

His Tupac Tale, a story about the life of late rapper Tupac Shakur played by Ruffin, generated positive buzz among locals after it debuted at Howard University last June, helping to label the 32-year-old as an urban filmmaker favorite.
This time around Ruffin has bigger plans for his newest release. Educating around a deeper topic will give him the ammunition he needs to shop his play to the bright lights of New York City and a broader audience.

“It’s always education through entertainment,” said Ruffin. “That’s the motto for myself and for the company (Ruffin Entertainment). I really want to take on projects that make a difference. I want to workshop these here and in New York. Develop and push for starting off-Broadway and, prayerfully, on Broadway.”

For more of Odell Ruffin’s work and his upcoming releases: visit


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO