When you want something, when you believe in something, you’ll fight for it.
That’s the moral of Layon Gray’s off-Broadway hit play, “Black Sparta,” which will run at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, Nov. 9-11.
“Black Sparta” tells the story of the Dahomey amazons, an all-female military regiment that existed from the 17th to the 19th century in the kingdom of Dahomey, West Africa (currently the Republic of Benin). At one time the army contained as many as 6,000 female warriors.
“I call it ‘Black Sparta’ because that name kept coming up in all my research for these ladies,” explained Gray, who resides in New York and learned from a DNA test that he is 15 percent Dahomey. “A reporter shared back in that time that they shared the same intense fighting methods as Sparta did back in those days. He said he found a little Black Sparta and I thought that would be a fascinating title to name the show. The only difference between the women of Sparta was that they hardened their bodies (to) give birth to stronger men, whereas the women of Dahomey hardened their bodies for battle.
“I find it fascinating that this part of history isn’t known to the world,” continued Gray. “It wasn’t until the movie ‘Black Panther’ came out that everyone was saying, ‘who are these incredible women warriors in the movie,’ and they were loosely based on the Dahomey warriors. Now you start to see a lot of people talking about these women and I had written about it before the movie came out, so it’s fascinating that it’s finally starting to get the recognition it deserves and people are really researching to find out who these incredible women were back then.”
New Horizon Theater Inc., chairperson Joyce Meggerson-Moore believes the historical and educational aspects of “Black Sparta” will be a draw to young and old audiences alike.
“These women knew how to fight, and they were rightly feared. They had a reputation and people will understand that,” Meggerson-Moore said. “People love Layon’s work here, he has a good grasp on how to tell history—that’s appealing to people.”
In addition to “Black Sparta,” New Horizon Theater Inc., has presented several of Gray’s plays including “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” twice, “Kings of Harlem” and “The Girls of Summer.”
“People love his work here and I believe that people will like this as well. New Horizon brings him in for one weekend so people have to realize they can’t wait, they just need to come on out,” Meggerson-Moore said.
“Black Sparta” will run Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m.
The production is funded in part by grants from the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh program, a partnership of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments, Allegheny Regional Asset District, Chris Moore Communications Inc., Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.
“We hope the Pittsburgh audience will support this production—which is a combination of history and drama—and all of New Horizon’s productions this season,” Meggerson-Moore said. “The rest of the 27th season of New Horizon is set and listed on our website, newhorizontheater.org.”
All seats are $35 general admission, $30 for seniors age 65 and older, $25 for groups of 10 or more at the same performance. Student rates are also available. For tickets or more information call 412-431-0773 or visit brownpapertickets.com.
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