Kristen Adele Calhoun, playwright, Black Cypress Bayou. Photo by Stan Demidoff.

“Black Cypress Bayou” is more than just a play written by Kristen Adele Calhoun. It is also a place she calls home. Currently running at the Geffen Playhouse through March 17, “Bayou” is a fictional tale set on the land her father’s family comes from.

“Black Cypress Bayou is a real place. It’s a bayou I have to cross over when I’m traveling down to my grandparents’ land in deep east Texas,” said Calhoun. “It is an area of the country I spent time in my entire life from my earliest memories.”

Calhoun says she has always been intrigued with things that have “black” in the title, and she allowed this story to percolate in her imagination and come forward.

She notes that the story surrounding “Black Cypress Bayou” is inspired by real people in her family, although the situation is completely fictional.

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Playwright Kristen Adele Calhoun in rehearsal for Black Cypress Bayou at Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

According to the official online description, “Bayou is the story of Vernita Manifold, who on a hot summer night in Texas, summons her two daughters down to the bayou with a secret too big to keep.”

The description continues, “…the richest, meanest man in town is dead, and the Manifold women know more than they’re saying. As secrets begin to surface, the bonds between the women, their town, and the legacy of their ancestors all come to a head.”

“Black Cypress Bayou” started as an offering for my family folks,” said Calhoun. Now as a play intended for wide audiences, she says it is an unrepentant offering to all people of African descent.

Through her work as a playwright and in her everyday life, Calhoun dubs herself as an unapologetic advocate of Black people.

3. L-R: Brandee Evans, Angela Lewis, Amber Chardae Robinson and Kimberly Scott in Black Cypress Bayou at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

“There are so many messages we get, particularly here in the U.S., that don’t point us towards love for Black folks.  And any time we can declare that love boldly, it is important to balance the scale of the messaging we’ve been fed for generations,” said Calhoun.

Calhoun says this philosophy keeps her accountable in her work, it reminds her for who she is writing, and it keeps her grounded.

“I am really interested in cultural specificity. I’m from Texas, my people are from Texas, at least seven generations back on both sides. We’ve been able to trace that, so I’m interested in telling stories from the rural Black South,” said Calhoun.

Calhoun says she believes in telling stories about people in communities we often disregard but who have a lot to teach us about how to love one another.

“Our folks in the South have dealt with unthinkable horrors for generations, and we look at some of these communities with distain, as if they’re backwards.  But there is so much to be learned there, and everybody can relate to that,” said Calhoun.