Dean, Phillip Hayes

views updated

DEAN, Phillip Hayes


Born in Chicago, IL.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Dramatists Play Service, 440 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10016.


Playwright, director, actor, and educator. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, acting instructor.


Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner award, and Drama Desk award, both 1972, both for The Sty of the Blind Pig; Christopher Award, 1980, for Paul Robeson.



This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long (produced in New York, NY, 1968), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1971.

The Sty of the Blind Pig (three-act; produced in New York, NY, 1971; produced for television, 1974), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1972.

American Night Cry (includes Thunder in the Index, Bird Dawning, and The Minstrel Boy), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1972.

Freeman (two-act; produced in New York, NY, 1973; produced for television, 1977), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1973.

The Owl Killer, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1973.

Every Night When the Sun Goes Down (produced in Waterford, CT, 1974; produced in New York, NY, 1976), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1976.

(And director) If You Can't Sing, They'll Make You Dance, produced in New York, NY, 1978.

Paul Robeson (produced on Broadway, 1978; produced for television, 1979), Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978, reprinted, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1997.

Moloch Blues, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1996.


Phillip Hayes Dean has written a number of issue-based plays that play out the struggle for racial equality that was ongoing during much of the twentieth century. One of Dean's earliest plays, The Sty of the Blind Pig, portrays the story of Alberta and her soul mate, a singer named Blind Jordan. Other characters who populate the story include Alberta's mother Weedy, a righteous churchwoman who has had an ongoing affair with her minister, and her brother, Doc. Doc wants to return to Memphis and rekindle his sporting youth, and Alberta, who has lived in the shadow of her controlling mother, finds respite as Blind Jordan's lover. The background for the play is the civil rights movement, but, ironically, Dean's characters never seem to comprehend what protestors and marchers are trying to accomplish.

Freeman is the story of a family and its head, an African American who typifies the difficulties of the urban black male during the 1970s. Dick Anthony Williams plays the lead in the television play, with Lou Gossett, Jr. playing Rex, a physician who is constantly attempting to help him. Ultimately, Freeman, who also appeared in Thunder in the Index, resorts to violence due to his inability to accept the dominance of the white man.

Like Freeman, Every Night When the Sun Goes Down is set in an industrial city that may be based on Pontiac, Michigan, where Dean lived for a time. The fictional city, Moloch, is named for the god that was worshiped through the sacrificial burning of children, and both plays end with fire.

Paul Robeson is a dramatic work that documents the life of the New Jersey-born son of a preacher, who, in spite of extreme racism, became first a football star, then a scholar and lawyer with credentials from Columbia. When Robeson was prevented from practicing law by a racist system, he became a singer; he had a beautiful voice and had sung in the church choir as a child. His singing led to acting, and he became admired in Europe and around the world. Although his accomplishments were many, Robeson's inspiring career was muted by reaction to his increasing political activism and open espousal of socialist ideals, which he expressed upon his return to the United States. In the tense political climate of the mid-1950s, Robeson was accused of being a Communist, blacklisted, and denied a U.S. passport. Referencing Dean's play, Back Stage critic Eric Goode wrote that "as historians continue to sift through the cultural rubble left by McCarthyism, the principled, gifted Paul Robeson moves one step closer to restoring the lustre that has eluded him for far too long."

Highly praised by critics, Dean's Paul Robeson was also adapted for television, with noted actor James Earl Jones playing the leading role. Plain Dealer contributor Linda Eisenstein called the life history set forth in Paul Robeson "a profoundly American story: inspiring, infuriating, complex, tragic, and transcendent—and one everyone should know."



Contemporary Dramatists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Back Stage, January 19, 1996, Eric Goode, review of Paul Robeson, p. 48.

Plain Dealer, February, 2001, Linda Eisenstein, review of Paul Robeson.


Riverfront Times Online, (May 8, 2002), Dennis Brown, review of The Sty of the Blind Pig.