Robert O’Hara has been considered everything from an enfant terrible to a breath of fresh air as a playwright and director, out to upend theatre conventions and systemic oppression wherever he goes. His work has both delighted and dismayed critics and audiences with its uncompromising vigor.
But even a provocateur goes through phases, and as he would the first to point out, his iconoclasm is actually part of a rich tradition of envelope-pushing Black theatre. While O’Hara is best known for directing new work—both his own plays, including Insurrection: Holding History, Bootycandy, Barbecue, and Mankind, and others’, as in his direction of Jeremy O. Harris’s controversial Slave Play on Broadway, which earned him a 2020 Tony nomination—he has lately turned his attention to established pieces. These have included a divisive modern-dress revival of O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Minetta Lane Theatre in February; a new revival of Anthony Davis and Thulani Davis’s 1986 opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X at Detroit Opera in May, which is touring the nation this year and next as part of a producing consortium of five opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera and Opera Omaha; and, this past summer, his debut as director of the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park, with a staging of Richard III starring Danai Gurira.