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The Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World

Members say: Confusing, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Disappointing
29 reviews
84 reviews

Signature Theatre presents Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks' satirical exploration of how race and stereotype figure throughout history and literature.

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A woman tries to feed her husband a fried drumstick. Dragons roam a flat earth. The last Black man in the whole entire world dies again. And again. Careening through memory and language, Parks explores and explodes archetypes of Black America with piercing insight and raucous comedy. A riotous theatrical event, 'The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA the Negro Book of the Dead' hums with the heartbeat of improvisational jazz.


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Reviews (113)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

The New York Times

"Hypnotic staging by Lileana Blain-Cruz...Those familiar with only Parks' more recent work may be rattled by the lack of any narrative foothold here...A combination of willful opacity and obvious symbolism, 'Death' can feel tedious if you strain to make sense of it. (It sometimes feels like a senior semiotics project.) But if you give yourself over to the sensory flow of Ms. Blain-Cruz’s production, the play acquires the eerie inevitability of a fever dream from which there is truly no waking." Full Review


"Director Lileana Blain-Cruz's mock-celebratory pageant-like production is performed by a fine ensemble whose tongues are nimbly set within their cheeks...Typical of the earlier works of the future Pulitzer winner, the exact intention of the piece may not be easy to grasp, but it's still to be admired as an uninhibited abstract collage by a young voice who will eventually be recognized as one of the new century's most important playwrights." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"Despite an excellent production, this frustratingly oblique and elliptical play never comes into focus...Although the piece works on a certain visceral level, its failure to communicate its intellectual themes in remotely coherent fashion diminishes its intended power. It's certainly no fault of the performers...While one can certainly admire the literary and theatrical ambitions of this deliberately challenging play, it's a lot harder to actually enjoy it." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"It’s most useful to approach it as jazz…Phrases repeat and transmogrify, creating the odd feeling of development without clarity; you never even settle into a location or time…You see how Parks invented her voice years ago by applying enough pressure to words to crack them…Parks wants to see what’s on the other side of language, and of history. On the evidence of this production, superbly directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, it may not be pretty, or even coherent, but it’s beautiful." Full Review

New Yorker

"This exceptional production is directed by a great new talent, Lileana Blain-Cruz...The overlong full title tells us what it’s about, but not what it’s really about, which is language—the rich sound and implications of black English...Various characters take the stage individually but also move en masse: they are ideas about blackness clustering together, then separating, like beautiful molecules." Full Review


"It holds your feet right to the fire, forcing a reflection on the recorded history (or lack thereof) of African-American heritage with a nonlinear story that is difficult to parse...If you're up for a mental and emotional challenge, Parks' poetic one-act is worth meditating on at this unsettled social and political juncture...We're left to wander aimlessly around the play without a map or key. Even within this obscure narrative, Roslyn Ruff's stunning performance registers loud and clear." Full Review


"Handsomely staged, evocative revival...Your response to the work might parallel how you feel about a free-form jazz session, one filled with meditative riffs and theatrical flourishes...The charismatic presence of the acting company and the hypnotic precision of Blain-Cruz’ direction help in the beguilement, but it can still be a challenge for the talented company to create an emotional bond longer than lasts longer than an impulse." Full Review

Time Out New York

"A jazzy, poetic fever dream about the wounds left by erasure on the book of history, this 1990 piece seems especially shocking when you consider the grotesque chapter our country’s chroniclers are about to inscribe...This is not an easy play to dissect or digest...It’s a jagged, angry, weird text, yet director Lileana Blain-Cruz stages it in high style, with a skin-prickling soundscape (including dance-break music that’s aggressively fun) and a raft of brave in-your-face performances." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"At times, the text seems impossibly dense, at other times, it seems irritatingly repetitious. But it also evokes a world underpinned by dread that, I fear, is all too real for too many Americans…A strange experience, alternately gripping and mystifying -- but the overall effect is haunting…The piece benefits enormously from the precise, visually compelling staging by Blain-Cruz and a highly disciplined company…’The Death of the Last Black Man’ is a tough experience but a necessary one. " Full Review

New York Theater

"'Last Black Man' offers searing imagery mixed with repetitive auditory gibberish, words that exist far more for their effect as sounds than for their meaning — words as jazz...For most of us, the appeal of 'Last Black Man' rests largely with the production values. Director Blain-Cruz has assembled a first-rate design team...There is an impressive level of commitment from the cast...Some of these moments from a play written in 1990 feel alarming in their continuing relevance." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"A credible but not quite electrifying Signature Theatre revival...Fascinating but scattershot play...A little of it does go a long way, and even at 75 minutes 'The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World' feels overlong...History, in other words, does not exactly come alive. But maybe it doesn't need to—its arrival at all makes it possible for us to commit it to posterity, so that we'll never forget the identity of the black man who was eternally searching for it." Full Review

New York Daily News

"There are lots of obvious ways to die—like lynching, suffocation, electrocution. But there’s also erasure—and that’s even more insidious. That seems to be what Suzan-Lori Parks is saying in this 1990 meditation on mortality, history and race...It's bold and striking, but frustrating. One is left to grapple and wonder, What's going on? Then again, maybe that’s her point." Full Review


"I'm a Parks fan...But this very colorful new-old play is not going anywhere near the top of my list of favorite Parks works...Lileana Blain-Cruz's handsome, music-infused production isn't enough to offset the inaccessibility of the experience...The entire ensemble is excellent, and all have standout moments...The vivacious performances and staging keep the audience engaged—even when more than a little confused." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Using the rich repetitive genres of jazz, spoken word, dance-theatre, and poetry, Ms. Parks’s play captures the attention of the audience and holds captive its aching heart and sin-sick soul for a powerfully unforgettable 75 minutes of cathartic ghoulish disquietude. Parks explores the underbelly of language in unique ways often setting diction and syntax uncomfortably at odds with the conventions of rhetoric to create a delicious tapestry of meaning and rich enduring questions." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"In principle, I admire the decision to mount such a complex, significant work, but in actuality I found it tough to sit through. The cast of 11 perform with total commitment...The choreography by Raja Feather Kelly provided some of the most enjoyable moments...Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction is fluid. What the play lacks in coherence, it almost makes up for in sheer energy. Unfortunately for me, I prefer coherence." Full Review

The Wrap

"In her hypnotic, transcendent, and unfortunately titled play, 'The Death of the Last Black Man,' Parks creates a pool of pain and fear that’s sourced by a spring of raw, caustic wit. That wicked humor keeps bubbling up to the stormy surface to explode...It’s quite a show. Blain-Cruz directs as if Parks had handed her a musical comedy...Through an exquisite repetition, Parks makes the sounds of the words as important as the meaning...Must-see theatre." Full Review


"Signature Theatre’s expert revival of her little-known 1990 dance-theater poem...None of this is as remotely linear as it sounds in director Lileana Blain-Cruz’s self-mocking and serious production, as much of an ordeal as an enchantment...A man actually chokes out the words, 'I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,' a scene that seems to step directly from today’s headlines. 'Write it down,' urges a young woman with pigtail bows all over her head. And in 1990, Parks wrote it down." Full Review

Front Row Center

"The language itself is playful and so is the delivery by these highly animated actors...We are seduced into the scenes by the precision of each spoken word and each movement on the stage...Blain-Cruz directs an ensemble that pulls our back off our seat cushion to listen and watch closely...I enjoyed the whole painful thing. I did laugh, too. There were funny bits. And many hours later, I turn it over and over again in my memory discovering more truths about humanity." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"If you look for a traditional plot, you will be bewildered. The strength of the play is its dynamic flow of image-evoking statements provided by the acting ensemble as members interpret the text. The play’s force also comes from its strength as spectacle. However, one can criticize it as being too esoteric, even as one appreciates the author’s creative take in trying to make her points in a manner very different from customary approaches." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Feels like a bad dream. Frequently it’s difficult to make out quite what is going on...Centuries of crime and pain are here distilled into 75 minutes of harrowing yet sublime performance...Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’s precise direction, the 11 performers bring that dark vision to haunting life, marrying exquisitely restrained movement to the rich poetry of Parks’s language...This revival offers a powerful tonic at a time when America’s divisions seem starker than ever." Full Review


“Every writer, including MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winner, Suzan-Lori Parks, had to start somewhere with early works that don't quite measure up to their more mature output yet indicate ingenuity and imagination. Her ‘The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead’ (1990) displays her genius for language but a beginner's passion for overwriting, throwing in way too many allusions in too many styles.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"Parks’ text is aurally opulent but, on first encounter, it’s as perplexing as Ezra Pound’s 'Cantos'...Supervised by resourceful director Lileana Blain-Cruz and choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, the current production has the grandeur of a pageant and, thanks to a top-notch creative team, it’s visually enticing throughout...No theatergoer is likely to be unmoved by the final moments of this unnamed man, played with force and nobility by the superb Daniel Watts." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"An aesthetically stunning and emotionally evocative piece sure to resonate in the wake of a charged election, 'The Death of the Last Black Man' is a must-see...In the exceptional hands of director Lileana Blain-Cruz, Parks’ script shines...Together, Parks’ content and Blain-Cruz’s directorial choices transport us to a dream space, a liminality that is as beautiful as it is frightening...It feels like a disservice to attempt a description of this masterpiece; it simply begs to be experienced." Full Review


"'Last Black Man' isn't a polemical riff on the headlines...As directed by Blain-Cruz, it has a timeless quality, more like a dance piece or a symphony than a traditional narrative story...But now, the last black man's series of highly-stylized deaths...all also read as a blistering condemnation of society's physical brutality to African-American bodies and a paean to the Black Lives Matter movement. Few works have ever seemed more relevant in our political moment—or as worth seeing." Full Review

Village Voice

"A surreal, poetic meditation on the linked histories of slavery and colonialism…The play riffs on language and remixes racial stereotypes with boldness and grace, creating an experience that is both revelatory and irresistibly watchable…In beautiful choral interludes, the ensemble chants Parks's poetic refrains, which link colonialism to racism and underline the role of language in perpetuating it…These histories are bleak, but watching Parks's play is not." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if you want an unconventional jazz long form poem dealing with architypal racial stereotypes across the centuries. Solid dance # lightens mood

Don't see it if you don't want to face some of the most hateful racist imagery throughout history. If you like linear, straightforward plot.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Painful

See it if You admire the works of SUZAN-LORI PARKS. You like historical drama with and emotional edge. You appreciate great acting and imagery.

Don't see it if You are looking for a fluffy night out. You are uninterested in racial relations in our country. You are unprepared to sit with confusion.

Ambitious, Clever, Dizzying, Edgy, Confusing

See it if You enjoy experimental/eclectic theater. An interesting story told through cliches. A very visual story.

Don't see it if You are easily confused or need a linear story. This is not a linear story but a story told through visuals and repetition.

Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if You want to be entranced by a strong ensemble of actors creating an unending syncopation through word & movement. Beautiful poetry.

Don't see it if You are not listening to each word, being drawn into each step / each gesture. The beauty is in the language of the play. Intense & solid.

Ambitious, Cliched, Great staging, Well performed, Too profound

See it if you'd like to discuss ideas about race and Black stereotypes.

Don't see it if you'd like a plot-driven drama. This has ideas but little plot.

Absorbing, Dizzying, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great writing

See it if You like non-linear performances; you are interested in a non-traditional poetic performance with intriguing choreography

Don't see it if Don't see it if you're not interested in hearing an African-American writer stretch language and theatricality.

Ambitious, Dizzying, Intense, Thought-provoking, Confusing

See it if you enjoy non-linear stream of consciousness storytelling

Don't see it if you require a narrative structure and don't like experimental work.

Also I've attempted to read this script on numerous occasions and always fo... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Symbolic

See it if You are a Parks fan. Are captivated by language and symbolism. Are a student of African-American history.

Don't see it if Struggle with non-linearity, symbolism, or allusion. Challenging and difficult imagery of torture and death are problematic for you.

Ambitious, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Great staging

See it if Parks' jazz/hip-hop tone poem about the death of an average black man who symbolically morphs into the entire black race. Brilliant staging

Don't see it if Vibrant cast keeps us energized despite chaotic, non-linear structure. Has more of a poetry slam quality rather than narrative. Tough going

Ambitious, Edgy, Intense, Confusing

See it if You love more artistic and elliptical plays that are less about story and plot and more about experience and experimentation.

Don't see it if You prefer a narrative linear and discernible plot. You don't like experimental theater.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Relevant, Great staging, Lyrical

See it if You enjoy reflections on race & society and you are comfortable with loosely structured narrative - this is more poetry in motion then plot

Don't see it if You are expecting Father Comes Home From the War type narrative - this is an earlier work and much more abstract

Absorbing, Ambitious, Intelligent, Great staging, Hypnotic

See it if you are interested in one of Suzan-Lori Parks' early plays, brought up to date with some striking imagery. Stunning staging!

Don't see it if you need a solid beginning, middle, and end. Imagery is what is important here.

Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Confusing

See it if you like non-traditional plays with very talented actors; Daniel Watts & Roslyn Ruff especially good

Don't see it if you would be frustrated trying to understand it or frustrated by repetitive, poetic, abstract dialogue

Also I agree with those who say that its better (less frustrating) not to t... Read more Read less

Dreadful, incoherent, meaningless

See it if Suzan-Lori Parks is always worth seeing but not this time. But if you want to give her a chance, and you have 75 minutes of patience, go.

Don't see it if You want coherent, meaningful, eloquent, writing. I can't even tell if the cast was good or not since the writing was gobbledegook. Sad.

Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow

See it if Fans of Suzan-Lori Parks who like to see everything she does, even her weaker efforts, and who don't mind a repetitive 75 minutes prose poem

Don't see it if You need a narrative and don't have an interest in African-American archetypes

Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Confusing

See it if You are a fan of Suzan-Lori Parks' works. This was a unique and absorbing experience,with excellent staging and great performances.

Don't see it if You prefer more mainstream,straight-forward plays.I did find it to be confusing at times. It seemed longer than the 70 minute running time.

Boring, Indulgent, Confusing, Disappointing, Slow

See it if You want to leave the theater wondering if you can get your money back

Don't see it if You don't wanna waste 75 minutes of your life that you will never be able to get back

Ambitious, Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking, Confusing

See it if you like unusual, offbeat theatre with a very strong message.

Don't see it if you want something light or fun or linear.

Ambitious, Quirky, Indulgent, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you are a fan of very avant-garde works that don't tell stories in a western narrative fashion

Don't see it if you are a fan of that

Also I'm not typically a fan of experimental theatre. I much prefer more na... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Clever, Dizzying, Thought-provoking, Confusing

See it if you're a Parks fan & want to see an early work that uses cliched images from black history to make profound, unsettling points

Don't see it if You're bothered by chanting and repeated lines, digressive and non-linear storytelling, no real character development, political messages

Confusing, Disappointing, Incomprehensible......deady boring

See it if You are still punishing/blaming yourself for slavery, This might sound like a good idea but is trture to sit thru.

Don't see it if You want a show that does not keep making the same point: Blacks are stereotyped by whitey...and have been denegrated since the 1300's!

Absorbing, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Quirky

See it if you are open to a non-linear difficult-to-comprehend immersive experience that is, dare I say, transformative.

Don't see it if you're looking to merely be entertained or want to understand concretely what just happened to you immediately without giving yourself time.

Also It's like a living poem (and I'm not crazy about poetry) but go with n... Read more Read less

Dizzying, Great acting, Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating

See it if If you enjoy experimental theater.

Don't see it if You need Cliff Notes to grasp many of the references while watching the play.

Great acting, Masterful, Quirky, Resonant, Confusing

See it if You like plays that make you think, and afterwards you discuss them with friends to figure them out;about the rise of Afro-American heritage

Don't see it if You are easily confused and do not like dialogue that seems nonsensical;expect a conventional storyline

Also This is a masterful play with a large cast of amazing actors who portr... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Masterful, Profound, Resonant, Great staging

See it if you can sit back and let this extraordinary work "happen to you" without "getting" everything. An expressionistic history lesson.

Don't see it if you expect a traditional linear play that let's you understand every moment. This is a jazz theme and variation of African American history

Also Expressionistic drama is rare and Lileana Blain-Cruz and a uniformly g... Read more Read less