The Blacks: A Clown Show


Writers: Jean Genet


Show Information

Number of Acts
First Produced
Dark Comedy, Drama
Simple/No Set
Time & Place
A reenactment of a royal court
Cast Size
Ideal for
College/University, Diverse Cast, Ensemble Cast, Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes adult, young adult, mature adult characters


Jean Genet’s exploration of racial prejudice and stereotypes remains as shocking and provocative today as it was in 1959. Inspired by Ghana’s independence in 1957 (the first black African country to free itself from imperial rule), The Blacks analyzes the whole dynamic of race and the perception of black and white. Using the framework of a play within a play, a troupe of black actors reenact the entrapment, rape, and subsequent murder of a white woman before a court of black actors masked up to look white and therefore representing an onstage extension of the white audience members. At the head of the court sits the Queen, who relies on the support of her entourage as she comments on the action before her and then leads the mission to avenge the white woman’s death. The reenactment, we are advised, is performed every evening. However, there is also a separate “play” occurring outside the play that takes on an increasingly sinister tone. Newport News disappears and reappears with news of a prisoner and an interrogation. This external action is subsequently revealed to be the trial and execution of a black man judged to have betrayed his black comrades in an antiwhite revolution.

The Blacks was a landmark production in the early days of the Off-Broadway movement and featured James Earl Jones, Maya Angelou, Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, Lou Gossett Jr., and Charles Gordone amongst the cast.

Note: Written in the 1950s, The Blacks is deliberately controversial and uses language and expressions that a modern-day audience may not be comfortable with. It is designed to shock and provoke a reaction.

Lead Characters

The Blacks: A Clown Show guide sections