It’s 1964, Montgomery, Alabama. The Civil Rights struggle is in full swing, but for the women in the Dunbar family, the only thing that matters is the Nacirema Society debutante ball. In the comedy The Nacirema Society, novelist/playwright Pearl Cleage sends up African-American snobbery. The Dunbars, who describe themselves as ''the crème de la crème of negro Montgomery,'' are led by matriarch Grace. They find their world turned upside down when Alpha, a legal secretary from Harlem and the daughter of the family's former housekeeper, arrives claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of Grace's late husband. She intends to blackmail Grace, who will do anything to keep Alpha from ruining her granddaughter's debutante ball. To add to the pressure on Grace, this is the 100th anniversary of the Nacirema ball, and a New York reporter is on hand to chronicle the entire affair.
The Nacirema Society is the fourth play by Cleage produced by the Ensemble Theatre. Eileen Morris, the company’s artistic director and the show's director, says it highlights a segment of black America that’s often overlooked in discussions about the Civil Rights era. ''It deals with people that don't often have their stories told — that is, elite, upper-middle-class African Americans who had their own maids and a really strong history in their community.'' Oh, and if you're wondering about the show's unusual name, ''Nacirema'' is ''American'' spelled backwards.
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