May 23, 2019
Jun 2, 2019


“Through its prophetic and poetic protest, ‘Messiah’ gives me renewed faith in the possibility of social transformation.”
-Cherríe Moraga, co-editor of This Bridge Called My Back

Written & Directed by Nia O. Witherspoon

a black arrow pointing downward

Messiah is a play about the legacy of the Panthers in the age of crack, where a scratch at a DJ booth incites a replay of the past, an action that interrogates generations of violence on black, queer bodies. The production features a ten-member cast and creative team comprised of predominantly queer, trans, and people of color.

In the play, a teenager on the trans-spectrum, creates an alter-ego named Messiah, a popular basketball-ball star and aspiring rapper. Set to the sound of hip-hop, the ring shout, and the wailing of ghosts, Messiah embarks on a journey to find a way home.

Messiah ponders how black nationalism, despite its legacies of sexism and homophobia can live on in contemporary black queer and female bodies. The characters in Messiah fight against the injustice of being forgotten like many queer and trans people of color across history. In her play, Witherspoon places women, queer, and trans folks back into the center of the black liberation struggle-where they belong.

Using a traverse stage, Messiah creates an immersive experience that brings ritual into the theater, shifting from the secular to the sacred through rites already present in black life-the frenzy of a nightclub, the libations poured on street corners, and the sonic landscapes of hip-hop. With this access to “the sacred,” audiences can engage with the past, present, and future to shift reality towards creativity, justice, and freedom.

Part of the Stonewall 50 Celebration!

Join multiple generations of queer performers as they pose questions, honor legacies and ignite the present. See 3 Shows for only $55!

a person wearing fishnets sits on the counter of a dressing room

Creative Team

Lighting Design by Tuce Yasak
Set Design by You-Shin Chen
Sound Design by Sadah Espii Proctor
Projection Design by Kameron Neal
Dramaturgy by Mei Ann Teo
Choreography & Movement Consulting by Ni’Ja Whitson
Creative Producer: Bryan Joseph Lee

Rowin Amone, Sol de la Ciudad, Marie-Louise Guiner*, Jiggy Jada, Shaa Kettrles, Malik Reed,
Rodrikus Damon Springfield, Ianne Fields Stewart, Sharlee Taylor*, Deshawn Wyatte

*This actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association


Nia O. Witherspoon is a black queer theatre-maker, vocalist/composer, and cultural worker investigating the metaphysics of black liberation, desire, and diaspora.

Witherspoon has been a 2050 Playwriting/Directing Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop, Restorative Justice Director at Boerum Hill School for International Studies, and is currently an AIR at BAX | Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and a HARP artist at HERE Arts Center. She has been the recipient of multiple honors, including awards by the (The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the (Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice), The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, Lambda Literary, and Theatre Bay Area Theatre Bay Area, and her work has been featured by BRIC, The National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts, (BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Movement Research, Dixon Place, Painted Bride Art Center, 651 ARTS, and other fabulous organizations.

As a performer, Witherspoon is co-founder of ceremonial music collective SoliRose, a world-premiere cast member of Sharon Bridgforth’s River See (Links Hall), and has been a featured vocalist in the work of Cherríe Moraga in La Semilla Caminante/The Traveling Seed (Intersection for the Arts). Recent publications include “Missy’s Trick/(Un)Making Queer” in the Journal of Popular Culture and “SHE” in Imagined Theatres (Routledge).

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Five gold stars above the text, "powerful and important"

“Messiah tells an important story, confronting history that’s been forgotten or ignored by white, straight, middle-class America” – Carrie Lee O’Dell, ReviewsHub

“Messiah offers up plenty to think about and is a nice start to La Mama’s month long programming reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.” – Joe Lombardi, BroadwayWorld


Out Magazine logo

‘Messiah’ Tackles Black Queer Intergenerational Trauma

Writer and Director Nia Witherspoon wants her work to be healing.  By Raquel Willis


La MaMa Presents Nia O. Witherspoon’s MESSIAH


“Never before have I seen so many nuanced themes in an all Black cast…
Messiah deeply explores how limited ideas of masculinity and femininity, and constructions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’
hit us doubly hard as Black people
and hit us immeasurably deep as queer Black people.”
– Melanie Laura, Auto Straddle


“The revelry was reminiscent of a Harlem house party
where bodies moved to familiar beats.”
– Gregory King, Thinking Dance


“Emotional. Ritual. Hate. Fear. I’m normally a fan of the tongue-in-cheek,
but there were no tongues last night, only truth:
raw, straightforward and measurable.”
– Sondra Fink, Psycho-Girl


“Messiah cuts deep into the emotional, spiritual, and literal incarceration of black people.
It’s about the residue from slavery that sticks to our skin and lives in our spirits.”
– Melanie Laura, Auto Straddle


“An orchestra of voices and themes, Messiah was a reminder of the ideological parallels
between the Black Civil Rights and the LGBT movements, showing Messiah’s struggle to assert his identity
and liberate his queer back body amidst systemic subjugation.”
– Gregory King, Thinking Dance

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