In ‘Angela’s Mixtape,’ Eisa Davis steps into her name


“Just your average, everyday, macrobiotic, revolutionary, dancing family,” is how Eisa Davis jokingly describes the characters who populate her play, “Angela’s Mixtape.” Growing up as the niece of prominent 1960s counterculture figure Angela Davis, with parents whose activism often outweighed domestic concerns, there was no way that the younger Davis (whose full name is Angela Eisa Davis — she shares that first name with her famous aunt) was going to enjoy a placid, middle-class upbringing.

With “Angela’s Mixtape,” which will be making its New England premiere at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in July and August, Davis has mined material from her own childhood and adolescence, as well as her aunt’s tumultuous years as a member of the Black Panther Party, to create a collage of a play incorporating memories, music, and movement. The four-character play incorporates characters from the Davis family; the actors also jump into other roles as needed, with the young Angela holding it all together throughout this freeform autobiographical show.

When the play was produced at the Ohio Theater in New York City in 2009, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times praised it as “[an] appropriately turbulent and quite funny show about the forces that influence the forging of identity.” The New Yorker named the production a “best play of the year.”

Davis is an awardwinning actor, writer, and singer-songwriter, whose previous play, “Bulrusher,” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2006. She is known for her TV roles in “House of Cards” and “The Wire” as well as her roles in Spike Lee’s “Passing Strange” and other films. Davis received an Obie for Sustained Excellence in Performing in 2013. Currently she writes for the Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It,” and continues to act on stage and screen.

Davis took advantage of a break in the filming of Bart Freundlich’s “After the Wedding,” starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, to talk about “Angela’s Mixtape” with Arts & Ideas.

“In a lot of ways I didn’t even write the play,” she said. “It really just tumbled out of me. All of the memories in the play are just stories that have been there since I was a kid, up until about age 19.”

In creating the piece, Davis blended coming-of-age stories from her own life with recollections from her namesake’s struggles as a member of the Black Panther Party, who was jailed before her trial, and later acquitted, and went on to pursue a career as an author, educator, and activist.

In the play Davis explores her conflicting feelings as a young girl. “Basically there were just all of these urges that I had to be a normie kid,” she said. “I was interested in Calvin Klein jeans and wanting a boyfriend, but all these things seemed so petty and invalid in the face of what my parents and my aunt were doing. They risked their lives. They gave their entire lives to the struggle, to the movement for justice and peace and an end to all oppression and to economic parity. Here I was just feeling like I couldn’t possibly match that. I felt really inadequate in their life.”

Given Davis’ range of talents, it’s not surprising that the piece grew from her early efforts as an entertainer. “The play is an extension of the living room plays I would do after dinner with anyone I could conscript onto the dance floor,” she said. “Like a lot of kids, I always wanted to just grab my family’s attention and do something. I’d round up stepsisters, cousins, next-door neighbors, and put on a show. The play should feel like a living room show — something that you do for your family.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s intimate black box theater should prove the perfect setting for Davis’ memoir piece. The show combines dance elements and lots of great soundtracks from the ’60s through the ’90s to present the very personal story of two exceptional women and the forces that helped to shape and define their lives.

“At the heart of the conflict of the play is the question, ‘Where do I fit?’” said Davis. “How do I find a sense of meaning in my life if I’m not doing what [my family members] are doing? The play is a journey about finding that self-worth; stepping into my name and being able to claim my name and not feel a sense of alienation or ineptitude or guilt.”


Angela’s Mixtape

New England premiere

by Eisa Davis

Directed by Adrienne D. Williams


Tickets at

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