Courtesy of Ruth Lee

On Feb. 12, Quinnipiac University held a staged reading of “Death by a Thousand Cuts: A Requiem for Black and Brown Men.” The play is the culmination of eight years of work by New Haven native Steve Driffin, who wrote and directed it.

Driffin described the play as “vulnerability personified,” and meant to invite Black men to be vulnerable with the world and tell their story. At first glance, with the stage only being set with music stands and water bottles, it feels like the audience is observing a rehearsal. However, as the Star Spangled Banner plays and the actors come into frame with their fists raised in solidarity for the Black community — all in the first few seconds — the audience realizes that it is much more than that.

The show can be categorized into multiple genres: an autobiography, cultural memoir or an oral history of Black men. It incorporates different elements of rap, spoken word poetry, song and prose to explore several themes that articulate the experiences of Black and Brown men: microaggressions in the educational system, colorism from the community and the burdens of toxic masculinity. 

“It is a mirror and a window,” Driffin said. “It’s a mirror for us [Black men] to look at ourselves, and a window for those who want to better view and understand our experiences.” 

The theatrical reading consisted of four male actors: Stephen King, Rodney T. Moore, Jason Hall and Sharmont Little. The characters — named “Red,” “Black,” “Green” and “Gold” — come together to reveal a story of the oppression and hurt Black men confront while growing up in the United States. Throughout the reading, actors can be seen nodding in empathy to one another, and at multiple points, all four characters come together to speak as one entity. Notably, all four characters gather together to yell: “Boys don’t cry! Boys don’t cry!” 

The actors said that they developed an emotional attachment to the play and reflected on their own journeys while working with Driffin.

“It was educational, it was transformative,” Little said. “Working on this play on a daily basis, and going through mainly [Driffin’s] feelings and interactions, I connected them to myself and the traumas I went through as a young boy and as a grown man. That was also reflective. It’s a therapeutic process, because there’s something new I take home every time I read the play.” 

Driffin noted that he wrote the play with an American audience — who come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds — in mind. 

“This is for all the Black and Brown men who have had these experiences and have never had the opportunity to have their story told,” Driffin said. “This is dedicated to us. We have been vilified and stereotyped, and in very few spaces are we being seen for ourselves.”

He also hopes that this play will have an impact on people who have not gone through these experiences, and yearn to hear about them in their entire authenticity. 

“I thought it was really amazing to see a piece of theater that wasn’t afraid to cross genre lines and was based on real experiences,” Suraj Singareddy ’25 said after attending the performance. “It’s rare to see a piece of art that centers on the local community and that isn’t afraid to face its subject material head on.”

Driffin speaks not only from his own experience, but from a collection of interviews he has conducted with several organizations over the years. One in particular is The Black Obsidian Men’s group. This organization creates spaces of reflection and healing for Black men, through group discussions, testimonies, retreats and meditation, intending to create a community of trust and hope, untouched by the impacts of white supremacy. 

Eric Rey, the founder of the Black Obsidian Men’s group, explained the ways in which Black men are affected by the permeance of patriarchy in society — Black men are pressured into portraying a hyper-masculine persona and expected to seem unaffected by racism. For instance, he said that oftentimes Black men who have lost children to gun violence feel it is not socially acceptable to express their pain.

“This is not to downplay the harm caused by men against everybody else, including [by other] men. Men suffer at the hands of other men,” Rey said. “Having this conversation and raising awareness around how domination and patriarchy affect men, in particular, relates to our collective healing before we get to a healthier place.” 

Driffin clarified that he is “not the spokesperson for all Black and Brown men,” but that through the careful cultivation of interviews, research and analysis of personal experiences, the “mirror and window” he created presents a version of American history that “needs to be told.”

“Death by A Thousand Cuts” was performed on Feb. 11 and 12 at the Buckman Theater at Quinnipiac University, located in Hamden, Connecticut. 

Ruth Lee covers Film and Literature for the Arts Desk, as well as writes for the Weekend and records for the Podcask Desk. From New York City, Ruth is a freshman in Timothy Dwight college, majoring in History and English.