Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea is a play that captures the previously untold stories of black gay men in the south, including E. Patrick Johnson’s own story of growing up as a black gay southerner.

The play was developed and workshopped at the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College, Chicago in 2009. Working with other artists and writers, Johnson turned his staged reading, “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales” into a full length play.

The world premier performance was produced by Jane M. Saks in collaboration with About Face Theater  in Chicago. Under the direction of Daniel Alexander Jones, the show opened on May 7, 2010 at the Viaduct Theater for a four-week run. In September of 2010, the show traveled to Austin, Texas to the University of Texas as a part of the “Performing Blackness Series,” at the John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies for a three-day run under the direction of Helga Davis.

With the thought of a national tour in mind, Johnson revamped the script once more in preparation for a run at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, under the direction of Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj. In fall 2011, the show ran for four weeks to great reviews. In 2014, Johnson revised the play once again and worked with director Joseph Megel to launch the North Carolina premiere of the show at the Durham Arts Council for two-week run.

The play script, Sweet Tea—A Play was published by Northwestern University Press in 2020. All inquiries regarding performance rights for this play should be addressed to Johnson’s agent, Mark Orsini, at Bret Adams Ltd. 448 West Forty-fourth Street, New York, NY 10036 (morsini@bretadamsltd.net).


The device of alternating the stories works very well here, as each man has something moving (and sometimes painful) to tell, and Johnson is skilled at quickly creating the varied characters. Each vignette allows him to go further into the next chapter of his own story, as if the others’ lives were beaming a raking sidelight on his. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Sweet Tea is that the artist has achieved the near impossible: His stories of self do not scream ‘me me me,’ but rather sing of an us that is rarely seen or lauded. As he said after the show, ‘the best autobiographical work is work that opens out.’”

— Indy Week (Durham, NC), February 19, 2014

[Johnson] has a poised delivery and can plunge himself into moments of lively theatricality — during the show he sings gospel, executes an infectious ring shout and, in a particularly enjoyable scene, channels the tambourine-waving exuberance of an eccentric pastor. […] The show trains its eye far beyond any specific veranda. In one of the play’s particularly moving lines, Gerome, the tambourine-shaking pastor, explains that he has turned his back on narrow perspectives and learned to see creation “as a whole picture.” “Sweet Tea” invites us to gaze at that picture, too.”

— The Washington Post, September 20, 2011

**** 4 stars Based on his award-winning and critically acclaimed book of the same name, Johnson takes a risk and plunges head first into the difficult subject matter of gay Black men living in southern states. This one-man show answers the questions many are afraid to ask. Told through the words of several gay Black men, the play examines the triumphs, disappointments, perceptions and hardships of living a life still frowned upon today by a large population.”

— MD Theatre Guide, September 2011

Johnson has an infectious energy and is frequently hilarious, whether embodying a cross dresser doing his best Patti LaBelle impersonation or a college student recounting the numerous athletes he’s slept with. Johnson has an easy rapport with the audience, who laugh along as Johnson jokes and interacts with them. Sweet Tea may not be afraid to tackle heavy territory, but Johnson is most irresistible during the show’s lighter moments.”

— Washingtonian, September 20, 2011