Fordham Professor and Playwright of “Skip to My Lou”

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Fordham Professor and Playwright of “Skip to My Lou”

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“Skip to My Lou” makes it’s off-Broadway debut on Feb. 17. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Elizabeth Smislova

Steve Romagnoli, Fordham graduate, former writer for The Fordham Ram and current professor at FCRH, is the playwright of the new off-Broadway play “Skip to My Lou.” The play will run from Feb. 17-23 in the TNC Theater Complex on 155 First Avenue (Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.).

Romagnoli says that he was inspired by the true story of Ota Benga, a man who was taken from Africa in 1906 and put on exhibit in the Bronx Zoo in a cage in the monkey house. “At the time, this was not viewed by most people as something bad, unnatural or cruel,” he said. “Thousands of people went to go see him in the zoo, and they eventually took him out of there. He eventually committed suicide.”

In addition to teaching literature at FCRH, Romagnoli teaches a similar college course at Bedford Hills Maximum Security Women’s Prison. Marymount College sponsors the program where the women can leave with a degree in sociology.

His experience there moved him to creatively connect the seemingly unrelated history of Ota Benga and the current prison systems: “It’s an honor for me to be a part of that [program] and their lives,” he said. “It’s terribly sad going there and leaving when I know they’re behind the walls.

“In a lot of ways, the prison systems have a lot of cruel and immoral elements, like solitary confinement, that people looking back on it 100 years from now, will look back on it the same way we looked back on Ota Benga,” he added. All the proceeds from the play will be donated to the college program at Bedford Hills.

Before writing “Skip to My Lou,” Romagnoli taught “at-risk” youths in small environments such as drug rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters and halfway houses. During his opening lectures, he says he used the story of Ota Benga to engage and strike a cord with the youths.

His actions and writings prove that the Fordham grad has no fear in the face of revealing and fighting injustice, especially in an artistically beautiful, yet simultaneously tragic, way. Benga’s account may be appalling, and therefore be taboo, but that does not inhibit Romagnoli from using the horror inflicted on him as a lesson more than 100 years later.

“The play itself is directly inspired by that story and I guess part of it being that, looking back on that we could look at it as something as cruel and unusual and bizarre, clearly so,” he said. “But in our society today there are things that are going on that people don’t register the same way that are cruel, just as bizarre, and they are just wearing a disguise or mask.”