The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse has sold out its two weekend readings of a new play based on Oak Bluffs history, starring award-winning actor S. Epatha Merkerson.

A waiting list for overflow seating at the Friday and Saturday readings is posted on the playhouse website.

During a rehearsal break in the playhouse courtyard Tuesday, Ms. Merkerson told the Gazette she jumped at the chance to appear in Miss Maybelline’s Nocturnal Flights of Fancy, written by her longtime friend — and second-generation Oak Bluffs homeowner — Kathleen McGhee-Anderson.

“I said yes before I read the script, because it’s Kathleen,” said Ms. Merkerson, who plays Miss Maybelline, a 100-year-old resident of the Oak Bluffs Camp Ground who shares her stories and the Island’s history with a young neighbor.

“There are some people that you work with that you don’t question: They’ve already proven to you who they are,” Ms. Merkerson said of the playwright, who was writing for television when they met some 30 years ago.

“She’s a brilliant writer. She’s incredibly intelligent. She’s got a great sense of humor . . . and she’s a great storyteller,” Ms. Merkerson said.

In Miss Maybelline’s Nocturnal Flights of Fancy, Ms. McGhee-Anderson explores the Black experience on Martha’s Vineyard — and in the wider world — over the title character’s lifetime, from the Jazz Age to the present day.

Miss Maybelline also tells older stories from Island history, including one that was hidden from public knowledge until the 2020s: the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association’s segregation, by destruction or removal, of cottages owned by people of color in the late 19th century.

It’s a tale that resonates with Ms. Merkerson, whose parents moved to Detroit from the Deep South.

“There was always this conversation on ownership and how important those things were to Black families — to be able to own your own land, to own your own home, to own your own car — especially for those who migrated north, as my parents did, during the Great Migration,” she said.

Directed by playhouse artistic and executive director MJ Bruder Munafo, the play also stars Owen Alleyne, Michael Boatman, Cate Damon and Michelle Wilson.

As part of their preparation, the play’s cast took an around-the-Island tour Monday that included spending time in the Camp Ground, meeting Wampanoag tribal members at the Gay Head Cliffs, stopping for lunch in Menemsha and visiting other locations mentioned in the play.

“It’s been a really marvelous rehearsal period,” said Ms. Merkerson, who recently wrapped up her eighth season playing hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin on the NBC series Chicago Med.

She’s also widely known for her earlier roles as determined police Lieut. Van Buren on the original Law & Order series and Reba the Mail Lady on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. She earned an Emmy Award on the miniseries Lackawanna Blues.

Ms. Merkerson has stepped behind the camera as well, directing a 2012 documentary, The Contradictions of Fair Hope, that was selected for that year’s Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival.

Offscreen, Ms. Merkerson is a distinguished stage actor who has won multiple Obie awards and earned a Tony nomination for her role in the original Broadway production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson.

“I always have to come back to the theatre — I always have to come back, because it’s a different muscle and if you don’t use it, you lose it,” she said.

She especially likes working with new plays, Ms. Merkerson said, citing the deep conversations that take place between actors, playwright and director as a production comes together.

“There’s nothing like doing new plays,” she said.

For more information about Miss Maybelline’s Nocturnal Flights of Fancy and other upcoming productions, visit