You won’t need matches to light fireworks this year for these are incendiary times and they’re not getting better anytime soon. Faced with Black Lives Matter protests, systemic racism, police brutality, a deadly virus, unemployment and uncertainties, the theater can play a significant role — not only entertain but also enlighten. “All art is ultimately social,” said Lorraine Hansberry, author of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

A manifesto on Westport Country Playhouse’s Facebook page addresses the movement: “We stand with you. We see you. We are listening. And when we return to the stage, we pledge that your stories will be told here.” In a separate statement, the Playhouse’s Mark Lamos said, “We will be staging shows by Black authors, as we have done for many seasons. We will continue our policy of casting actors non-traditionally, and continue to give voice to directors, choreographers, and designers of color.”

Can forces be forged — Black/white, young/old, male/female, rich/poor — into multi-racial, multi-class audiences without guilt, self-righteousness or a plethora of mea culpas? As Yale Rep’s James Bundy writes, “Drama is action: in the wider world, as in the theater, the actions we must take are to believe and lift up the lived experiences of Black people, and to mobilize our privilege in service of justice for them.”

Words are not action, of course, yet a look back at Black theater, beginning in colonial times, reveals hundreds of plays and musicals with racial themes. The history of Black theater is the complex history of an enduring people — religious and secular, naïve and sophisticated, ridiculed and heroic, patient and rebellious. It also fits a history of this country. “The act of collectively experiencing a story both different from and familiar to our own can transform us,” said Long Wharf’’s Jacob Padrón and Kit Ingui in a joint statement.

Herewith a highly selective list of important and influential plays that mirrors a movement, works that deal with hatred as well as love:

John Leacock’s “The Fall of British Tyranny” (1776) was published in Philadelphia the same place and year of the Declaration of Independence. In this patriotic (and talky) drama, the British promise freedom for runaway slaves if they, in turn, promise to kill their southern “massas.”

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852), adapted from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel, has elements of both submission and rebellion. At heart, it’s an abolitionist work with a farcical Topsy and an innocently compliant Uncle Tom.

Dion Boucicault’s “The Octoroon” (1859) is about how the eponymous Zoe is prevented from marrying the white man she loves. Brenden Jacobs-Jenkins re-imagined the original as “An Octoroon” (2014) with characters who wore blackface, whiteface and redface. Although slavery is touched upon, the latter work is really about identity, as seen by a Black playwright who decries being labeled a “black playwright.”

“The Green Pastures” (1930) is a Pulitzer Prize play that riffs on biblical tales, replete with angels and “de Lawd God Jehovah.” Even southern audiences were dazzled by a work patronizingly described by its author, Marc Connelly (in “The History of the Pulitzer Prize Plays”), as celebrating “the religion . . . of thousands of Negroes in the deep South . . .untutored Black Christians, many of whom cannot even read the book which is the treasure house of their faith.”

“The Emperor Jones” (1920) and “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” (1924) are both by Eugene O’Neill and both starred the great Paul Robeson. In the former, a powerful ex-con escapes to a Caribbean island, sets himself up as monarch and then has to flee when his subjects rebel. In the latter, racism is both inevitable and inescapable, dividing an inter-racial couple who find it impossible to live together. Both works caused near-riots. (Robeson was in a 1941 production of “Emperor Jones” at Connecticut’s Ivoryton Playhouse).

The notorious Scottsboro case yields several works. John Wexley’s “They Shall Not Die” (1934) recounts false allegations of rape by two white women against nine African-American teens. Not only racism and perjury but the right to a fair trial (the jury was all-white), a corrupt police system and mob violence were at stake. Wexley’s drama was followed by Richard Wright’s similarly themed “Native Son” (1941) and the underrated “The Scottsboro Boys” (2010) which re-cast the historic event as an ironic minstrel show. Justice denied is also the theme of Jean Genet’s shocking “The Blacks” (1958) which has some of the Black actors in whiteface, indicators of white supremacy.

Lorraine Hansberry’s highly successful “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959) is a transitional work rooted in that oldest of units: the family. Mainly about the impending move of a Black family to a white Chicago neighborhood, it contains Afro-centric elements and a critique of American materialism. It, too, spurred a sequel, the Pulitzer-winning “Clybourne Park” (2010) in which Black vs, white conflicts continue in the same neighborhood and house.

Calls for revolution and violence replace appeasement and order with the arrival of Amiri Baraka (ne LeRoi Jones). In “The Toilet” (1962), a Black student finds it prudent not to interfere as his classmates beat a white male student with whom he’s in love. In “Dutchman” (1964), a young white woman flirts with, mocks, then eventually kills a young Black man on the subway before moving on to her next victim. Love is inconceivable in such worlds.

No Black writer has concentrated so heavily on or explicated the past better than August Wilson whose series of plays take place in each decade of the 20th century. In his “The Piano Lesson” (1987), another Pulitzer winner, the legacy of that ancestral instrument is at stake. Should it be sold, or kept as a reminder of its slave history?

Two recent, daring plays push noses into racism by reversing Black and white roles. Jeremy O. Harris’ ”Slave Play” (2018) occurs at the junction of slavery and sex, using one to illuminate the other. In it, consensual sado-masochism is experienced, then analyzed by three inter-racial couples. The Pulitzer Prize “Fairview” (2018) by Jackie Sibblies Drury switches races to reveal outworn attitudes.

Switching races is also at the heart of the sensational musical “Hamilton” (2015) where white American Revolution figures are portrayed by Black and brown actors. One character is the slave-holding Thomas Jefferson, whose Declaration of Independence we celebrate this month. “All men are created equal,” he wrote. Words matter. Action even more.

Norwalk resident David Rosenberg’s column on the local theater and entertainment scene appears monthly.