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Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986) by August Wilson AND MORE ON How to Review Plays.

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1 Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986) by August Wilson AND MORE ON How to Review Plays

2 Writing a Theater Review: Broad Aims The Function Of Reviews And Reviewers Published reviews vary a great deal. The best daily newspapers see the reviewer’s job as to report on a more or less important public activity, the importance which – and the space given to that reporting – is often determined by such considerations as the volume of money spent upon the productions reported upon or the perceived status of the production company. Most dailies, however, offer a simpler service (in the form of a brief ‘taste test’) to the theatre goer who wants to know if the show is worth seeing. In more serious publications, a theatre critic will have a wide-ranging knowledge of drama and the theatre, definite views about what is undesirable or desirable, and a sense of the context in which the reviewed performance is taking place; he or she can take up more inclusive topics, going beyond the performance on the night to a discussion of individual artists and their development, a particular style of production, company policies, theatre finance, theatre in the community – and so on. Sample the reviewers and journals listed below. The Broad Aims Of Reviewing Two points need to be made at the beginning: Firstly, there is no one review style or structure that suits all purposes (contrary to what many of you will have had drummed into you with the VCE Drama ‘CATs’). Different kinds of plays and different kinds of productions naturally lead one to review them in different kinds of ways. It is important to respond to the particular kind of experience provoked by a performance in a particular kind of way. Secondly, reviews are often the raw material of theatre history; long after the play is out of print or its producing company has ceased to exist – and long after a particular kind of fashion has passed – the printed reviews often remain as the only record of a performance. It is therefore also important to report, as accurately as possible, the basic circumstances of the play, the production and the performance. In broad terms, your reviews should: 1)Evoke (or give an accurate impression of) the performance for someone who has not been there; 2) Convey a considered personal judgment of the quality of the experience; 3) Where there is a text which you can be reasonably expected to read, or of which you can form a sufficient impression, consider how the text was interpreted.

3 Writing a Theater Review Specific Aims and Presentation 4. Specific Aims Here are some questions which you will normally need to consider: What kind of play is it, and what is it about? It is usually necessary to provide a (very brief) summary of the main action – which does not mean telling the whole story through all its windings. What is the style of performance? (Eg. Elaborate? Simple? Rough? Naturalistic? A mixture of styles?) As the play progresses your ability to describe style more exactly will grow. What is the nature of the theatre experience? (Your own responses are crucial, but since theatre is a public event, you should notice how others responded, the atmosphere of the evening, the social context and allied matters. Again, these vary widely.) Remember that the purposes of the theatre are varied and so too are the expectations of audiences. How good is it? (Be careful to try to distinguish here between the text and the performance. This is sometimes very difficult, and only a rash reviewer condemns a new play (for example) if there is a reason to suspect that the performance has done it less than justice. Cases vary: you sometimes also see brilliant performances of unworthy material.) In thinking about any of these four questions you will need to describe aspects of the performance in detail. In other words, back up your judgment with evidence from the play and the performance. Some topics you might treat are: acting, direction, design, use of music and dance, special effects; imagery (in word and spectacle), grouping, pace and timing, atmosphere or mood. Remember that these are only examples and not in all cases appropriate. In discussing any of these you should be as precise and evocative as possible. 5. Presentation Your reviews must be headed by the following information: title, author (and translator if appropriate), director, designer(s), company, and venue. Length: about 1,000 words. 6. Reviewers and Journals You may like to read some examples of what professional reviewers do. Among the famous practitioners (in English) were George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, Kenneth Tynan, Mary McCarthy and Walter Kerr. Reviews of varying quality can be read in the local and national press; the Arts pages in The Australian give about as good a national summary of Australian theatre as we get at the moment, while reviews in Real Time are more diverse. 7. Assessment In assessing reviews, account is taken of your argument and critical response, your theatrical awareness and your presentation and expression. Two points to note: reviews of plays and performances are typically written in the present tense and actors, directors etc are not referred to by their first names.

4 Practical Tips for Reviewing Theater II Step 1 Develop a system for taking notes. For some reviewers, this is a good old fashioned note-pad. Some reviewers scribble while they watch a performance, although this can distract other audience members (sit in the back if you need to do this). Some reviewers prefer to take their notes during intermissions. Step 2 Do your homework. If the production you are seeing is a revival, track down tapes, reviews, notices, and/or cast lists of the previous productions. A good reviewer will compare aspects of previous productions, without getting locked into the mindset that "It has to be that way because of the genius performance" from before. The beauty of live theatre is that it is not film. Therefore, it is not static; work is open to reinterpretation with each performance. Step 3 Fact check and check again. If you don't have a checker or editor to do this for you, be sure you spell the names of the director, cast, tech crew, producers, et al, correctly. Also double- check dates. Step 4 Get press-kits or information about the production from the source. If the piece is a revival and the script is available, read it before you go.

5 Practical Tips for Reviewing Theater II Step 5 Distinguish between the material, and the way it's told. Many times reviewers will get hung up on a bad performance, and end up trashing the play when in truth, the actor the director is really the one at fault. Likewise, the opposite is many times true, a brilliant performance can shine through the worst of material. This is a fine point that is open to debate. Step 6 Distinguish between opinion and fact about the work. If an actor can't be heard past the third row, then that is a fact about the performance. Your opinion about it may then be that the actor marred the evening with their lack of technique. Step 7 Tell the truth; but also know thine audience and expectation level. If the purpose of the piece is to give press to a community center, then be aware of that expectation. Don't go in with a flaming tear-down of their operation. In more earnest or professional situations, it is the reviewer's job to give an honest assessment of the professionalism and performance level of the work. Step 8 Develop your style. Some reviewers have a flowery and erudite style. Others prefer the direct "Don't waste your time on this" approach. What makes a reviewer worth reading is not whether or not they have a huge vocabulary, or find amusing ways to trash people. Ultimately, people read reviews to learn one thing: whether or not the show is worth seeing. That's not to say if it's good or bad, although these opinions will often determine that. How you say it is often as important as what you say.

6 The Do’s and Don’ts of Theatre Review Know the difference between a reviewer and a critic. These two people are usually catering to two different audiences. A reviewer communicates the information that helps a person to make a decision about a particular performance. A critic engages readers on a intellectual-conversation-over-a-cup-of- Earl Grey level. Make sure you are communicating effectively. A common mistake of writers, especially new writers is to fill a page with general or flat words that really say nothing. Great, interesting, fascinating, boring, and horrible are examples of words that need to be left in the rough draft. Your theatre review needs to contain specific and meaningful content that will make an impression on your readers. Don't write Cliff's notes. A theatre review empowers the reader to make a decision. That does not mean that readers want you to motivate them to see a performance and ruin it for them before they finish your review. They don't want a minute but minute or scene by scene synopsis. They don't want you to pinpoint every highlight. They don't want you to reveal the climatic twist in the plot. Allow the work to do some work. Writers like to be regarded as brilliant wordsmiths. This often causes them to work harder than is necessary. Much writing goes into a theatre performance. Extract and quote telling lines. The tone of a play with an ambiguous title such as The Lover's Tale can be quickly established by quoting a line such as, "for God's sake Charles, who expects a summer fling to extend into the fall." Don't just focus on the roles; focus on how effective people are in their roles. More important than knowing the name of every character is knowing which characters appear to have been born for their roles and knowing which are playing roles that they are ill-fitted for. People like people... so introduce them. An off-stage or after performance quote from the lead actress, from the playwright or from the theatre owner can give your audience an idea about the people behind the masks and how passionate they are about their work. A stage hand or even an audience member can offer insight into how a performance ranks compared to others. Listen to more than the performance and if you hear something interesting, weave it into your theatre review. Talk to regular people in regular language. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you will make a name for yourself by writing a pretentious theatre review. Just as common users don't to be burdened with industry terms when reading an instruction manual, the average reader doesn't care to wade through all the technical terms you remember from drama class.

7 Little Shop of Horrors In a dark little florist, in a dark little alley in downtown New York, a muse is born…The BIG, vivacious, money-making, blues-belting, man-eating, exotic, one of a kind – AUDREY II. But, be warned, her ruby lips and her sapphire skin aren’t the kind you’d want to kiss. This lady has an appetite and your flavorsome blood and crunchy bones are the next things on her menu… Welcome to Skid Row, Ladies and Gentlemen. Your stay may be long, and bloody.

8 Little Shop of Horrors: An Unhelpful, Scathing Review Pembroke College last night opened a little shop of theatrical horrors with their take on Ashman and Menken’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. At the outset, I should say that this was not uniformly awful: the chorus composed of three street-wise, mouthy girl-things was far from terrible (in fact, there were two very good singers there); Charlie Daniels, as Audrey, showed some promise (although her vocals are in desperate need of attention); and I for one was glad to be reminded of the joyously bad rhymes, corniest of jokes and all-round charm of this musical. Furthermore, the cast and crew had introduced some ‘funnies’ of their own, which I, along with the rest of last night’s audience, enjoyed. However, my favourite part was still the bit when the set collapsed on two cast members (no injuries and no jokes). But now, with a heavy heart, I must step up to the reviewer’s plate and write some nasty, nasty things. The collapsible set is probably a good place to start. Mushnik’s eponymous flower shop seems to have been built from the painting of a child – a child, that is, with a disturbing affinity for brown at the expense of every other colour in the spectrum. Either that or some of the cast, angered by their director, had decided to stage their very own dirty protest. In which case, judging by the copiousness of the brown, the band might well have joined in; or perhaps a particularly potent vindaloo was served in Pembroke Hall on Tuesday (with ‘Yawn’ playing at the OFS, apparently poo jokes are de rigeur this sixth week). While I enjoyed the plant in its earlier forms – when it was presented as a glove puppet which Matt Thomas (Seymour) worked well – the fully grown thing was not in the least bit interesting. Plainly speaking, it was nothing more spectacular than a heap of some plastic sheets stitched together (which, incidentally, it was). ‘Feed Me’ was the most shockingly inept and mundane three minutes of theatre I think I have ever had to sit through as this dull creation was pretty much left on stage alone to open and then shut its mouth in time to the music. Seymour’s goofy dancing (not particularly funny anyway) at the end could not save what is normally a very enjoyable number. It is possibly a little unfair to single out any principal member of the cast for criticism. However, Josh Randall (director) should probably shove a large amount of diazepam up Jarred Wiehe (a very hyperactive Mushnik who seemed to froth at the mouth) ahead of tonight’s performance. My advice to Oxford theatregoers: don’t feed the plants and don’t feed the coffers of Pembroke College Music Society by turning up to see this set of horrors.

9 Why is this a bad review? Viewers’ Critiques Little Shop Fan said: I think this is a very unprofessional review on this production. At the very least should you appreciate that there are certain constraints on holding a production in a space primarily used as a dining hall, and thus not naturally set up for any productions… The author’s attempts at humor here are also unbefitting of the supposed professionalism with which he should be approaching his reviews. His scathing report on Jarred’s performance, together with his seeming attempt to condone sodomy is both disrespectful and irrelevant. Criticizing the production in constructive fashion is of course perfectly acceptable, and as Mr. Fazan clearly did not enjoy the show, he is perfectly entitled to his opinion. However, to make personal slights at individual cast members which are largely unfounded and plain rude does not constitute a decent review. That said, having seen Mr. Fazan’s own recent performance in ‘Macbeth,’ I think he should work on his own theatrical ability before so rudely criticizing those of others. John Waters said: What passes above for a review is quite plainly Mr Fazan taking his ego for a self-pleasuring wallow in the muddy waters of cruel and unnecessary theatre criticism. Even putting aside factual errors, the general tone of this review is completely uncalled for. Suggesting that his favourite moment of the night was when actors were put in danger by some dodgy tech work is completely unfair on them and the production. To give Little Shop one star and encourage people not to go is ridiculous – there is not enough musical theatre in Oxford and tonight’s (Thursday’s) performance was full of charm, hilarity, pitch-perfect harmonies and hard-hitting musical numbers, not to mention the enthused and responsive audience packing out Pembroke Hall and proving that there is an appetite for musicals in Oxford. The technical faults from the first night were clearly ironed out as nothing was noticeable aside from the admittedly ill-chosen colour of Mushnik’s shop (although apparently fitting for the Skid Row address). In fact, Pembroke hall had been transformed into a fully-functioning theatre with a colossal stage. Particularly impressive was a fully-functioning electric dentist’s chair which (with a bit of help) emerged from underneath the set to provide the impetus for a darkly comedic musical number which had the audience in stitches. If Mr. Fazan would like to masturbate his ego any further, I suggest he pick a different and more suitable target. Little Shop is here to stay until Saturday, go and see it for yourself! 4 stars from me.

10 Praying for Grace Not quite a 'Grace'-ful performance by Eli Matzner Arts | 3/29/05 Posted online at 4:06 AM EST on 3/29/05 You think your family is bad? In Praying for Grace, a thesis production written and directed by Zack Friedman '05 and presented at the Merrick Theater last weekend, the Weissman family gives a whole new meaning to the word "dysfunctional." The script resembles a cross between Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and David Auburn's Proof. As in Albee's masterpiece, the characters get angry early and stay that way, relentlessly waging war on each other for three hours. Meanwhile, the play's basic premise has clearly been lifted from Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winner: The dead mother, the overly irritable sister, the guilt-tripped sibling who flies to comfort the father and the use of flashbacks all invoke parallels that are difficult to ignore. The plot centers around Martin Weissman (Max Louik '05), a middle-aged father who suffers a heart attack. Paul, played by Jon Sherman '05, comes to see his father, bringing his fiancée Dana (Cassandra Waterman '05) in tow. They plan to stay at a hotel but Margot, Paul's sister, allows them to stay with her and her husband Doug (Devin Carney '06). From there, things take a turn for the worse. Paul and Margot initiate a heated conversation about Dana, and later that evening, Margot lashes out at and repeatedly insults her brother's fiancée. Meanwhile, in the hospital, Martin yells at his nurses, who have quickly grown to despise him. By the end of the show, we have seen every character yell at nearly every other character in the play. Regrettably, Praying for Grace was written with a group of thoroughly unpleasant characters. At first, only a few come off as downright malicious: Margot yells at everyone in sight for no perceivable reason, while Martin seems displeased by everything anyone says to him. Soon, though, they pull the rest of the cast down with them. Martin's outbursts cause his nurses to become harsh and spiteful, and Margot's systematic denigrations turn Dana, Paul and even Doug into her enemies. And when it seems Paul is the only character left who the audience can side with, he screams and punches his brother Ron. The conflicts Friedman has drawn up fall flat because there is no character to cheer for. In Praying for Grace, nearly every scene involves two unlikable people. When Martin unreasonably lambastes his nurse-who drops all pleasantries and lashes right back-it feels like watching a game and rooting against both teams. In Friedman's defense, the script shows that the young playwright has a good mind for writing dialogue and the ability to tell a story. He inserts gems of cleverness into the script and offers up several genuinely humorous one-liners, while numerous literary allusions and quotes blend well and bolster the action. Still, these radiant moments drown in the sea of angry, unappetizing quarrels. While the actors performed commendably, they were unable to overcome the unattractive dispositions of their characters. Specifically, Sara Friedlander '05-in the role of Margot- attempted to make her character seem human and she almost succeeded. She was still bound by the script, though, which provided her with tirades that consistently alienated the audience. Just when it seems like the play is ending with a multifaceted, meaningful speech by Dana, the action drags on. Friedman would have been wise to tie everything together earlier and, on that note, let the lights simply fade to black.

11 Why is this a bad review? Another Reviewer’s Response Matzner does a respectable job of summarizing Friedman’s play and does offer up a couple worthy points of critique for Friedman’s thesis: the play was in some stretches too emotional for too long, and coming in at nearly two hours and 45 minutes, a lengthy performance as well. But by and large, Matzner fails to engage with the plays primary conflicts or critically examine Friedman’s abilities as a director or writer. Matzner leaves his readers with the assertion that the play was dysfunctional and beyond some genuinely humorous one-liners, little worth your time. Matzner comes to this conclusion from two connected thoughts: first, the plays primary figures comprised of a group of thoroughly unpleasant characters, and second, the play falls flat because there is no character to cheer for. Although both assertions are true, the characters as they are presented are relatively unlikable and there is no character to cheer. In point of fact, both points make up part of what makes Friedman’s play so interesting; the unpleasant traits that Friedman draws out in each of his characters are not simply presentations of negative character attributes but the representations of the family members psychological complexities in a time of familial crisis. That there is no easily apparent, dare I say obvious, protagonist in the play should not deter audiences or critics either. Really, it should help viewers remain more objective about the unfolding relationships that are portrayed over the course of the plays duration because we do not become caught up in any one characters struggle. In a complicated literary move on Friedman’s part, the plays family make-up becomes the protagonist, not one character that is easy to spot throughout. As a result, we can empathize with the entire family even while we might not choose to strongly identify with any individual member.

12 TWO OF THE BEST REVIEWERS REVIEW “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” Ben Brantley Frank Rich

13 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 I Great works of art often tote heavy baggage. Yet the revival of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” a drama of indisputable greatness, feels positively airborne. Much of Bartlett Sherr’s splendid production, which opened Thursday night at the Belasco Theater, moves with the engaging ease of lively, casual conversation. Some part of you, though, is always aware that there’s a storm whipping within and around the breezy talk, a gale-force wind that picks up and scatters people as if they were dandelion seeds. That wind is cold, uncaring history, propelling an entire population of men and women, only 50 years out of slavery, as they try to find footholds on a land that keeps shaking them loose. Set in 1911 and the second chapter (chronologically) in Mr. Wilson’s 10-play cycle of the African-American journey through the 20th century, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is about nothing less than the migration and dispersal of a race and culture, searching for an identity and home. At the same time this play, which takes place in a boardinghouse in the Pittsburgh neighborhood called the Hill, feels cozy, gossipy and domestic. Its characters, embodied by one of the strongest ensembles in town, seem reassuringly knowable instead of fancy figures in an allegory. This is true even when they’re describing mystical visions involving bones walking out of the ocean.

14 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 II An old man named Bynum Walker (Roger Robinson, in a marvelously centered performance) speaks of finding himself in a dreamland where the everyday is so magnified that sparrows are as big as eagles and then seeing, but with new eyes, the world restored to its normal proportions. That’s the scale of “Joe Turner” too. It is magically larger than life and exactly, precisely life size. So is Mr. Sher’s interpretation, which seems to take place in both a well-scrubbed, modest sitting room and a fairy-tale forest. Though it was Mr. Wilson’s favorite among his plays — and that of many critics (including me) — “Joe Turner” was not a raging popular success in its first New York incarnation. Lacking the more obvious melodrama and sentimentality of his two Pulitzer prize winners, “Fences” (1987) and “The Piano Lesson” (1990), it opened on Broadway in 1988, squarely between those two longer-running works, and lasted for 105 performances. It would be a shame if this production doesn’t find a wide and enthusiastic audience. It’s an (almost) unconditional pleasure to watch. (I had problems with some overly mobile scenery, but more on that later.) Unlike many of the later Wilson plays and other high-reaching American dramas of social magnitude, “Joe Turner” seamlessly blends the ordinary with the extraordinary.

15 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 III Much more than, say, O’Neill’s “Iceman Cometh,” which similarly presents an array of American dream seekers in a closed setting, “Joe Turner” keeps its symbols up its sleeves instead of wearing them like cufflinks. This play disarms its audiences with folksy chitchat and homespun comedy before it dawns on them that what they’re watching — in its subliminal sweep and symmetry — is close to epic poetry. Set in a house where residents rarely stay for more than a week or two, the play is suffused with a sense of transience — of people coming, going and briefly brushing against one another before heading in different directions. Only the house’s owner, Seth Holly(Ernie Hudson), and his wife, Bertha (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), seem at all settled. Their boarders arrive as if at a way station, bearing stories filled with far-flung place names (everyone seems to have been in at least three distant states) and descriptions of short-lived love affairs and shorter-lived jobs. “I woke up that morning and the only thing I could do was look around for my shoes,” says Jeremy Furlow (Andre Holland), a young man working on a road crew, recalling the day he discovered his woman had left him. The gorgeous, insolent Molly Cunningham (Aunjanue Ellis) arrives at Seth’s, announcing, “I ain’t looking for no home or nothing.” But you suspect she shares the sentiments of the other young female boarder, the more demure Mattie Campbell (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who says, “All my life I been looking for somebody to stop and stay with me.” In this universe of nomads, a man like Rutherford Selig (Arliss Howard) assumes an urgent importance. A white peddler who commissions Seth to make pots and pans from sheet metal, Selig is also a people finder, and he comes from a long line of men who pursued that profession. His great-grandfather transported African slaves across the ocean, and his father rounded up runaway slaves for plantation owners. Now, decades after the Emancipation Proclamation, Selig is in the business of finding black people for black people.

16 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 IV Among his clients is Herald Loomis (the magnetic Chad L. Coleman), who shows up at Seth’s with his young daughter, Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh), and the ominous look of a man on the verge of implosion. Loomis is looking for the wife he lost 10 years ago. The story of that loss, which emerges slowly since Loomis is a man of few and reluctant words, is what gives the play its title. Loomis’s history has mournful, angry echoes of the theft of human identity that was institutionalized slavery. No wonder his baleful presence scares people. Only Bynum, the most completely realized of the shaman figures who recur in Mr. Wilson’s work, understands that Loomis’s story is that of all of the residents. They are people, as he puts it, in search of their own songs. There is little actual singing in “Joe Turner,” but it is the most deeply musical of Mr. Wilson’s plays, an ode to the unheard melodies that set the rhythms of lives. Mr. Sher, best known for the smash hit “South Pacific” (like this one, a Lincoln Center Theaterproduction), refrains from excessive instrumental embellishment. (Taj Mahal’s evocative guitar riffs between scenes are suitably subtle.) The real music is in the way people talk, and when the boarders come together for a thrillingly staged Juba session — a call-and-response dance — you see their stylized movements as an extension and exaltation of how each one speaks. The look of the show — designed by Michael Yeargan (set), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Brian MacDevitt (lighting) — conjures the appropriate combination of the particular and the universal. Seth’s house is rendered without walls, an island floating in mottled skies strobed by lightning. One caveat, though: As in Mr. Sher’s 2006 revival of “Awake and Sing!,” this production’s scenery sometimes disappears in mid-scene. Symbolically, this makes sense. But especially in the play’s powerful conclusion it’s an effect that competes with and distracts from the performers. (Ditto for the shower of gold in the finale.)

17 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 V That should never be allowed to happen. For the essence of this production is in its organic acting, which matches Mr. Wilson’s writing in its melding of the quotidian and the cosmic. The cast members — who also include Michael Cummings and Danai Gurira, in a compellingly austere performance — all exist with grace and ease between the limited world of their characters’ day-to-day lives and the infinite worlds within them. It is a measure of this show’s success that when Bynum speaks of seeing a “shiny man” who describes himself as “the One Who Goes Before and Shows the Way,” you accept it as matter-of-factly as Seth’s talking about the economics of making dustpans. And, yes, in both soliloquies you hear Mr. Wilson’s America lifting its voice in song. As Bynum says, “Music don’t know no certain night.” In “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” every molecule of life hums with it. JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE By August Wilson; directed by Bartlett Sherr; sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg; music by Taj Mahal; stage manager, Narda E. Alcorn; general manager, Adam Siegel; production manager, Jeff Hamlin. Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, under the direction of André Bishop and Bernard Gersten. At the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200. Through June 14. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes. WITH: Marsha Stephanie Blake (Mattie Campbell), Chad L. Coleman (Herald Loomis), Michael Cummings (Reuben Scott), Aunjanue Ellis (Molly Cunningham), Danai Gurira (Martha Pentecost), Andre Holland (Jeremy Furlow), Arliss Howard(Rutherford Selig), Ernie Hudson (Seth Holly), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Bertha Holly), Amari Rose Leigh (Zonia Loomis) and Roger Robinson (Bynum Walker).

18 Panoramic History Of Blacks in America In Wilson's 'Joe Turner' By FRANK RICH Published: March 28, 1988

19 Review/Theater; Panoramic History Of Blacks in America In Wilson's 'Joe Turner' By FRANK RICH Published: March 28, 1988 I August Wilson continues to rewrite the history of the American theater by bringing the history of black America - and with it the history of white America - to the stage. In ''Joe Turner's Come and Gone,'' Mr. Wilson's third play to reach New York, that history unfolds with the same panoramic sweep that marked ''Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'' and ''Fences.'' As the new play's characters hang out in the kitchen and parlor of a black boardinghouse in the Pittsburgh of 1911, they retrace their long hard roads of migration from the sharecropping South to the industrialized North, and those tales again hum with the spellbinding verbal poetry of the blues. Whether a lost young woman is remembering how her mother died laboring in the peach orchards or a bitter man named Herald Loomis (Delroy Lindo) is recounting his seven years of illegal bondage to the Mississippi bounty hunter Joe Turner, Mr. Wilson gives haunting voice to the souls of the American dispossessed. But to understand just why the play at the Barrymore may be Mr. Wilson's most profound and theatrically adventurous telling of his story to date, it is essential to grasp what the characters do not say - to decipher the history that is dramatized in images and actions beyond the reach of logical narrative. In ''Joe Turner,'' there are moments when otherwise voluble men reach a complete impasse with language, finding themselves struck dumb by traumatizing thoughts and memories that they simply ''ain't got the words to tell.'' And there are times when the play's events also leap wildly off the track of identifiable reality. Late in Act I, Herald Loomis becomes so possessed by a fantastic vision - of bones walking across an ocean - that he collapses to the ground in a cyclonic paroxysm of spiritual torment and, to the horror of his fellow boarders, scuttles epileptically across the floor on his back, unable to recover his footing and stand up.

20 Review/Theater; Panoramic History Of Blacks in America In Wilson's 'Joe Turner' By FRANK RICH Published: March 28, 1988 II These are occasions of true mystery and high drama, and they take Mr. Wilson's characters and writing to a dizzying place they haven't been before. That place is both literally and figuratively Africa. Though on its surface a familiar American tale about new arrivals in the big city searching for jobs, lost relatives, adventure and love, ''Joe Turner's Come and Gone'' is most of all about a search for identity into a dark and distant past. That search leads the black characters back across the ocean where so many of their ancestors died in passage to slavery - and it sends Mr. Wilson's own writing in search of its cultural roots. As the occupants of the Pittsburgh boardinghouse are partly assimilated into white America and partly in thrall to a collective African unconscious, so Mr. Wilson's play is a mixture of the well-made naturalistic boardinghouse drama and the mystical, non-Western theater of ritual and metaphor. In ''Joe Turner,'' the clash between the American and the African shakes white and black theatergoers as violently as it has shaken the history we've all shared. To achieve his sophisticated end, Mr. Wilson has constructed an irresistible premise. ''Joe Turner'' begins when the bizarre Loomis, imposing and intense in Mr. Lindo's riveting performance, comes knocking fiercely at the boardinghouse door with his delicate 11-year- old daughter (Jamila Perry) incongruously in tow. With his years of servitude to Joe Turner at last behind him, Loomis is searching for the wife who deserted him at the start of his captivity a decade earlier. But Loomis is a ''wild-eyed, mean-looking'' man who looks as if he ''killed somebody gambling over a quarter''; he's so pitch-black in mood and dress that there must be more to his story. Bynum Walker (Ed Hall), an eccentric fellow boarder with a penchant for clairvoyance and other forms of old-country voodoo, becomes obsessed with the strange intruder, intent on linking Loomis somehow to the supernatural ''shining man'' who haunts his own search for the ''secret of life.''

21 Review/Theater; Panoramic History Of Blacks in America In Wilson's 'Joe Turner' By FRANK RICH Published: March 28, 1988 III Yet the metaphysical cat-and-mouse game played by Bynum and Loomis is only the spine of ''Joe Turner.'' Everyone in the boardinghouse is looking, each according to his own experience, for either a lost relative or a secret of life, or both. The proprietor (Mel Winkler), the son of a free man, seeks salvation by becoming a typical American entrepreneur; he has no sympathy for a new young tenant (Bo Rucker) who arrives in Pittsburgh with rustic cotton-picking manners and crazy dreams of escaping menial labor with his guitar music. The women of the house also range across a wide spectrum - from a worldly cynic (Kimberly Scott) to a naive romantic searching for a man (Kimberleigh Aarn) to the good-hearted proprietress (L. Scott Caldwell) who believes that laughter is the best way ''to know you're alive.'' By throwing such varied individuals together, Mr. Wilson creates a kaleidoscopic pattern of emotional relationships, including some tender, funny and sexy courtships sparked by the endearingly boisterous Mr. Rucker. But each character also has a distinct relationship to the black past, just as each has a different perspective on the white urban present. It's only when all the boardinghouse residents spontaneously break into an African ''juba,'' singing and dancing at a Sunday fried-chicken dinner, that the extended family of ''Joe Turner'' finds a degree of unity and peace. As Bynum says to anyone who will listen, each man must find his own song if he is to be free. Loomis, the sole character who fails to join in the juba, must find his song if he is to reconnect to life and overthrow the psychic burden of his years of slavery. Only then will Joe Turner - the play's symbol of white oppression as well as the subject of the W. C. Handy blues song that gave it its title - be truly gone.

22 Review/Theater; Panoramic History Of Blacks in America In Wilson's 'Joe Turner' By FRANK RICH Published: March 28, 1988 III Yet the metaphysical cat-and-mouse game played by Bynum and Loomis is only the spine of ''Joe Turner.'' Everyone in the boardinghouse is looking, each according to his own experience, for either a lost relative or a secret of life, or both. The proprietor (Mel Winkler), the son of a free man, seeks salvation by becoming a typical American entrepreneur; he has no sympathy for a new young tenant (Bo Rucker) who arrives in Pittsburgh with rustic cotton-picking manners and crazy dreams of escaping menial labor with his guitar music. The women of the house also range across a wide spectrum - from a worldly cynic (Kimberly Scott) to a naive romantic searching for a man (Kimberleigh Aarn) to the good-hearted proprietress (L. Scott Caldwell) who believes that laughter is the best way ''to know you're alive.'' By throwing such varied individuals together, Mr. Wilson creates a kaleidoscopic pattern of emotional relationships, including some tender, funny and sexy courtships sparked by the endearingly boisterous Mr. Rucker. But each character also has a distinct relationship to the black past, just as each has a different perspective on the white urban present. It's only when all the boardinghouse residents spontaneously break into an African ''juba,'' singing and dancing at a Sunday fried-chicken dinner, that the extended family of ''Joe Turner'' finds a degree of unity and peace. As Bynum says to anyone who will listen, each man must find his own song if he is to be free. Loomis, the sole character who fails to join in the juba, must find his song if he is to reconnect to life and overthrow the psychic burden of his years of slavery. Only then will Joe Turner - the play's symbol of white oppression as well as the subject of the W. C. Handy blues song that gave it its title - be truly gone.

23 Review/Theater; Panoramic History Of Blacks in America In Wilson's 'Joe Turner' By FRANK RICH Published: March 28, 1988 IV As usual with Mr. Wilson, the play overstates its thematic exposition in an overlong first act. There are some other infelicities, too, most notably the thin characterization of a pair of children. While one wishes that the director, Lloyd Richards, had addressed these flaws with more tough-mindedness during the two years of refinement that followed the play's premiere at the Yale Repertory Theater, the production is in every other way a tribute to its extended development process in resident theaters around the country. The first-rate cast, which also includes Raynor Scheine as a benign white river rat and Angela Bassett as a fervent convert to the white god that failed her ancestors, forms a supple, harmonic ensemble. Mr. Richards's staging is equally conversant with scenes of romantic flirtation, rending tableaux of divided families and galvanic climaxes in which the past erupts in a frenzy of exorcism. The oblique, symbiotic relationship between Mr. Hall's otherworldly Bynum and Mr. Lindo's Loomis is particularly impressive. The two men's subliminal, often unspoken connection emerges like a magnetic force whenever they are onstage together. Loomis, we're told, was in happier days the deacon of the ''Abundant Light'' church. Under Mr. Hall's subtle psychological prodding and healing, Mr. Lindo gradually metamorphoses from a man whose opaque, defeated blackness signals the extinction of that light into a truly luminous ''shining man,'' bathing the entire theater in the abundant ecstasy of his liberation. The sight is indescribably moving. An American writer in the deepest sense, August Wilson has once again shown us how in another man's freedom we find our own. THE CLASH OF CULTURES - JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, by August Wilson; directed by Lloyd Richards; scenery by Scott Bradley; costumes by Pamela Peterson; lighting by Michael Giannitti; music direction by Dwight Andrews; production stage manager, Karen L. Carpenter; associate producers, Jeffrey Steiner, Kery Davis and Charles Grantham. Presented by Elliot Martin and Vy Higginsen/Ken Wydro in association with the Yale Repertory Theater. At the Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street. Seth Holly...Mel Winkler Bertha Holly...L. Scott Caldwell Bynum Walker...Ed Hall Rutherford Selig...Raynor Scheine Jeremy Furlow...Bo Rucker Herald Loomis...Delroy Lindo Zonia Loomis...Jamila Perry Mattie Campbell...Kimberleigh Aarn Reuben Mercer...Richard Parnell Habersham Molly Cunningham...Kimberly Scott Martha Pentecost...Angela Bassett

24 FIN DU REVIEW

25 Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986) By August Wilson

26 Bio and the pitssburg cycle “Well, I don’t know what impact its going to have. I certainly hope it has one. At least you’ll have my idea of a dramatic history of Black Americans. The fact is we have not been writing long. We’re relatively knew to this, We don’t have a large body of literature that has been developed by blacks, because at one time it was a crime to teach blacks to read and write. Europeans have been writing stuff down for hundreds of years. Blacks, coming from an oral tradition, didn’t see the necessity to write it down. But still it’s something that is relatively new to us. I think there are questions of aesthetics and questions of exactly how writers can contribute to the development of the culture that need to be addressed. This is our culture, how can we contribute? How can we develop it? [….] Blacks in America need to re-examine their time spent here to see the choices that were made as a people. I’m not saying the right choices have always been made. That’s part of my interest in history—to say ‘let’s look at this thing again and see where we’ve come from and how we’ve gotten where we are now.’ I think if you know that, it helps to determine how to proceed in the future.” August Wilson 1945-2005 (Born Frederick August Kittle) Shannon: You’re a part of this story? Wilson: Oh, absolutely. I’m definitely part of the story. I claim all 400 years of it. And I claim to the right to tell it in a way I choose because, in essence, it’s my autobiography- -only it’s the story of myself and my ancestors. TALKING POINT 1) Asses the implication of Wilson’s claim both with respect to the project and the quotation below. How would you characterize Wilson’s view of himself as an agent of history?

27 The Great Migration on Stage Characters in Movement and in Search of Identity through Reconnection A BRIEF OVERVIEW When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed less than 8 percent of the African- American population lived in the Northeast or Midwest. During the Exodus of 1879, an estimated twenty thousand Afro-Americans migrated from southern states to Kansas. Ever since the Civil War, former slaves had been moving west, particularly to Kansas, where, encouraged by promoters like Benjamin ("Pap") Singleton, a number of black colonies had been established. These early black migrants fared reasonably well. Then, in 1879, the slow westward stream became a flash flood. Advertising by the railroads and land promoters helped encourage the Exodus, but worsening conditions for blacks in the South played a larger part. With the end of Reconstruction, white supremacists had regained power, causing some to fear that slavery might be reestablished. A sense of impending doom, combined with an idyllic picture of life in the West, evolved into a millenarian vision of Kansas as the new Promised Land. During the spring of 1879, hundreds and then thousands of black families from all over the South joined the Kansas Fever Exodus.. Even by 1900, approximately 90 percent of all African- Americans still resided in the South. However, migration from the South has long been a significant feature of black history. An early exodus from the South occurred between 1879 and 1881, when about 60,000 African-Americans moved into Kansas and others settled in the Oklahoma Indian Territories in search of social and economic freedom. In the early decades of the twentieth century, movement of blacks to the North increased tremendously. The reasons for this "Great Migration," as it came to be called, are complex. Thousands of African-Americans left the South to escape sharecropping, worsening economic conditions, and the lynch mob. They sought higher wages, better homes, and political rights. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ “But this migration actually dispersed many African Americans because it removed them from a distinctly African American culture already present in the South. The blood and bones of two hundred and fifty years of our ancestors buried in the South, and we came North. I think if we’d stayed in the South and continued to empower ourselves, in terms of acquiring land—we already had acres of farm land that we owned—we’d have ten black senators in the United States. We’d be represented. We’d be a more culturally secure and culturally self-sufficient people.” August Wilson ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls the subject of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, “the sense of cultural loss that accompanied the “Great Migration” of rural Southern blacks to the urbanized North, where they believed a better life awaited them.

28 The Middle Passage "This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, which now became insupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs [toilets] into which the children often fell and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."-- Olaudah Equiano, from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789). The "Middle Passage" was the final leg of the triangular slave trading journey that usually began in a European port months earlier. Sailing from Europe, these slave ships stopped at western ports in Africa to load kidnapped Africans by the thousands, and would then travel across the Atlantic to North America and the Caribbean where they were sold into slavery for raw goods. Afterward, the crew returned to their European home port to sell these raw good for manufacture, and the whole the process again. Begun in the early 1500s, this highly-profitable triangular slave trade continued well into the nineteenth century and well after its illegalization by both the U.S. government and the British Crown. Talking Points 1)As we just saw, Wilson begins the play by focusing on the characters that are in movement and part of The Great Migration. “ They are said to have the following in common: they are “the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves.” They are “foreigners,” they are “stunned,” “having forgotten the names of their gods and only guessing at their faces.” They carry “guitars,” “bibles,” and “a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities” with them. They are “shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of sincere and delicate worth,” and they are seeking a way to “reconnect and reassemble” in order to give clear and luminous meaning which is both a wail and a whelp of joy.” Explore the multiple resonances of all these connections. What is Wilson trying to emphasize about his cast of migrants? What do they need? What have they lost? How did they lose it? How will they get it back? How ill what they’re bringing help or hinder their quest? Normally a play presents us with one quest, here we have an untold many? Why do you think Wilson made that choice? When we “close read” Herald Loomis’s name, what additional light is shed on these questions? 2) Keep in mind the following about Rutherford Selig: Wilson took the name from a Dutch slave trading company; Bertha thinks he’s a crook; and Seth is in business with him (a business that he links to self sufficiency as much as he does his and Bertha’s boarding house. Now, let’s look at the passage. What might Wilson be trying to suggest--in light of all we’ve just discussed--about Loomis’ initial to hire Selig to find his “nigra” wife? How does history and lineage work for Rutherford? Describe the multiple resonance of Herald’s last line here.

29 African American Identity Christianity, Afr0-Christianity, and African Retentions “First our condition can always be improved. If you’re not here, you’re in a museum somewhere. The condition needs improvement. But spiritually, the Christian church has been important for us; and in some instances it has also failed us. I think we need to face [….] Let’s look at Loomis. Here’s a man who’s 31 years old which means he’s born in 1880. By the time you’re a little boy, seven years old, the first thing you discover if your daddy with the mule over there working the land. This is who you are, You’re not sent to school, you don’t learn anything about reading or writing, whatever you learn you learn from your daddy. There’s a place called Africa? Did people tell you that? Does your father even know that, when he’s out there working the land in the 1880s? You don’t know how big the country is, you don’t know anything about the United States, anything about Europe, anything about Africa. You don’t know anything about who you are. You don’t even know anything about slavery! [….] Loomis just doesn’t know who he is. So when he witnesses the bones rise up out of the water and take on flesh and they’re Black just like him, he is alomost in effect witnessing himself being born. He understands then that his existence is a manifest act of the Creator. Therefore he is filled with God’s Majesty. Since he is of God, then he must be filled with His majesty. So that’s when he says, “Jesus? No. no! I don’t need anyone to bleed for me. I can bleed for myself.” [….] Self definition is self-determination. It’s a very important thing. You must define yourself.” Question: Does this point echo the Lady in Brown’s point that she found god not in the sky (which as you’ll recall was figured as heaven, hell, and a rapist), but rather in herself, and that upon finding her, she loved her? Why or Why not? “Identity means understanding your political history as well as your social history. It means understanding you come from a long line of people who were slaves [….] I think that Bynum is simply saying that understanding and knowing who you are and also having that political understanding, that political awareness, as well as that social awareness as an African, is in essence your song. You in fact need that, and you must not let anyone take that away from you.” “I set the play in 1911 to take advantage of some of the African retentions of the characters. The mysticism is a very large part of their world. My idea is that somewhere, somewhere in the course of the play, the Audience will discover that these are African People. Their Black Americans, but their world view is African.” Deep Structure of Expression The African American Aesthetic centers itself on many migrations (the middle passage, the underground railroad, the great migration to the industrial north---not to forget bussing_ Songs and other rituals are referred to as “safe shelters” have been adapted in each kind of fracturing, dismemberment for survival, Although our experience is marked by severance, we have retained a deep structure of expression, a re- remembering that made cultural cohesion possible. Question: Why would this claim drive Jesse Shipp and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, as they manifest in IN DAHOMEY, up the wall?

30 August Wilson’s 4 B’s

31 Jorge Luis Borges “El sur” and “Las Ruinas Circulares” Borges begins his story by referring to a “taciturn man [who] came from the South.” The man soon enters the circular ruins of a temple ‘whose God no longer received the homage of men,” and we learn that his “his immediate obligation was to dream” and “that he wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream a man in minute entirety and impose him on reality. This magic project had exhausted the entire expanse of his mind; if some one had asked him his name or to relate some event of his life, he would not be able to give an answer.” Las ruinas…. “I am fascinated by the way Jorge Luis Borges, the short story writer, tells a story. I’ve been trying to write a play the way he writes a story. He tells you exactly what is going to happen, even though the outcome seems improbable [….] And he proceeds to tell the story, and it seems lie it’s never going to happen, And you look up, without even knowing, and there it is.” August Wilson “I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man” Chang Tzu “In China, the dream of Chang Tzu is proverbial; let us imagine that one of its almost infinite readers dreams he is a butterfly and then that he is Chang Tzu. Having postulated such an identity, make we not ask: are not those coinciding moments identical? Is not one single repeated term enough to disrupt and confound the history of the world, to reveal there is no such history?” Jorge Luis Borges “In Borges’s analysis--it would seem--that historical boundaries may be crossed and crossed out by literature; that a matrix of readers and tales constitutes an inter-textual framework that operates across time and disrupts traditional notions of history.” Ryan James Kernan 1) Keeping in mind what Wilson admires about Borges’ craft and the fact that Bynum’s song is a vision/dream that ultimately roots his identity in the African American oral tradition of song, what are the multiple effects produced, with respect to re-remembering and self-(re)discovery, by the the fact that at the play’s end “you look up, and without even knowing it” and see that Herald “happens” to be the “shiny man” Bynum was looking for all along? What does this suggest about the process of re-remembering? How does it differ from simply remembering or studying the past? How does the assumption that Bynum’s improbable quest will come to fruition impact how we experience the play as it unfolds? In other words,, how does the knowledge that Bynum’s improbable will manifest effect our entire reading of the play? Why can Bynum’s song be considered both an individual and a collective memory? What is the significance of this duality? 2) In effect, Wilson transforms Borges’s dream into a song. In so doing, how does Wilson metaphorize song and what is achieved by this move? Does it take us out of Borges’s dream-scape and into a narrative the constitutes s kind of history? If so, what kind of history is it and how does this kind of history line-up with the mission of the Pittsburgh cycle? Why is Bynum and Herald’s process of self-creation differ drastically from that of the “taciturn man” or that of Chang Tzu? How might carrying around other people’s songs return us to the theme of assimilation that has permeated our recent plays?

32 Baraka, The “Myth” of Yacub, Wilson’s Myth Making, Black Nationalism, and Black Internationalism “Baraka’s influence has less to do with the way he writes and more with the ideas he espoused in the 1960s as a black nationalist—ideas I found value in and still find value in.” “If I look at the honorable Elijah Muhammad’s program, then there is this idea of self-sufficiency. The idea of doing for one’s self is the idea that drew me sympathetically towards him [….] I think Elijah Muhammed is one of the most important black men who ever lived in America. I’d put him right up there with Du Bois, because he was one who had an idea. For instance, if you look at the criteria of culture using Maulanga Ron Karanga’s criteria of mythology, history, and religion, the one thing we did not have was a mythology. We had no origin myths. Elijah Muhammad supplied that. So you could say he contributed a lot to black American culture—the myth of Yacub, etc. These are things the culture was lacking, and now they are forever a part of us.” “Of course, I use history and the historical perspective. I try to keep all of the elements of culture alive in my work, and myth is certainly a part of it. Mythology, history, social organization, economics—all these things are part of culture. I make sure that each element is in some way represented—some elements more so than others—in the plays, which I think gives them a fullness and completeness, creates the impression that this is an entire world” s Yakub (sometimes spelled Yacub or Yakob) is according to the Nation of Islam, a black scientist who lived "6,600 years ago" and was responsible for creating the white race white race to be a "race of devils” and is also the same figure as the biblical Jacob. Yakub is said to have been born in what would become Mecca (Founded in 2000 B.C.) at a time when 30% of original black people were "dissatisfied". He was a member of the Meccan branch of the Tribe of Shabazz. At the age of six, he discovered the law of attraction and repulsion by playing with magnets made of steel. This insight led to Yakub’s plan to create a new people. He "saw an unlike human being, made to attract others, who could, with the knowledge of tricks and lies, rule the original black man."By the age of 18 he had exhausted all knowledge in the universities of Mecca. He then discovered that the "original black man" contained both a "black germ" and a "brown germ". With 59,999 followers he went to the island of Patmos, where he established a despotic regimeand set about breeding out the black traits, killed all darker babies and created a brown race after 200 years. After 600 years of this deliberate eugenics the white race was created. According to THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOM X (by Alex Haley), all the races other than the black race were byproducts of Yakub's work, however, the "black race" included all Asian peoples, considered to be shared ancestors of the Moors. Yakub's progeny were destined to rule for 6,000 years before the original black peoples of the world regained dominance, a process that had begun in 1914. In speeches by Malcolm X, Yakub is identified completely with Jacob. Referring to the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel, Malcolm X states that Elijah Muhammad told him that "Jacob was Yacub, and the angel that Jacob wrestled with wasn't God, it was the government of the day". This was because Yakub was seeking funds for his expedition to Patmos, "so when it says Jacob wrestled with an angel, 'angel' is only used as a symbol to hide the one he was really wrestling with.”

33 Blues “I think that the music contains a cultural response of black Americans to the world they find themselves in. Blues is the best literature we have. If you look at the singers, they actually follow a long line all the way back to Africa, and various other parts of the world. They are carriers of culture, carriers of ideas—like the troubadours in Europe. Except in American society they were not valued, except among black folks who understood. I’ve always thought of them as sacred because of the sacred tasks they took upon themselves—to disseminate this information and carry these cultural values of the people. And I found that white America would very often abuse them. I don’t think that was without purpose, in the sense that blues and music have always been at the forefront in the development of the character and the consciousness of black America., and people have senselessly stopped or destroyed that. Then you’re taking away from the people their self-definition—in essence, their self- determination. You get the ideas and attitudes of people as part of an oral tradition, The music provides you an emotional reference for the information, and it is sanctioned by the community in the sense that if someone sings the song, other people sing the song.” August Wilson “[B]lues provides a mediational site where the contradictions between the lived and recorded experiences of African-Americans might be resolved. The story of Joe turner’s chain gang is a case in point. Although the chain gang effected the personal lives of many African Americans, traditional histories of the United States make little or no mention of the phenomenon; historians have in effect written this experience out of existence. At the turn of the century however, a group of African American women musically documented the effect of the chain gang on their lives: ‘They tell me Joe Turner’s come and gone…..Got my man and gone.” By singing the blues, these women became their own cultural historians and moved from an absent to an always present subject position.” August Wilson W.C. HANDY’S JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE This is a song was sung back in 18 and 92 / There was a terrible flood that year /People lost everything they had /Their crops, their live stock / That means their horses, their mules, cows / Goats and everything they had on their farm/ And they would start cryin' and singin' this song: /They tell me, Joe Turner been here and gone / Lord, they tell me, Joe Turner been here and gone / They tell me, Joe turner been here and gone / Then they would go out hunting rabbits, 'coons and 'possoms’ / Anything they could catch / Sometimes they would catch something, then again they didn't /And when they would come home, they would find / Flour meat and molasses / In their homes and they would know that/ Joe Turner had been there and left food for them/ And they would start cryin' and singin' this song / They tell me, Joe Turner been here and gone / Lord, they tell me, that Joe turner been here and gone /They tell me, Joe Turner been here and gone /Then they would start out lookin' for wood /And stuff to make a fire /And they would look in their yards, and they would find axes, wood /That Joe Turner had brought there for them /Then they would get happy /And start singin' and cryin' this song /They would get happy and do a little boogie-woogie too Talking Points 1)Keep in mind the following fact and Wilson’s historical project. That Joe Turner has two real historical correlatives: a traditional blues song and Joe Turney (brother to Pete Turney governor of Tennessee from 1893-1903 who was granted free license to re-enslave men on the chain-gang). What are the multiple significances of Wilson’s decision to not name the real man, but instead to refer to him as he appears in the blues tradition? 2)In this scene, the singing of the blues not only prompts Herald to reveal his past, but also lets the audience know that song identity and history (both personal and communal) are all, in a sense, one and many (yet another collectivity of difference) What are the multiple resonances produced by this conflation?

34 Romare Bearden and Bynum’s Vision, and Wilson’s Aesthetic “Mill Hand’s Lunch Box” In the fall of 1977, Wilson came across the work of Romare Bearden. As he thumbed through Bearden’s series of collages “The Presence of Ritual,” he discovered his “artistic mentor” Bearden’s painting made simple what Wilson’s writing had so far only groped to formulate: Black life presented on its own terms, on such a grand scale, with all its richness and fullness, in a language that was vibrant and which, made attendant to everyday life, ennobled it, affirmed its value and exalted its presence.” I was looking at myself in ways I hadn’t though of before and have never ceased to think of sense.” Wilson was interested in the black experience that Bearden depicted, a visual world populated by conjure women, trains, guitar players, birds, masked figures, and rituals of baptisms, funerals, parades, dinners, parades. Wilson was also interested in Beardsley’s mode of representation. Wilson describes his own play as having this collagist form in their structure: “In Bearden you’ve got al these pieces. There’s an eye here, a head over there, a huge oversized hand on a small body, It’s like that with me. I’ve got all these images and the point is how I put them together. The pieces are always there; it’s how I put them together, the relationship between them that counts. Talking Points 1)Here, we again see Bynum’s vision. Only, now, we see that Wilson took his inspiration for this vision from Bearden’s collage, and that Wilson figures his own work as a collage. Do you agree with Wilson’s assessment of his work? Why or Why not? 2)How do Wilson’s remarks about the “pieces” he puts together echo both Houston Baker’s theory about the exegetic nature of African American art (with respect to originality and recombination) and Hughes’s point about African American art being a communal fabric?

35 The Yoruban Deities/Orishas in Wilson’s Collage

36 Oshun, Bertha, and Wilson’s Feminine Ọṣhun in Yoruba mythology, is a spirit- goddess (Orisha) who reigns over love, intimacy,] beauty, wealth and diplomacy. She is worshipped also in Brazilian Candomblé Ketu, with the name spelled Oxum. She should not be confused, however, with a different Orisha of a similar name spelled "Osun," who is the protector of the Ori, or our heads and inner Orisha. Talking Point 1)Wilson has been charged with both being an ardent feminist and a rampant misogynist. Without taking up either side of the debate (take up both). Explain how the depiction of women is this play reaffirms both arguments. You might want to consider that Bertha (associated with Oshun) and Mattie (a firm believer in juju) are figured as “the good women” in this play both because of their desire to bond with other woman AND because of the fact that, ultimately, each chooses to couple with a man in the play’s geography of movement and migration? On the other hand, Mollie and Martha are somewhat demonized for their abandonment or indifference towards other women, and that both choose to leave men (for other men both ethereal and earthly). 2)Herald is, throughout the play, tremendously concerned and troubled by the fact that Zonia is growing. He relieves himself of this trouble by handing over a very reluctant Zonia to Martha Pentecost whom the plays cosmology does not portray in the positive light. What do you make of this decision? What commentary is Wilson trying to make about gender particularly with respect to lineage (Keep in mind Bynum’s tie to his father, and Bynum’s “fatherhood” of Herald)?

37 Seth or Herald: Ogun and Black Nationalism (Cultural and Economic) In Haitian Vodun and Yoruba Mythology, Ogun (or Ogoun, Ogun, Ogou, Ogum) presides over, fire, iron, hunting, politics and war. He is the patron of smiths and is usually displayed with his attributes: machete or saber; rum and tobacco. He is one of the husbands Osun and friend to Eshu in Yoruba mythology. 1)Seth’s occupation directly associates him with Ogun. Describe how Seth is espousing economic black nationalism in the first passage. 2)Conjecture as to why it is particularly significant that Seth is “preaching” to Bynum? 3)HOLD THIS THOUGHT!- Early critics of this play saw Herald’s act as a rejection on Christian cosmology. Later critics figured it as an African act of scarification that is the final lynchpin in Herald Loomis’ re- remembering of his African self which, in turn, completes his journey and gains him his song--”the song of self sufficiency.” August told Ryan that both camps were “dichty crap spittin’ niggers” but didn’t explain why this was the case. Why is it the case? Again, the answer lies not in rejecting the readings of others, but in finding a way to harmonize them.

38 Yoruban Orishas/Deities: Shango- Herald or Bynum? In Yorùbá religion, Sàngó is perhaps the most popular Orisha; he is a Sky Father, god of thunder and lightning. Sango was a royal ancestor of the Yoruba as he was the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. In the Lukumí religion of the Caribbean, Shango is considered the center point of the religion as he represents the Oyo people of West Africa. All the major initiation ceremonies are based on the traditional Shango ceremony of Ancient Oyo. This ceremony survived the Middle Passage and is considered to be the most complete to have arrived on Western shores. This variation of the Yoruba initiation ceremony became the basis of all Orisha initiations in the West. The energy given from this Deity of Thunder is also a major symbol of African resistance against an enslaving European culture. He rules the color red and white; his sacred number is 6; his symbol is the oshe (double- headed axe), which represents swift and balanced justice. His dominance is over male sexuality and human vitality, in general. He is owner of the Bata (3 double-headed drums), as well as the Arts of Music, Dance and Entertainment. Shango can be deduced, in some regards, to be the essence of "strategy" (logic and passion drawn and fashioned precisely to achieve some end). Talking Points 1)Free for all question: What is a griot? 2)Can Bynum be said to be a griot? What evidence can you point to in this scene that positions his as such and also as, in part, a character who also “doubles” for Shango? 3)Keep in mind that at play’s end, when Herald slashes his own chest, that the stage directions call for lightning and thunder. What purposes are served by aligning both Herald and Bynum with Shango? Is Wilson trying to suggest something has been passed on? If so, what is it and what is its multiple significance with respect to the unique kind of history and cosmology that Wilson constructs within this play? 4)Let’s look at the juba. The directions call for it to be “as African as possible.” What is the significance of this carefully worded stage direction? How does the group’s invocation of the Holy Ghost both distance and affiliate them with their ancestors? 5)The Holy Ghost is, for Herald, much like the Archangel Michael, was for Malcolm. Describe why this is true (or not). Remember that, for Malcolm, the angel was the government, and that, for Herald, the Holy Ghost is, in essence, both the devil and a slave master. 6)Bynum works Herald into a kind of visionary trance in this scene. The method of back-and-forth he uses is also easily recognized, especially at Golden Pond, as an aesthetic said to be an essential ingredient both in the Black Church and the Black Theatre. What is it? How do Bynum’s methods and his activities in the swamp return us to the origins of Black Theatre? 7)Who knows the African-American folktale Talking Skulls? How does it function as an interrtext here and to what ends?

39 Yoruban Deities: Eshu: Trickster and Divine- Loomis or Bynum? Eshu is an orisha, and one of the most known deities of the Yoruba mythology and related New World traditions. He has a wide range of responsibilities: the protector of travelers, deity of roads, particularly crossroads, the deity with the power over fortune and misfortune, and the personification of death. Eshu is involved within the Orisa (also spelt Orisha or Orixa)-Ifá system of the Yoruba as well as in African diasporic faiths like Santeria/Lukumi and Candomble developed by the descendants of enslaved West Africans in the Americas, where Eshu was sometimes identified with Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Michael or Santo Niño de Atocha, depending on the situation or location. He is often identified by the number three, and the colours red & black or white & black, and his caminos or paths (compare: avatar) are often represented carrying a cane, shepherd's crook, as well as a pipe. Eshu is a god of Chaos and Trickery, and plays frequently tempting choices for the purpose of causing maturation. He is a difficult teacher, but a good one. As an example, Eshu was walking down the road one day, wearing a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. Sometime after he departed, the villagers who had seen him began arguing about whether the stranger's hat was black or red. The villagers on one side of the road had only been capable of seeing the black side, and the villagers on the other side had only been capable of seeing the red half. They nearly fought over the argument, until Eshu came back and cleared the mystery, teaching the villagers about how one's perspective can alter a person's perception of reality, and that one can be easily fooled. In other versions of this tale, the two tribes were not stopped short of violence; they actually annihilated each other, and Eshu laughed at the result, saying "Bringing strife is my greatest joy". 1)Recall that “tricksters” have played a prominent role in, arguably, every play we have examined this semester. Recall that in the African-American tradition, the trickster can either play tricks or be tricked. Wilson, in turn, proudly professed that all of his plays contained tricksters that mediated between African-American tricksters and Eshu (a God of Chaos and trickery who usually offers tempting choices for the purposes of causing maturation and teaching lessons [much like the African American Devil Trickster). There is a fierce debate over who is the trickster in this play. Many critics argue it is Bynum, many (perhaps better ones?) argue that is is Loomis. Be the best critic yet! Get rid of these buts and create an encompassing “and.” Why are Herald and Bynum both tricksters. To what extent do they depend on each other for their status as tricksters, and to what extent to they rely on each other to free themselves from tricks? We know that tricksters meet at crossroads. What “roads” are crossing here? How do the crossing of these roads lead herald to the realization that Bynum is “one of them bones people.” Is Herald also one at this point in the play? Why or why not? If not, at what point does he become one? 2)Describe how all of Wilson’s B’s are converging at this point in the play.

40 The Play’s Conclusion and Our Topics for Inflammatory Discussion Talking Points: 1) Loomis disentagles himself (mentally) from several shackles in this scene. He first compares himself, much like Cicero did in IN DAHOMEY, to Jonah in the whale’s belly. Jonah, as we discussed is a reluctant prophet. Keeping in mind that Wilson decodes Herald Loomis (as the herald that goes before and shows the way) as a kind of prophet/ prophecy, what is Herald’s message? Why might he be reluctant (in addition to losing Martha) to deliver it? Or is he not reluctant at all since, now, he can make his own word. 2) Notice the maker “Now,” and consider it as a marker or readiness. When Herald does begin to make his own world in the lines that follow he accuses Bynum of binding him to the road just as Turner bound him to the chain gang. Herald makes no retort to Bynum’s defense: namely his statement to Herald that: “you binding yourself. Your bound to your song. All you have to do is stand up and sing it [….] Then you be free” (Notice the skilled use of “dialect” in Bynum’s “Then you be free”). What does Bynum’s phrasing suggest must happen for harold o be free besides singing? Clue: seems to heed Bynum’s advice but does not sing, instead he slashes his chest and finds the song of self-sufficiency. Hence, “song” which has been song, identity, history, myth, and community maker, now becomes a violent act of self determination and an exegetic moment of transformation 1) STOP HOLDING THE THOUGHT!- Early critics of this play saw Herald’s act as a rejection on Christian cosmology. Later critics figured it as an African act of scarification that is the final lynchpin in Herald Loomis’ re-remembering of his African self which, in turn, completes his journey and gains him his song--”the song of self sufficiency.” August told Ryan that both camps were “dichty crap spittin’ niggers” but didn’t explain why this was the case. Why is it the case? Again, the answer lies not in rejecting the readings of others, but in finding a way to harmonize them? The plays conclusion

41 Hunderdon Hills Playhouse88 Route 173 West, Hampton, NJ 908-730-8007 www.hhplayhouse.com"Blithe Spirit" by Noel Coward now thru June 18www.hhplayhouse.com New Jersey Performing Arts Center One Center St., Newark, 1-888-GO NJPAChttp://www.njpac.org/"A Chorus Line" Now Thru May 1http://www.njpac.org/ George Street Playhouse9 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick NJ 732-246-7717www.georgestreetplayhouse.org "God of Carnage” May 10 - June 5, 2011by Yasmina Rezawww.georgestreetplayhouse.org Marquis Theatre1535 Broadway New York, NYwww.broadway.com"Wonderl and "Now thru Junewww.broadway.com Ambassador Theatre219 West 49th Street, NYwww.broadway.com"Chicago” Now thru Junewww.broadway.com Gershwin Theatre 222 West 51st StreetNew York, NY www.broadway.com "Wicked” Now thru Junewww.broadway.com August Wilson Theatre 245 West 52nd StreetNew York, NY www.broadway.com” Jersey Boys” Now thru Junewww.broadway.com Orpheum Theatre126 2nd Avenue New York, NY www.broadway.com"Stomp" (a musical without words)Now Thru Junewww.broadway.com The Downstairs Lounge at Sofia's221 West 46th Street NY(Edison Hotel) www.broadway.com"Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage” Now thru Junewww.broadway.com New World Stages - Stage Five 340 West 50th StreetNew York, NY www.broadway.com"Imaginocean” Now thru Junewww.broadway.com"Imaginocean MORE OF WHAT’S OUT THERE TO REVIEW? Q: Does my play have to be Black? A: No. But if it is, your final review will probably be a lot more easy to write (if I’ve been doing my job). Plays to see


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