African and African American theatre: past and present 9780817371074, 0817371079

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African and African American theatre: past and present
 9780817371074, 0817371079

Table of contents :
Contents......Page 6
List of Illustrations......Page 10
Preface......Page 12
Poor “Black” Theatre: Mid-America Theatre Conference Keynote Address, March 7, 2009......Page 14
Hit-and-Run Theatre: The Rise of a New Dramatic Form in Zimbabwe......Page 27
Abject No More: Authority and Authenticity in the Theatrical Career of Rose McClendon......Page 55
How Does the Show Go On? Theatre for Development in Post-election Kenya......Page 78
The Unreported Miracle of Paul Robeson and The Miracle......Page 86
Mvett Performance: Retention, Reinvention, and Exaggeration in Remembering the Past......Page 96
“You Hip to Buffalo?” The Hidden Heritage of Black Theatre in Western New York......Page 115
Masculine Women, Feminist Men: Assertions and Contradictions in Mawugbe’s In the Chest of a Woman......Page 135
Understanding Paul Robeson’s Soviet Experience......Page 151
Ota the Other: An African on Display in America......Page 167
Oteller and Desdemonum: Defining Nineteenth-CenturyBlackness......Page 189
“Looking at One’s Self through the Eyes of Others”: Representations of the Progressive Era Middle Class in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Star of Ethiopia......Page 200
Knowing Their Place: The Ulster Lyric Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, and the Northern Irish Theatre Scene......Page 215
Thinking about the Theatre—and Theatre Critics: An Interview with Robert Brustein, Conducted by Bert Cardullo, New York City, July 2008......Page 233
Book Reviews......Page 248
Books Received......Page 310
Contributors......Page 312

Citation preview

Theatre History Studies 2 0 1 0 VOLU M E 30 African and African Ameri­can Theatre Past and Present


Edited by



Copyright © 2010 The University of Alabama Press Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-­0380 All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America Designed by Todd Lape / Lape Designs Typeface: Minion Articles appearing in this journal are abstracted and indexed in Historical Abstracts and America: History and Life. ∞ The paper on which this book is printed meets the minimum requirements of Ameri­can National Standard for Information Sciences-­Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-­1984.

MEMBER CELJ Council of Editors of Learned Journals Cover: Rose McClendon in Deep River, Imperial Theatre, 1926, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations Editor Rhona Justice-­Malloy, University of Mississippi Book Review Editor Cheryl Black, University of Missouri Editorial Associate Catherine Mayhew Editorial Board Mary Cutler, President of MATC Felicia Hardison Londré, University of Missouri– Kansas City Ron Engle, University of North Dakota

Consulting Editors Rosemarie K. Bank, Kent State University Suzanne Burgoyne, University of Missouri Peter Campbell, Ramapo College of New Jersey Stacey Connelly, Trinity University Tracy Davis, Northwestern University Lesley Ferris, Ohio State University Margaret Knapp, Arizona State University Christopher McCollough, Exeter University Kim Marra, University of Iowa Elizabeth Reitz Mullenix, Miami University of Ohio Scott Magelsson, Bowling Green State University Heather Nathans, University of Maryland John Poole, Illinois State University Joseph R. Roach, Yale University Denis Salter, McGill University Catherine Schuler, University of Maryland Delbert Unruh, University of Kansas Les Wade, Louisiana State University Daniel J. Watermeier, University of Toledo Don B. Wilmeth, Brown University Past editors of Theatre History Studies Ron Engle, 1981–1993 Robert A. Schanke, 1994–2005

Theater History Studies is an official journal of the Mid-­America Theatre Conference, Inc. (MATC). The conference encompasses the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Its purposes are to unite people and organizations within this region and elsewhere who have an interest in theatre and to promote the growth and development of all forms of theatre. President Mary Cutler 1st Vice President Ann Haugo, Illinois State University 2nd Vice President, Conference Planner Scott Magelssen, Bowling Green State University Associate Conference Planner John Fletcher, Louisiana State University Secretary Kathy Privatt, Lawrence University Treasurer Jennifer Blackmer, Ball State University

Theatre History Studies is devoted to research in all areas of theatre history. Manuscripts should be prepared in conformity with the guidelines established in the Chicago Manual of Style, and emailed to ­[email protected], or submitted in dupli­cate, and sent to Rhona Justice-­Malloy, Editor, Dept. of Theatre Arts, 110 Isom Hall, University of Missis­ sippi, Box 1848, University, MS 38677-­1848. Consulting editors review the manuscripts, a process that

takes approximately four months. The journal does not normally accept studies of dramatic literature unless there is a focus on actual production and per­ formance. Authors whose manuscripts are accepted must provide the editor with an electronic file, using Microsoft Word. Illustrations (preferably high-­quality originals or black-­and-­white glossies) are welcomed. Manuscripts will be returned only if accompanied by a stamped, self-­addressed envelope bearing suffi­ cient postage. This publication is issued annually by the Mid-­ America Theatre Conference and The University of Alabama Press. Subscription rates for 2010 are $15 for individuals, $30 for institutions, and an additional $8 for foreign delivery. Back issues are $29.95 each. Subscription orders and changes of address should be directed to Allie Harper, The University of Alabama Press, Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487 (205-­348-­1564 phone, 205-­348-­9201 fax). Theatre History Studies is indexed in Humanities Index, Humanities Abstracts, Book Review Index, MLA International Bibliography, International Bib­ liography of Theatre, Arts & Humanities Citation In­ dex, IBZ International Bibliography of Periodical Lit­ erature, and IBR International Bibliography of Book Reviews, the database of International Index to the Performing Arts. Full texts of essays appear in the databases of both Humanities Abstracts Full Text and SIRS. The journal has published its own index, The Twenty Year Index, 1981–2000. It is available for $10 for individuals and $15 for libraries from Rhona Justice-­Malloy, Editor, Dept. of Theatre Arts, Isom Hall 110, University of Mississippi, Box 1848, University, MS 38677–1848.


List of Illustrations  {ix} Preface  {xi} Poor “Black” Theatre: Mid-­America Theatre Conference Keynote Address, March 7, 2009  {1} —E. Patric k Johnson

Hit-­and-­Run Theatre: The Rise of a New Dramatic Form in Zimbabwe  {14} —Praise Zenenga

Abject No More: Authority and Authenticity in the Theatrical Career of Rose McClendon  {42} — C heryl Black

How Does the Show Go On? Theatre for Development in Post-­election Kenya  {65} — C hristopher Connelly

The Unreported Miracle of Paul Robeson and The Miracle  {73} —F elicia H ardison L ondré

Mvett Performance: Retention, Reinvention, and Exaggeration in Remembering the Past  {83} —Mbala D. Nk ang a

{ v }

C ontents

“You Hip to Buffalo?” The Hidden Heritage of Black Theatre in Western New York  {102} —V irg inia Anderson

Masculine Women, Feminist Men: Assertions and Contradictions in Mawugbe’s In the Chest of a Woman  {122} —Awo M ana A siedu

Understanding Paul Robeson’s Soviet Experience  {138} —L auren McConnell

Ota the Other: An African on Display in America  {154} —Jocelyn L . Buc k ner

Oteller and Desdemonum: Defining Nineteenth-­Century Blackness  {176} —Andre w C arlson

“Looking at One’s Self through the Eyes of Others”: Representations of the Progressive Era Middle Class in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Star of Ethiopia  {187} —R ebecca He w ett

Knowing Their Place: The Ulster Lyric Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, and the Northern Irish Theatre Scene  {202} —Roy Connolly

Thinking about the Theatre—and Theatre Critics: An Interview with Robert Brustein, Conducted by Bert Cardullo, New York City, July 2008  {220} —Bert C ardullo

B ook R e v iews Rhonda Blair, The Actor, Image, and Action: Acting and Cognitive Neuroscience R evie w ed by Adrianne Adderley  { 235}

Bud Coleman and Judith A. Sebesta, eds., Women in Ameri­can Musical Theatre R evie w ed by T erry Berliner  { 237}

Thomas Alan King, The Gendering of Men, 1600–1750. Vol. 2, Queer Articulations R evie w ed by Scott S. B oston  { 240} { vi }

C ontents

William W. Demastes, Spalding Gray’s America R evie w ed by Johan C allens  { 242}

Anne Fletcher, Rediscovering Mordecai Gorelik: Scene Design and the Ameri­can Theatre R evie w ed by Jonathan Chambers  { 244}

Barbara Wallace Grossman, A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the Ameri­can Stage R evie w ed by Anne Fletcher  { 247}

M. Susan Anthony, Gothic Plays and Ameri­can Society, 1794–1830 R evie w ed by Diane Long Hoeveler  { 249}

Cathy Turner and Synne K. Behrndt, Dramaturgy and Performance R evie w ed by Valleri J. Hohman  { 251}

Diana Taylor and Sarah J. Townsend, eds., Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin Ameri­can Theater and Performance R evie w ed by Jorge Huerta  { 254}

Anne Fliotsos and Wendy Vierow, Ameri­can Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century R evie w ed by Meg an Sanborn Jones  { 256}

Elina Gertsman, ed., Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts R evie w ed by Darin Kerr  { 259}

Laurence Senelick, ed., Theatre Arts on Acting R evie w ed by David Krasner  { 262}

Scott K. Taylor, Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain R evie w ed by Hug h K. Long  { 264}

Leigh Clemons, Branding Texas: Performing Culture in the Lone Star State R evie w ed by Eric Love  { 267}

Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism R evie w ed by Joe M artin  { 269} { v ii }

C ontents

Marc Robinson, The Ameri­can Play, 1787–2000 R evie w ed by Heather S. Nathans  { 272}

Philip C. Kolin, ed., The Influence of Tennessee Williams: Essays on Fifteen Ameri­can Playwrights R evie w ed by Elizabeth A. Osborne  { 275}

Marc Maufort and Caroline de Wagter, eds., Signatures of the Past: Cultural Memory in Contemporary Anglophone North Ameri­can Drama R evie w ed by Barbara Ozieblo  { 277}

Melissa Sihra, ed., Women in Irish Drama: A Century of Authorship and Representation R evie w ed by W. Douglas Pow ers  { 280}

Christopher Bigsby, ed., The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson R evie w ed by Sandra Shannon  { 282}

Miranda Lundskaer-­Nielsen, Directors and the New Musical Drama: British and Ameri­can Musical Theatre in the 1980s and 90s R evie w ed by Bryan M. Vandevender  { 286}

Sharon Friedman, ed., Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works R evie w ed by Sara L . Warner  { 288}

Robin G. Wilder and Jackson Bryer, eds., The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder R evie w ed by Christopher J. Wheatley  { 290}

Milly S. Barranger, Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theater, and Film in the McCarthy Era R evie w ed by B arry Witham  { 293}

Books Received  {297} Contributors  {299}

{ v iii }

I llustrations

Zenenga Figure 1. Untitled play in the Gazza and Cherima areas, 2007  {19} Figure 2. Hit-­and-­run theatre performance in working-­class residential area, 2007  {21} Figure 3. Savannah Arts Trust blames national and local authorities for ­corruption resulting in an outbreak of cholera, 2007  {23} Figure 4. Hit-­and-­run artists fake a heated argument, 2007  {27} Figure 5. Hit-­and-­run artists disguise themselves, 2007  {29} Figure 6. Hit-­and-­run artists educate young audiences, 2007  {30} Figure 7. A rare rural hit-­and-­run performance, 2007  {32} Figure 8. Audience at rare rural hit-­and-­run performance, 2007  {33} Black Figure 1. Rose McClendon in Deep River, 1926  {49} Nk anga Figure 1. Aloys Mezui Me Ndong performing in Libreville  {85} Figure 2. Main aba in the center of Oyem City  {85} Figure 3. A performance by Elam Assemane in Oyem  {97} Figure 4. Aloys Mezui Me Ndong performing  {98} A nderson Figure 1. African Village performance, Pan Ameri­can Exposition of 1901  {107} Figure 2. Rev. J. Edward Nash and James A. Ross at the Negro Exhibit  {107} Figure 3. The Gazetteer and Guide  {108} Figure 4. Women with marionettes  {111} { ix }


Figure 5. Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis at the Colored Musicians Club  {114} Figure 6. The Ujima Theatre Company in 2006  {117} Buck ner Figure 1. Pygmy performance, St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904  {162} Figure 2. Ota Benga playing the molimo, St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904  {164} Figure 3. Ota Benga bust, New York, 1906  {165} C onnolly Figure 1. Ulster Literary Theatre playbill from 1909  {204}

{ x }


As we approached the thirtieth anniversary of Theatre History Studies, it occurred to me that it would be appropriate to collect a special topics theme for volume 30. African and African Ameri­can theatre proved to be exciting topics, and I put out the call. The response was very positive, and we received many essays of high quality. The biggest challenge in the selection process was recruiting qualified readers, particularly on the topic of contemporary African theatre. Thank you to all of the readers who read so thoroughly and commented so thoughtfully. And thank you to the authors who responded generously and enthusiastically to the readers’ suggestions. I will let the essays speak for themselves, but I will say that this volume has been a joy and a challenge to work on. I believe it fills a gap in academic writing, and I hope readers will enjoy it, academics can incorporate it into their curriculum, and students will find it helpful and illuminating. Rhona Justice-­Malloy, Editor

{ xi }

\ Poor “Black” Theatre Mid-­America Theatre Conference Keynote Address, March 7, 2009 — E . Patrick Johnson

When I thought about the theme of this year’s conference, “Poor Theatre,” I thought I might have been left out of a bad joke, for I didn’t know there was any other kind. But then it struck me that there are indeed some theatres that have more resources than others, indeed, that some of our most important smaller theatre companies around the country are closing their doors—­v ictims of the economic downturn and the Republican Party’s failure to understand that the arts are integral to the economic, social, and cultural well-­being of this country. I also considered “poor” not only in economic terms but also in semantic terms—as in, “deserving of pity or compassion.” I know this signification of the term all too well, for in southern culture the term is often used to soften the blow of a devastating insult—as in when my grandmother said of someone, “She can’t help that she’s ugly—poor thing.” Somehow, the “poor thing” made the insult perfectly acceptable, especially if it was followed by a “bless her heart.” The various ways in which “poor” signifies made me consider the history of black theatre and performance studies in the field and its practice outside academia. For as rich as this history is, the diminution of black theatre and performance studies as “subpar,” “reactionary,” or “anti-­intellectual” positions it in that category worthy of my grandmother’s condescending, “Poor black theatre. It can’t help that it’s ugly, bless its heart.” Indeed, while black theatre and performance has been a sustaining and galvanizing force of black culture and a contributor to world culture at large, it hasn’t always been recognized as a site { 1 }

E . Patrick Johnson

of theorization in the academy. On the flip side, black theatre and performance has been cultivated on the concrete of urban sidewalks as well as on the front porches of shotgun houses. For many black folk, “making a way out of no way” meant creating theatre from life, which often meant speaking through a subjugated position in society. As Stuart Hall argues, black theatre and performance emphasizes that “it is only through the way in which we represent and imagine ourselves that we come to know how we are constituted and who we are.”1 I want to focus on these two ways that “poor” signifies as they relate to black theatre and performance studies: “poor black theatre” in the sense of its designation as “other” in the field, and “poor black theatre” in the sense of making theatre out of the material resources of life. In the former, I will redress the designation as “other” by demonstrating how black theatre and performance has always already played an important role in the maintenance of theatre and performance studies in the academy; and in the latter, I will provide examples of how black theatre and performance functions as epistemology and a site of resistance.

Poor Black Theatre Take 1: The Erasure of Black Theatre and Performance Studies There has always been a black performative “presence” within theatre and performance studies, whether it has been acknowledged as such or not. I am thinking here of Toni Morrison’s intervention in the construction of the literary canon. Morrison deploys the term “Africanism” to suggest the process through which black folk are interpellated in the white imaginary and how that interpellation gets represented in literature. “As a trope,” she writes, “little restraint has been attached to its uses. As a disabling virus within literary discourse, Africanism has become, in the Eurocentric tradition that Ameri­can education favors, both a way of talking about and a way of policing matters of class, sexual license, and repression, formations and exercises of power, and meditations on ethics and accountability.” She continues: “Through the simple expedient of demonizing and reifying the range of color on a palette, Ameri­can Africanism makes it possible to say and not say, to inscribe and erase, to escape and engage, to act out and act on, to historicize and render timeless. It provides a way of contemplating chaos and civilization, desire and fear, and a mechanism for testing the problems and blessings of freedom.”2 Morrison’s definition and deployment of “Africanism” rings true for the ways that black performance has remained for years on the periphery of theatre and performance studies. That is, although always already a viable contributor { 2 }

M id -­A merica T heatre C onference Keynote A ddress

to the field, disciplinary practices of exclusion—such as the exclusion of black-­ authored texts in the field and the marginalization of black performance scholars in theatre and performance studies—have reified the field as a “colorless” enterprise. Some might argue that this critique of the field is anachronistic—indeed, that within this historical context, racism was in vogue and should not be read back into the present as exemplary or typical of the field. Touché. But that doesn’t explain the current excision of the role black performance has played in the development of theatre and performance in histories about the field. Nor does it explain the current minuscule number of black scholars located within theatre and performance studies programs and departments around the country. Or perhaps it does. The same racist practices of exclusion, omission, or derision in the past only provided a fertile ground for the perpetuation of those same practices today. Despite the lacuna in the recounting of the field’s history and the marginalization of black scholarship on performance theory and theatre history, however, black performance is imbricated with the codified markers of “whiteness.” Dwight Conquergood’s essay “Rethinking Elocution: The Trope of the Talking Book and Other Figures of Speech” (2000) revises this “whitened” history of performance studies by demonstrating how racial “others,” whose designation as inarticulate and degenerate was reified by the very practice and discourse of elocution, redeployed bourgeois elocutionary practices by performing their own “black counterpublic readings.” Similar to Morrison’s critique of Ameri­ can literature and criticism, Conquergood argues that while the elocutionary movement highlighted the “performativity of whiteness naturalized,” there was another counter-­performance of race in dialectic tension with this movement that “brings into sharp focus the complex performative cultural politics of this speech tradition”: the black oral tradition.3 Drawing on what Amadou Hampaté Bâ calls “the great school of life,”4 enslaved and newly emancipated blacks signified on the elocutionary movement by redeploying its tenets toward their own liberation and humanity. Conquergood’s historical intervention withstanding, the refusal to acknowledge the coexistence of subaltern voices within the field’s history coincides with the disavowal of black literature in theatre’s closely allied field of English. Indeed, theatre studies’ subjugation of black cultural production reeks of the same arrogant racism in the literary tradition that, according to Morrison, “holds that traditional, canonical Ameri­can literature is free of, uniformed, and unshaped by the four-­hundred-­year-­old presence of, first, Africans and then African Ameri­cans in the United States. It assumes that this presence—which shaped { 3 }

E . Patrick Johnson

the body politic, the Constitution, and the entire history of the culture—­has no significant place or consequence in the origin and development of that culture’s literature.”5 And yet, as in the “Africanist” presence in the literary tradition, so too has there been a “black” presence in theatre and performance studies. Quietly yet radically transforming departments, black artist-­scholars insisted on fore­ground­ ing the drama, folklore, and performance traditions of black playwrights and scholars by cracking open the white canon that was reified as “Literature” (with a capital “L”) over and above all “others.” These black cultural workers not only demanded inclusion but also developed courses that were dedicated to the study and analysis of black drama, paving the way for scholars of color who would come after them—­myself included. These trailblazers were enacting what Con­quer­good calls an “emancipatory pedagogy and performative cultural politics”—­emancipatory in the sense that they no longer felt bound by the strictures of a curriculum that ignored or tokenized the literature, art, music, and artistic expression of their culture, and political in the sense that their intervention occurred during a time when the material consequences of their insubordination could have threatened their employment and even their lives.6 Because of the interventions of these foremothers and forefathers, younger black theatre and performance scholars continue to press the field and the academy in general to recognize the material, intellectual, and aesthetic matrix that is black theatre and performance. But similar to the appropriation of “performance” in other disciplines and the ways in which some of those disciplines’ current deployment of performance ignores a whole body of work in theatre and performance studies on performance that preceded its own fetishization and exoticization of it, theatre and performance scholars are also guilty of ignoring a whole body of black performance theory that preceded the current proliferation of black theatre and performance theory by younger scholars. None­theless, at this critical juncture there is no question that any genealogy of the field must consider the role of black performance and theory in the shaping and codification of theatre and performance studies as a site of intellectual inquiry. One might ask how such a rich and vital site of knowledge could have been excluded or gone unnoticed within a field that narrates its own history as fraught with political debates with the academy about its own status as a “legitimate” discipline.7 Institutionalized racism is one culprit, but so is the inability of academic institutions and individuals to read and value the discreet and nuanced performances and theorizing of African Ameri­cans. Outside the purview of what many scholars would hardly recognize as a legitimate object of inquiry, black expressive culture has, until recently, been illegible and unintel{ 4 }

M id -­A merica T heatre C onference Keynote A ddress

ligible to the undiscerning eyes and ears, and perhaps minds, of some scholars. The subjugated knowledge embedded within black expressive culture, therefore, is not always ameliorated by those who lack the cultural capital to read it or who are altogether disinterested in these forms. It is the research of the self-­ reflexive, self-­conscious, and humble who do more than just read the writing of black people as if it is disconnected from a cultural context and history, and provide a space, according to D. Soyini Madison, for subjugated knowledge to “enter to articulate—to translate and to unveil—extant philosophical systems to those who (without this knowledge) are unable to find, much less hear them.”8 In this regard, black theatre’s response to the academy’s designation of “poor black theatre” might be similar to that of the character Celie from the Broadway musical The Color Purple: “I may be poor. I may be black. I may be ugly. But I’m here.”

Poor Black Theatre Take 2: Black Theatre and Performance as a Site of Resistance In her essay “Performance Practice As a Site of Opposition,” cultural critic and feminist scholar bell hooks suggests that there are two modes of black performance—­one ritualistic, as a part of culture building, and one manipulative, out of necessity for survival in a oppressive world.9 Hooks suggests that these two modes are not mutually exclusive but bound together in dialogic tension, given the way the skills endemic to black expressive culture are required and deployed both for ritual play and for resistive action. For my purposes here, I focus on the latter to buttress my argument that black theatre and performance has always been and will always be a part of any liberationist struggle. From the minute nonverbal expressions of the slave to the pensive sway of the weary domestic to the collective marches on Washington and throughout the South, black performance has been the galvanizing element of black folks’ resistance to oppression. Indeed, in the early years of the antebellum South, black performance was a crucial component of the formation of a black public sphere, which Mark Anthony Neal argues was “invaluable to the transmission of communal values, traditions of resistance, and aesthetic sensibilities.”10 According to bell hooks: Performance was important because it created a cultural context where black people could transgress the boundaries of accepted speech, both in relationship to the dominant white culture, and to the decorum of African-­Ameri­can cultural mores. . . .

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E . Patrick Johnson ­ erformance practice was one of the places where the boundaries created by the emP phasis on proving that the black race was not uncivilized could be disrupted. Radical ideas could be expressed in this arena. Indeed, the roots of black performative arts emerge from an early nineteenth century emphasis on oration and the recitation of poetry. In a number of narratives relating slave experience, African-­Ameri­cans cite learning to read and recite as crucial to their development of a liberatory con­ sciousness.11

Following this logic, we might concede that black performance is at the interstices of black political life and art, providing the linchpin that sustains and galvanizes arts and acts of resistance. Hooks offers her personal narrative about the importance the “live arts” played in her child rearing. Like hooks, I, too, recall how members of my small black community in rural western North Carolina staged black plays and encouraged us children to memorize and recite the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes as a way to instill race pride and to counter the lack of exposure to black writers and artists in the public schools. This grassroots organizing speaks to the employment of the only resource avail­ able to the community—orality. Without the political clout to demand a change in the public school curriculum, these community leaders drew upon their indigenous expressive forms to transgress the white, bourgeois, culturally sanctioned protocols of reading by making us memorize—and thereby corporeally experience—the literature privileged by black culture. Some of the best examples of this use of performance are found in the African Ameri­can oral tradition and literature—established components of the field of theatre and performance studies. Within the black oral tradition, ani­ mal trickster tales in which the weaker animal (rabbit or monkey) outwits the stronger animal (fox or lion) serve as tropes for the master and slave. Given the physical and psychological constraints of slave culture, the slaves’ modes of resistance manifested in the form of tales of these anthropomorphic animals whose relationships parallel that of the slave and master. Creating and performing these tales provided temporary psychological relief from slave existence, but some forms of verbal double entendre afforded material results in the way of freedom. The coding of geographic locations such as “Heaven,” “the river,” and “home” in spirituals sung on plantations, for example, served as directions for where to meet to plan a revolt or to escape to the North. This is not to say that slaves relied only on indirect discursive means of resistance; they also employed embodied performances of resistance. These performances of resistance were sometimes met with punishment of the lash, dismemberment, starvation, and even death—and many of these consequences are chronicled in animal trick{ 6 }

M id -­A merica T heatre C onference Keynote A ddress

ster tales in which Brer Rabbit is caught by Brer Fox or the monkey in the Signifying Monkey tales slips from his tree and is trounced by the lion. Surely, the threat of such retaliation limited the number of subversive performances, but more times than not, the will to be treated as a human outweighed the potential threat. After emancipation, these tales evolved into the “John and Old Master” cycle of tales. No longer under the threat of the master’s lash, the emancipated black person could speak freely of the cruelty of former slaveholders and took pride in performing tales in which “John,” the slave, outsmarts his master. Similar to the animal trickster tales, the function of this cycle of tales was both to indict whites for their inhuman treatment of slaves and to demonstrate the slaves’ intellectual and physical acumen at resisting such treatment. As Daryl Dance argues, “By belittling and ridiculing whites and by picturing them as foolish victims, Blacks mitigate some of the frustrations of their daily lives and enhance their sense of dignity and pride.”12 Dance’s statement suggests that it is not only the content of these tales but also their performance by the storyteller that provides a sense of agency to resist struggle. In Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, for example, Black Baby, one of the taletellers of Eatonville, Florida, exemplifies both the power of the content of the slave-­master folktale and the power of the folktale’s teller: De first colored man that was ever brought to dis country was named John. He didn’t know nothin’ mo’ than you told him and he never forgot nothin’ you told him either. So he was sold to a white man. Things he didn’t know he would ask about. They went to a house and John never seen a house so he asked what it was. Ole Massa tole him it was his kingdom. So dey goes on into the house and dere was the fireplace. He asked what was that. Ole Massa told him it was flame ‘vaperator. The cat was settin’ dere. He asked what it was. Ole Massa told him it was his round head. So dey went upstairs. When he got on the stair steps he asked what dey was. Ole Massa told him it was his Jacob ladder. So whey the got up stairs he had a roller foot bed. John asked what was dat. Ole Massa told him it was his flowery-­bed-­of-­ease. So dey came down and went out to de lot. He had a barn. John asked what was dat. Ole Massa told him dat was his mound. So he had a Jack in the stable, too. John asked, “What in de world is dat?” Ole Massa said: “Dat’s July, the God Damn.” So the next day Ole Massa was up stairs sleep and John was smokin’. It flamed the ’vaperator and de cat was settin’ dere it got set afire. The cat goes to de barn where Ole Massa had lots of hay and fodder in de barn. So de cat set it on fire. John watched the Jack kicking up hay and fodder. He would see de hay and fodder go up and come down but he thought de Jack was eating the hay and fodder. So he goes upstairs and called Ole Massa and told him to get up off ’n his flowery-­bed-­of ease and come down on his Jacob ladder. He said: “I done flamed

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E . Patrick Johnson the ’vaperator and it caught de round head and set him on fire. He’s gone to de mound and set it on fire, and July the God Damn is eatin’ up everything he kin git his mouf on.” Massa turned over in de bed and ast, “Whut dat you say, John?” John tole ’im agin. Massa was still sleepy so he ast John again whut he say. John was gittin’ tired so he say, “Aw, you better git out of dat bed and come on down stairs. Ah done set dat ole cat afire and he run out to de barn and set it afire and dat ole Jackass is eatin’ up everything he git his mouf on.”13

It is clear that the teller of this tale has to demonstrate a level of verbal dexterity to make the punch line effective. Not only must he keep the series of events clear in the mind of the listener, but he must also underscore, undoubtedly through vocal inflection, the irony of the slave’s knowledge of Standard English. Moreover, the content of the story reveals that the slave discerned all along the master’s concealment, or the “appearance that approximates what, ideally, [he wants the slave] to see.”14 Thus, the slave sheds his performance of deference and ignorance and provides a glimpse into what James C. Scott might call his “hidden transcript” of insubordination and knowledge. This subversive performance is motivated by the slave’s frustration with the master in a time of crisis (the cat and barn are on fire); instead of maintaining the ruse of ignorance, he deploys shock to get the master to react. The slave’s use of language here is also an example of signifying, which refers to the use of indirection to comment negatively on something or someone. In this folktale, the slave’s use of “proper” speech after feigning ignorance signifies on the master’s inability to discern that the slave has knowledge of the possessions the master calls by other “high falutin’ ” names and makes the master look foolish. In The Signifying Monkey, Henry Louis Gates Jr. argues that the black person’s ultimate sign of difference is his or her “blackness of tongue.”15 While Gates makes this claim to buttress his argument about the signification of black literature on the Western literary canon, the same can be argued about signification as a site of resistance within black performance. As in the case of the folktale, signifying functions as a source of ritual insult or survivalist strategy or both, depending the context. When deployed in the dozens, a verbal art game of ritual insult, verbal dexterity for “play” may just as easily slip into a critical technology of self-­assertion and resistance. In Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie, the protagonist, engages her husband in a dozens contest that results in her enacting her own agency as a woman and as an apt verbal dueler when she exposes her husband’s sexual impotence. Trying to put her in her place, Jody, her husband, stands in the middle of their store in front of a crowd of customers and onlookers (dozens con{ 8 }

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tests, to be effective, must always have an audience) and says to Janie, “Whut’s de matter wid you, nohow? You ain’t no young girl to be gettin’ all insulted ’bout yo’ looks. You ain’t no young courtin’ gal. You’se uh old woman, nearly forty.” Janie replies, “Naw, Ah ain’t no young gal no mo’ but den Ah ain’t no old woman neither. Ah reckon Ah looks mah age too. But Ah’m uh woman every inch of me, and Ah know it. Dat’s uh whole lot more’n you kin say. You big-­ bellies round here and put a lot of brag, but ‘tain’t nothin’ to it but yo’ big voice. Humph! Talkin’ ’bout me lookin’ old! When you pull down yo’ britches, you look lak de change uh life.”16 Drawing on the signifying tradition, Janie levels the playing field by countering her husband’s ageist and sexist depiction of her as unattractive housewife. Her retort is deft not only because it is delivered with confidence but also because its content cuts the quick of her husband’s manhood, subverting his patriarchal gaze and control over her body. Black folks employ performative modes of resistance, such as signifying, beyond interpersonal relationships to transgress institutionalized forms of oppression. This is particularly true for those who do not benefit from “trickle down” economics, urban gentrification, welfare reform, state surveillance, and other regressive policies that maintain the nation-­state. A political economy in which governmental taxation laws benefit the top 1 percent of the population necessitates discreet but strategic and effective performative modes of resistance or what Scott refers to as “discourse that takes place ‘offstage,’ beyond direct observation by powerholders.”17 I refer again to my own upbringing as an example of a community of black folk who devised all kinds of guileful ruses and hidden scripts because their survival depended on it. Because I was raised in public housing, the proximity of our neighbors was such that everyone knew the intricate details of families’ personal lives. This situation was inconvenient to the extent that we never felt any semblance of privacy about what would be considered “delicate” family matters. On the other hand, neighbors’ knowledge of such intimate details could also work to our advantage when it came to deploying subversive tactics against “the man.” Most of our neighbors, as well as my family, had parents (usually single mothers) who worked jobs that did not provide health or life insurance. These women were domestics, factory workers, or cooks in low-­wage earning positions. Therefore, they acquired insurance from insurance salesmen who came door-­to-­door selling health and life insurance policies at exorbitant premiums and that actually paid very little if one were to be hospitalized or die. The insurance agents would also go door-­to-­door to collect these premiums weekly or monthly. As to be expected, many families did not have the money to pay these fees, yet they were in dire need of insurance in case of emergencies. The perfor{ 9 }

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mances we devised to avoid payment or distract the salesmen were ingenious. When we children saw them coming, we would do one of three things: (1) run into the house and warn our mothers, who would immediately pull the shades, close the door, and pretend not to be home; (2) run into the house and warn our mothers, who would hide in a closet or bathroom after rehearsing with us the lie to tell the insurance man; (3) run into the house and tell our mothers, who would invite the insurance man in and distract him with idle chitchat followed by an invitation to supper (which he sometimes accepted). While these tactics provided only a temporary reprieve from the payment due or overdue, they were performances deployed to stave off institutionalized forms of race and class oppression. Terry McMillan’s elderly narrator in the short story “Ma’ Dear” offers another example of subversive performances exemplary of those in which many black working-­class and poor people engage to resist devolving further into poverty. Similar to my community’s evasion of the calls of insurance salesmen for premium payments, the narrator of McMillan’s story pretends that she lives alone and receives no other income beyond her social security payments, which are too low for her to make ends meet. She devises this performance for her social worker, an agent of the state employed to maintain the status quo. The narrator tells the reader: That old case worker think she gonna get the truth out of me. She don’t scare me. It ain’t none of her business that I got money coming in here besides my social security check. How they ’spect a human being to live off $369 a month in this day and age is what I wanna know. Every time I walk out of my front door it cost me at least two dollars. I bet she making thousands and got credit cards galore. Probably got a summer house on the Island and goes to Florida every January. If she found out how much I was getting from my roomers, the government would make me pay back a dollar for every two I made. I best to get my tail on upstairs and clear everything off their bureaus. I can hide all the nurses’ stuff in the attic; they won’t be back till next month. Juanita been living out of trunks since she got here, so if the woman ask what’s in ’em, I’ll tell her, old sheets and pillowcases and memories.18

This elderly woman’s resistance to the state’s surveillance succeeds because she alters the visual economy of her home so that “evidence” of upward mobility (her boarders’ things) is hidden in plain sight of the caseworker. She also employs the oral tradition as political resistance in her willful commitment to withholding the “truth” about her income. Rather than divulge the truth, she theorizes her situation to her advantage in the way that Zora Neale Hurston

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describes: “The white man is always trying to know into somebody’s business. All right, I’ll set something outside the door of my mind for him to play with and handle. I’ll put this play toy in his hand, and he will seize it and go away. Then I’ll say my say and sing my song.”19 The “play toy” that McMillan’s narrator puts in the caseworker’s hand is the lie of one income, single occupancy, and below-­poverty existence. She astutely discerns that the caseworker is an agent of the state and is visiting her home to impose its hegemony while, at the same time, the state buttresses the caseworker’s middle-­class lifestyle that affords her “credit cards galore,” “summer homes,” and trips to Florida in the winter. Attuned to the state’s desire to “know her business” as its official hidden transcript, she develops her own “convincing performance,” which requires “both the suppression or control of feelings that would spoil the performance and the simulation of emotions that are necessary to the performance.”20 In her encounter with the caseworker, then, the narrator performs deference and ingratiating behavior, disguises evidence of social mobility, thus allowing her to “say my say and sing my song.” Other subversive performances existed that demonstrated my community’s agency against hegemonic capitalism. There were women who took “orders” for clothing that they would then shoplift from popular department stores. Indeed, their skill at stealing clothes developed into such an art that they became known for their ability to lift clothes from mannequins in store windows. Their craft subsidized the low wages they earned from factory and domestic work and provided access to commodities they would not otherwise be able to afford. The price of the goods stolen was negotiated with buyers on an individual basis but was usually no more than half of the ticketed price. Many of my siblings’ and my Easter suits and Christmas presents were the result of these women’s craft, allowing my mother, a single parent, to provide for her family. When my grandmother worked as a domestic she also employed subversive performances to resist exploitation. Like so many domestics, in the presence of her employer she adhered to the “public transcript” of subservience and deference by never raising her voice when dissatisfied with her conditions. She contends that if she did not like something, she “nevah did say nothin’,” for “saying something” might have cost her her job or caused unnecessary tension in the home. Instead, she was silent. She firmly held her mask in place until she had the opportunity to score a victory—however fleeting. But when asked to participate in the marriage ceremony of one of her white charges as “mammy,” by sitting next to the biological white mother, she refused by inventing a story about a sick brother whom she had to take care of. This story not only got her out of par-

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ticipating in the wedding but also provided her an opportunity to quit her job, as she did not return to work for the family.21 As James Scott reminds us, “The hidden transcript is not just behind-­the-­scenes griping and grumbling; it is enacted in a host of down-­to-­earth, low-­profile stratagems designed to minimize appropriation.”22 My grandmother’s “stratagem” was her silence, which minimized her appropriation of being put on public display as the domestic mammy and removed her from the oppressive space of her employer. Black performance as a mode of resistance functions to suture the gap between the oppressor and the oppressed, the vocal and voiceless, the dominator and the dominated—indeed, to make the “bottom rail become the top riser.”23 Many of these performances are necessary for survival in a white supremacist patriarchal society, while others are deployed for sheer play. Whatever their motivation, these resistive performances do not evolve in an ahistorical vacuum. They take shape according to the historical and sociopolitical context in which they exist. They are also not deployed unilaterally or toward the same aim, as they are bound by geopolitical and social circumstances—indeed, they emerge from their “poor” roots. We, who currently do black performance studies under the auspices of theatre and performance studies, stand primed to transform the way black theatre and performance studies gets theorized. The work of many I have cited today, as well as that of many others, has already begun to intervene and transform the field from within and without. Their work has been a bulwark against the hegemony of a well-­meaning yet ill-­informed white liberalism, or what Charles Nero calls “white tribalism,” as well as the parochial and conservative discourse of those from within black intellectual circles.24 Black performance, like the bodies of those associated with it, has, in the words of the national Negro anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “come over a way that with tears has been watered.” Forever on the periphery of the white bourgeois elite intellectual traditions codified as the “academy,” it has nonetheless functioned as a specter of “colored contradictions” to the discourse of whiteness—­a palimpsest of an “Africanist” presence. The rhetorical, political, and aesthetic dimensions of black theatre and performance have served its constituency well as a mode of resistance in those particularly challenging times—­and still do. Poor black theatre. Bless her heart. She continues to push the boundaries of what constitutes legitimate drama, theory, and scholarship. Poor black theatre. He can’t help it. He’s compelled to hold true to a politics of social change and transformation that moves us forward in the liberation of black people—­ and all people.

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Notes 1. Stuart Hall, “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” in Black Popular Culture, ed. Gina Dent (Seattle: Bay Press, 1992), 30. 2. Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (New York: Random House, 1990), 7. 3. Dwight Conquergood, “Rethinking Elocution: The Trope of the Talking Book and Other Figures of Speech,” Text and Performance Quarterly 20, no. 4 (2000): 333, 325. 4. Amadou Hampaté Bâ, “The Living Tradition,” in Methodology and African Prehistory, ed. J. Ki-­Zerbo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 168. 5. Morrison, Playing in the Dark, 5. 6. Conquergood, “Rethinking Elocution,” 336. 7. See David Thompson, ed., The Performance of Literature in Historical Perspectives (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983); Josephine Lee, “Disciplining Theater and Drama in the English Department: Some Reflections on ‘Performance’ and Institutional History,” Text and Performance Quarterly 19, no. 2 (1999): 145–58. 8. D. Soyini Madison, “That Was My Occupation: Oral Narrative, Performance, and Black Feminist Thought,” in Exceptional Spaces: Essays in Performance and History, ed. Della Pollock (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 321. 9. bell hooks, “Performance Practice as a Site of Opposition,” in Let’s Get It On: The Poli­ tics of Black Performance, ed. Catherine Ugwu (Seattle: Bay Press, 1995), 210. 10. Mark Anthony Neale, What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Popular Cul­ ture (New York: Routledge, 1990), 1–2. 11. hooks, “Performance Practice,” 212. 12. Daryl Dance, Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Ameri­cans (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 180. 13. Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 79–80. 14. James C. Scott, Dominance and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 50. 15. Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-­Ameri­can Literary Criti­ cism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 2. 16. Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 75. 17. Scott, Dominance and the Arts of Resistance, 4. 18. Terry McMillan, “Ma’ Dear,” in Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-­ Ameri­can Fiction, ed. McMillan (New York: Penguin, 1990), 465. 19. Hurston, Mules and Men, 3. 20. Scott, Dominance and the Arts of Resistance, 28–29. 21. E. Patrick Johnson, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 151–59. 22. Scott, Dominance and the Arts of Resistance, 188. 23. Dance, Shuckin’ and Jivin’, 8. 24. Charles I. Nero, “Black Gay Men and White Gay Men: A Less Than Perfect Union,” in Out in the South, ed. Carlos L. Dews and Carolyn Leste Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), 115–26.

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\ Hit-­and-­Run Theatre The Rise of a New Dramatic Form in Zimbabwe — Praise Z eneng a

In Africa and many other parts of the world, critical historical moments often ­necessitate the birth of new theatrical forms and practices. This article examines the intertwined practices of performance and historiography in post-­ independence Zimbabwe. The various performance paradigms that emerged from different historical epochs provide important ways of understanding Zim­babwe’s politics and cultural practices. In Zimbabwe, major historical moments—­colonization, liberation, and anti-­apartheid struggles; the introduction of economic-­structural adjustment programs; the fight against ­HIV/AIDS; and the struggle for land, rights, and democracy—gave birth to specific theatrical and performance practices. This article focuses on the rise of a new ­dramatic form that came to be known as hit-­and-­run theatre, produced during Zimbabwe’s unprecedented political and social crisis at the turn of the century. My analysis of the relationship between cultural practices and politics in Zimbabwe reveals that artists do not simply make theatre out of crucial historical events but that theatrical productions also determine and shape the direction of social change. This means that in the relations between specific historical processes and their various dimensions, theatre undergoes a dialectical development. Although this article’s primary objective is to examine the historical context and evolution of hit-­and-­run theatre in Zimbabwe, it also analyzes that country’s performance history in relation to dissent, resistance, and social change. This analysis requires a theoretical framework that combines performance, domination, and resistance in the practice of everyday life; however, no one coherent and consistent theoretical framework can explain the long history and complex practices that are incorporated in hit-­and-­run techniques. { 14 }

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In this theoretical analysis, it is important to evoke Augusto Boal’s and James C. Scott’s theories to help illuminate how theatre and performance have historically intersected with the politics of liberation and practice of democracy. Even though Boal’s and Scott’s theories and practices are distant from hit-­and-­run theatre in space and time, there are inherent aesthetic, methodological, and ideological affinities and parallels among these performance traditions. Scott’s theory of hidden transcripts refers to subordinate groups’ actions outside the observation and surveillance of the authorities.1 Similarly, Boal’s invisible theatre methodology uses unwitting audience participation, or “spect-­actors,” to disguise the performance as real life.2 Likewise, hit-­and-­run theatre manipulates time to create and sustain the invisibility necessary to survive censorship under authoritarian rule. This practice brings into critical focus a new time-­based performance theory used to elude state censorship and security agents. Although these practices are conducted in the public sphere, the oppressed classes strive to keep protest and resistance hidden from authorities. In principle, the different performances of resistance maintain invisi­bility in the face of power. This means that both dominant and subordinate audiences “do not know that they are observing theatre but believe that the conflict or problem which they are witnessing is unfolding before their very eyes. Accordingly, as with happenings, it takes place not on a stage but in people’s everyday life—in a restaurant, a bus, a supermarket.”3 It is important to evoke theories that help interpret the various ways performance and everyday life intersect. Although the relationship between theatrical performance and everyday life is at the center of this analysis, it is important to triangulate and extend the focus to include social and political interaction. Over the years, several scholars have theorized on the everyday intersections of performance, politics, and social interaction. For example, in 1959 Erving Goffman developed a theory of the “self ” that compares the way individuals interact with each other. Day-­to-­day human interactions resemble a theatrical performance comprising a front stage, where individuals put up false appearances to conceal their true feelings, and a backstage, which represents the real feelings. Goffman provides an explanation of how individuals put on fake facial expressions to avoid betraying their true stance and develop a system to suppress their true feelings in their everyday interactions.4 This means individuals carry out their daily activities in the same way an actor performs before an audience. Goffman and many other scholars, such as Richard Schechner, Victor Turner, Michel de Certeau, and Kenneth Burke, belong to a long-­established performance studies tradition that draws parallels between everyday life and stage performance. These { 15 }

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numerous parallels between real life and scripted conventional theatre enable radical artists to embed themselves and their practices in everyday life to elude state surveillance and censorship. In particular, Michel de Certeau’s The Prac­ tice of Everyday Life theorizes on the tactical significance of everyday practices creating victories of the weak over the strong via “clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, manoeuvres.”5 In a politically repressive environment like Zimbabwe, where the performance space is constricted, hit-­and-­run becomes a vital survival tactic. In his treatise on tactics, de Certeau contends that “because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time—it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing.’ ”6 Its invisibility emanates from the fact that a hit-­and-­run performance cannot be contained in one place for a long time. Besides creating alternative spaces, hit-­and-­run theatre thrives on the element of surprise. In a way, it extends Boal’s practice beyond space, surprise, and disguise to include time. Hit-­and-­run theatre’s methodology combines traditional and contemporary everyday life as well as time-­dependent hit-­and-­run survival strategies commonly used in warfare, crime, politics, hunting, sport, and even love affairs. To create and maintain invisibility, hit-­and-­run theatre not only operates under constricted spaces but also under time constraints. Mastery of time enables hit-­and-­run artists not only to create their own space but also to keep their distance from authorities. Removing the line between real life and performance practices for a limited time helps oppressed groups to elude authorities. Hit-­and-­run’s subversive and underground nature necessitates a time limit on the performance practice. This means hit-­and-­run artists appear in public spaces and perform only for a limited time in order to keep the practice under wraps. As part of a genealogy of surreptitious forms of resistance based on every­ day life performances, hit-­and-­run theatre necessitates a return to Boal’s 1971 invisible theatre techniques and Scott’s 1990 theory of hidden transcripts. Boal and Scott applied their theories and practices across a wide historical spectrum ranging from classical-­era feudalism, slavery, and colonialism up to the contemporary postcolonial dispensation.7 Similarly, their theories and the praxis they inspired are not only compatible with but also parallel to contemporary revolutionary theatrical performances in many parts of the world, including Zimbabwe. Performances of resistance in everyday life do not necessarily manifest themselves in accordance with Scott’s and Boal’s theories and practices, but they follow the dictates of specific oppressive contexts in which they are born. Zimbabwe’s unique history, indigenous performance cultures, censorship laws, authoritarian rule, struggles for rights and democracy, and other external { 16 }

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aesthetic and ideological exchanges have all shaped hit-­and-­run theatre into a unique practice. Even though hit-­and-­run theatre remains rooted in Zimbabwean revolutionary performance traditions, it also represents ongoing conversations between radical local practices and their global counterparts; hit-­ and-­run theatre artists in Zimbabwe also appropriate and indigenize global performance aesthetics, theories, and techniques. Evoking Boal’s and Scott’s theories broadens the analytical perspective and also helps to historicize the development and evolution of a new dramatic form in Zimbabwe. In essence, hit-­ and-­run represents a continuum of radical political performances dating back almost forty years. As such, it is imperative to analyze it in dialogue with pioneering performance practices, theories, techniques, and methodologies emerging in different historical epochs. Examining hit-­and-­run within this historical continuum helps to interpret forms of coded resistance and counterhegemonic discourses steeped in everyday life performances as they emerge in various social, geographical, and historical contexts. Merging performance and everyday life not only helps to make radical theatrical practices invisible but also facilitates volitional audience participation in ways that empower oppressed groups.8 Like invisible theatre, hit-­and-­ run presents a rehearsed theatrical piece in public as if it is part of everyday life. Although they differ in motives and techniques, both practices rely on unconventional spaces, audience participation, and performer anonymity to attain greater levels of embeddedness. As a space and spatial practice embedded in everyday life, hit-­and-­run can elude power and censorship. Through the art of hidden discourse and hidden identities, its artists can disguise politically engaged theatrical performances and challenge the authoritarian regime in Zimbabwe. Hit-­and-­run not only exhibits affinities with Scott’s and Boal’s methodologies and theories but also builds upon them, because it thrives through concealment of the theatrical event. Scott’s and Boal’s theories illustrate the role of language (verbal and nonverbal) and space (sequestered and non-­sequestered) in constructing surreptitious counterhegemonic discourses. While Scott’s and Boal’s theories and practical applications depend on language and space, hit-­and-­run theatre relies on time to clandestinely construct and promote counterhegemonic discourses. As a time-­based practice, hit-­and-­ run adds a new dimension to global political performance traditions, and hit-­ and-­run artists use time to create and maintain the invisibility. Invisibility and disguise help artists to evade surveillance, censorship, potential arrest, detention, and persecution at the hands of state security agents. Time-­based invisi­ bility is critical for the survival of both the artists and the theatrical practice itself in a highly repressive environment like Zimbabwe. { 17 }

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The Crisis Decade and the Birth of Hit-­and-­Run Theatre Theatre’s acute political and ideological engagement, together with the aesthetic forms and dialectical development of theatre emerging during the crisis decade in Zimbabwe (1998–2008), merit academic inquiry. This period is aptly referred to as the crisis decade to underscore the rapid downturn and degeneration in Zimbabwe’s social, economic, and political landscape. In spite of growing worldwide democratic trends, President Robert Mugabe, widely recognized as an autocratic and ineffective leader, has been at the helm since the country attained political independence in 1980. (He was prime minister from 1980 to 1987, a period during which the president was constitutional and had no executive powers, and president from 1988 to the present. He wielded absolute executive powers in both capacities. The position of prime minister was abolished from 1988 to 2008 and revived in 2009 under the new unity government. The question of whether it is the president or the prime minister who should wield executive power remains contentious.) Hit-­and-­run represents a critique of power and is one of the most radical political discourses emanating from this specific era. As of this publication, the root cause of the decade-­long crisis remains debatable. Lloyd Sachikonye argues that several factors contributed to “the deterioration of the fortunes of the economy in Zimbabwe.”9 He attributes the unbudgeted payoffs to war veterans, military intervention in the Congo, election violence, a chaotic land-­reform program, and an upsurge of corruption at a high level to the sustained meltdown of the economy during the crisis decade.10 Brian Raftopoulos warns against ignoring the importance of the democratic deficit and human rights abuses and the growing authoritarian militarism of the old-­guard nationalists in any analysis of the Zimbabwean crisis.11 These human rights violations and bad governance led the European Union (EU) to impose “targeted sanctions” that triggered a spiraling inflation and exacerbated the economic meltdown, compounding the Zimbabwean crisis. The national­ ist regime often cites the EU sanctions as a scapegoat to frame “the Zimbabwe crisis as externally generated and driven” and to pedal its anti-­imperialist rhetoric.12 The collapse of Zimbabwe’s agro-­based industry snowballed into “food shortages, malnutrition, severely depleted health services and HIV/AIDS to create a lethal cocktail for disaster.”13 The shrinking democratic spaces coupled with a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation led to a mass exodus of economic and political refugees from Zimbabwe to neighboring countries and the diaspora at large. Like other professionals, citizens, and activists, theatre artists also { 18 }

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Figure 1. Savannah Arts Trust performs an untitled play in the Gazza and Cherima areas, protesting the local authorities’ failure to repair burst sewer pipes and deliver clean water to residents. Decem­ ber 2007. Photo courtesy of Savannah Arts Trust.

left Zimbabwe in large numbers, leading to the near death of a once-­v ibrant popular theatre movement. It is difficult to imagine how any creative activity, let alone political performance, can thrive within such a hostile and challenging environment. Preben Kaarsholm argues that theatre illuminates and articulates “precise needs and aspirations” in critical moments.14 He cites historical precedents to show that theatrical performance played a pivotal role in giving voice to popular concerns in Zimbabwe from precolonial times to the present: “Rhodesia was decolonized in the course of a violent and traumatic war that gave rise to its own genres of cultural expression, and in which drama again played a prominent part—to fortify bastions of white pride and supremacy on the one side and to mobilize black people and promote mental decolonization on the other.”15 Just like other subordinate groups in similar situations, Zimbabwean artists created a distinct form of theatre to challenge domination during the crisis decade. The birth of what came to be known as hit-­and-­run theatre at this critical juncture in Zimbabwean history became part and parcel of what Scott terms “politics of the weak.”16 Hit-­and-­run performances constitute { 19 }

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a novel form of resistance arising out of a specific political and socioeconomic historical context. As such, it is imperative to first examine the social and geopolitical environments in which the performances are embedded in order to fully appreciate hit-­and-­run theatre’s functions, intentions, and objectives. The birth of a formidable opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in 1998 not only brought optimism to many Zimbabweans but also gave birth to new forms of opposition political theatre. The few brave and committed popular and community theatre artists and activists who remained in Zimbabwe took it upon themselves to resurrect the vibrant political theatre practices reminiscent of the liberation struggle’s political performances in the 1970s.17 Although popular theatre is often thought of as mere entertainment (from a Western perspective), in Zimbabwe it is not only synonymous with political engagement, but it is also the mainstream theatrical form. Hit-­and-­run theatre does “not just entertain, it motivates, arouses and organizes,” in keeping with its utilitarian traditions.18 In essence, the Zimbabwean economic and political crises not only shaped new theatrical practices like hit-­and-­run but also constituted the bulk of the subject matter in popular theatre. For example, “issues around democracy and civic rights, once part of the liberation agenda but subsequently sidelined, were returned to the centre of political debate” in hit-­and-­run theatre.19 During the crisis decade, the Zimbabwean state enacted repressive legislation, such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which they used to control and proscribe opposition political discourses and activities. While the state argued that these laws were necessary to control terrorist and criminal activities, it was apparent that the objective was to censure and silence opposition voices and discourses. Essentially, these two acts mostly affected opposition political parties, independent media outlets, radical popular theatre companies, civic groups, revolutionary churches, and many other pro-­democracy institutions.20 POSA gave the police excessive powers not only to authorize public gatherings, demonstrations, and processions but also to arrest anyone who intentionally published or communicated falsehoods likely to promote public disorder. The act also made it illegal to ridicule the president, meaning that it became increasingly difficult to satirize President Mugabe in theatrical productions. AIPPA permitted the government to restrict public access to information. Independent newspapers that failed to meet AIPPA registration or operating procedures, as was the case with the Harare Daily News, the Harare Tribune, and the Harare Weekly Times, were ordered to close.

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Figure 2. Performers from Savannah Arts Trust use hit-­and-­run theatre to show audiences in Harare’s working-­class residential area of Highfield that repressive government and extensive corruption have directly led to perennial water cuts and a rapid collapse of the service delivery system, leading to a cholera outbreak. December 2007. Photo courtesy of Savannah Arts Trust.

History, Aesthetics, and Techniques In the absence of an independent and impartial press, popular theatre, hit-­and-­ run in particular, emerged as an alternative medium to openly and provoca­ tively address the most volatile and pressing issues of the day. Even though Zimbabweans’ amazing tenacity, sacrifice, and heroism found expression in hitand-­run theatre, this new theatrical form also functioned to record volatile memories in a crisis-­ridden nation. “As the economic crisis deepened and the state remained largely unresponsive,” radical theatre artists and other opposition voices “skillfully articulated the linkages between this crisis and the broader problems of democratization.”21 Out of necessity, hit-­and-­run theatre became the alternative discourse of challenge and opposition to state hegemony. The tumultuous circumstances under which hit-­and-­run theatre was born called for the new theatre to obey the dictates of the political struggle. In this sense, hit-­ and-­run theatre became an aesthetic as well as a functional enterprise geared

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toward social transformation. Hit-­and-­run arose as a form of radical political dis­course dedicated to challenging forms of historical domination through an aesthetic and political commitment to perpetual transformation and ­awareness. Thematically, hit-­and-­run theatre resonated strongly with the opposition political party discourses, in particular the MDC’s slogan of change. Consequently, the state viewed hit-­and-­run as political activity in alliance with opposition political parties. With the discourses on recolonization gaining currency, the Zimbabwean regime descended hard on hit-­and-­run theatre, specifically targeting those who received money from pro-­democracy Western donor agencies and institutions. The state automatically framed international donor agencies—particularly those that only funded hit-­and-­run productions dealing with democracy, rights, and governance—as proxies for former colonial countries. The Mugabe regime regarded hit-­and-­run as a threat to national security and sovereignty, meaning that all security organs had to be mobilized and put on high alert to banish all political theatre activity. Together with political parties, hit-­and-­run activists were not only labeled as unpatriotic and traitors but also as puppets and stooges of the West, who should be dealt with heavy-­handedly. Raftopoulos and Phimister noted that such attempts to demonize opposition movements and voices imply that “only the party of the liberation movement has the authority and legitimacy to advocate democratic issues.”22 Consequently, hit-­and-­run artists were also targeted in the ensuing state violence intended to eliminate dissent. Hit-­and-­run theatre identified change as the historical mission of its times, and change became the dominant theme in most hit-­and-­run performances during the crisis decade. Besides emphasizing change of behavior at the individual and institutional levels, hit-­and-­run performances primarily advocated for regime change in Zimbabwe. Within the political sphere, hit-­and-­run campaigned for the removal of the repressive Mugabe regime because it violated people’s rights and mismanaged and destroyed the country’s economy.23 Many hit-­and-­run productions also called for a change of leadership in various state-­ controlled institutions, such as the central bank and the electricity and water authorities, which failed to deliver vital services to the nation. For example, some hit-­and-­run plays attributed the outbreak of a cholera epidemic, which claimed about twelve hundred lives as of December 2008, to the water authori­ ty’s incompetent and corrupt leadership, which knowingly supplied contaminated water to consumers.24 Other hit-­and-­run productions encouraged and pleaded with individuals, communities, and political leaders to change behavior that breeds political violence, such as that which left close to two hundred people dead in 2008. Ac{ 22 }

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Figure 3. In some of their hit-­and-­run performances, Savannah Arts Trust blames national and local au­ thorities for corruption and shoddy delivery service that resulted in a severe outbreak of cholera in Harare’s poor working-­class suburb. December 2007. Photo courtesy of Savannah Arts Trust.

cording to an Amnesty International report, “In the run up to the 27 June presidential election run-­off, scores of supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were abducted and killed. Thousands were tortured at camps that were set up with the acquiescence of the security forces. Nearly 200 people died as a result of state-­sponsored violence during that time.”25 Between 1998 and 2008, hit-­and-­run theatre artists in Zimbabwe worked in a very restrictive and increasingly repressive environment. Like other independent media personnel and political activists operating in Zimbabwe at the time, theatre artists faced repeated arrests, abductions, torture, surveillance, ill-­treatment, intimidation, and harassment by state security forces and by non-­state actors aligned with President Mugabe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union– Patriotic Front (ZANU-­PF).26 Since the start of the liberation war in the 1960s, Zimbabwean theatre practitioners constantly developed new and relevant systems of aesthetics for theatrical performances in order to keep pace with an ever-­changing political climate while simultaneously endeavoring to stay true to a progressive social and { 23 }

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political agenda. Hit-­and-­run theatre is the most recent theatrical form developed in response to increasing state surveillance, harassment, arrest, persecution, and censorship of political theatre in the last decade. Although hit-­and-­ run utilizes some techniques that resemble earlier forms of popular theatre practiced in Africa and other parts of the world, it bears its own unique aesthetic intentions and unique formal, structural, and thematic characteristics. The aesthetic responses that this highly inventive dramatic form evokes are also worth analyzing. To better understand hit-­and-­run, it is also important to analyze its aesthetic characteristics and artistic traditions. In contrast with protest forms that are reliant upon sequestered spaces or coded language to critique the establishment, hit-­and-­run theatre can be defined as time-­dependent.27 As a time-­based practice, hit-­and-­run seeks to convey its message in the shortest possible time to allow artists to get away before authorities figure out what they are doing and who they are. Time is of the essence in hit-­and-­run and, ideally, authorities may only know of a performance after the actors have finished and left the scene. According to interviews conducted with artists and activists, the ideal running time for a standard hit-­and-­ run performance should not exceed fifteen minutes.28 Hit-­and-­run theatre derives its name from the idea of running away from the scene of an accident without identifying oneself. Although in legal terms the name conjures up crimi­ nal activity, Zimbabwean theatre activists transformed its meaning to describe revolutionary action based on what Scott terms the “fugitive political conduct of subordinate groups.”29 As such, the name aptly describes the aesthetic and pedagogical philosophies behind this new theatrical form. The hit-­and-­run concept in theatre and performance implies that artists set themselves on an open ideological collision path with the state and then escape without identifying themselves to authorities and audiences. In Zimbabwe, during the crisis decade, state and quasi-­state agents, militias, and vigilante groups set up bases in almost every ward, district, and neighborhood to intimidate opposition supporters and activists, especially during elections. In a country where the state invades every sphere of the public to regulate and monitor all gatherings, it becomes imperative for theatre artists to hit and run before the police and other government security agents come to remove “unwanted” members of the public from public spaces.30 What makes hit-­and-­run theatre a risky enterprise is that it challenges performers to open performances up for public observation while they focus on eluding the authorities’ gaze. Like Boal’s invisible theatre, hit-­and-­run “is a tricky business, because outcomes can hardly be taken for granted. Conflict is inherent—often conflict involving explosive issues” such as political violence, { 24 }

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corruption, regime change, promotion and protection of good governance, human rights, rule of law, and democracy.31 Employing time-­based aesthetic practices enables artists to quickly convey their revolutionary messages before their performance gets stopped. Through its radical and clandestine aesthetic practices, hit-­and-­run takes aim at certain institutions, systems, and individuals within the establishment. It is deeply rooted in an aesthetic philosophy that integrates creativity, stealth, performance, and revolutionary culture in radical ways. In the Zimbabwean context, where state agents can easily invoke POSA and order performances or any form of gathering to disperse immediately, hit-­ and-­run becomes the ideal theatrical form. Hit-­and-­run theatre relies on the very strong popular theatre network that existed in post-­independence Zimbabwe. Most popular theatre companies affiliated themselves with various national umbrella organizations, such as the National Theatre Organization, the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatres, and the Zimbabwe Association of Theatre for Children and Young People. With the help of state and nongovernmental funding, especially from inter­ national donor organizations, these theatre organizations offered significant ­financial and logistical support to both established and grassroots theatre companies. They not only offered skills-­training workshops and small loans and grants but also organized festivals, conventions, and galas for members to showcase and share their artistic talents. Due to the deepening political and economic crisis, there were severe cuts in theatre funding and patronization, as well as intense ideological schisms among members, that led to the collapse of all theatre organizations; however, some established theatre companies that survived the crisis decade continued to use networks forged under these defunct organizations. Hit-­and-­run theatre requires a solid network of committed and trustworthy partners to thrive. Before hit-­and-­run artists venture to perform in an unknown community, they seek the help of trusted partners familiar with the neighborhood to do the necessary groundwork and reconnaissance and also recommend appropriate approaches, security measures, and escape routes. Hit-­ and-­run theatre belongs to an emerging underground performance tradition found in most Zimbabwean communities during the crisis decade. The increasingly authoritarian politics of that decade gave rise to a vibrant underground protest performance culture ranging from music and poetry to theatre. Several precautions need to be taken to ensure the successful staging of a hit-­and-­run performance in various locations. Before stepping into any political hotbed to disseminate their political messages, hit-­and-­run theatre artists have to carry out a preliminary survey to gain security information. This exploratory survey of the performance site is usually conducted with the help { 25 }

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of a local contact person, preferably one familiar with ruling party authorities, militias, and torture camp/base locations. After the reconnaissance phase, hit-­ and-­run theatre artists then devise an escape plan. Establishing an escape plan and escape routes beforehand becomes necessary because authorities might raid a hit-­and-­run performance. Critical surveillance continues even when theatre activists have taken to the stage. While the performance goes on, there should always be a sentinel who keeps guard, ready to signal for an escape in case of pending danger from state-­backed militias, liberation war veterans, vigi­lante youth groups, police, secret agents, and intelligence units. In order to avoid attacks, arrests, and harassment, hit-­and-­run theatre artists always keep their escape routes open. This means performers always have to be ready to terminate their performance at any time and quickly vanish underground. A Savannah Arts Trust playwright describes the excitement and adrenaline rush experienced when staging hit-­and-­run theatre: “You have a car there with the motor running. . . . Your heart is beating very fast. You are full of fear that you are going to be arrested at any minute. You know the exact message that you want to give. You make sure the people get the message in the shortest time. As soon as you see that people are getting the message, you disappear.”32 To make a good escape, performers travel light and rely on minimum props and costumes. Just as in Jerzi Grotowiski’s poor theatre, hit-­and-­run practitioners abandon “everything that the actor puts on in the dressing room before performance”33 and rely solely on the performer’s voice, “body and craft.”34 Since hit-­and-­run is staged in crowded and noisy public spaces like shopping malls, marketplaces, storefronts, open streets, and buses, artists must first gain the attention of the audience and continue to hold that attention.

The Aesthetics of Performance Space in Hit-­and-­Run Theatre Hit-­and-­run artists often treat vendors, shoppers, shopkeepers, travelers, taxi and bus drivers, and touts (street hustlers) to impromptu performances in a variety of venues. While singing, dancing, and drumming are mostly used to hold audience attention, artists are compelled to create other aggressive strategies that can hold their audience’s attention from start to finish. Faking a street fight or a heated argument enables actors to quickly grab and hold an audience’s attention. The highly captivating and interactive nature of hit-­and-­run theatre also helps to capture the attention of a highly fluid audience going about its usual { 26 }

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Figure 4. Hit-­and-­run artists fake a heated argument between a pushcart operator and a market woman to attract a crowd at the beginning of an untitled performance in Highfield suburb. December 2007. Photo courtesy of Savannah Arts Trust.

business. The informal public performance space not only promotes ever-­changing and impromptu ways to engage the audience but is also designed to cater to a broad audience. A wide range of people patronize public spaces, meaning that hit-­and-­run targets an audience comprising groups of diverse ages, ability, gender, and cultural and economic backgrounds. Hit-­and-­run performances depend a great deal on the artists’ improvisation skills. Like invisible theatre or guerrilla theatre, hit-­and-­run theatre can sometimes be so embedded that it takes quite a while for audiences to figure out that they are watching a performance. It exploits the first moments of surprise to attack the most critical political issues head-­on. There is no need to alert authorities of any pending performances, so hit-­and-­run artists do not have to obtain clearance from the censorship board or any local authorities to perform. As Boal contends: “To demand a permit for an Invisible Theatre event was equivalent to making it visible, that is, destroying its very theatrical form. In order to continue as such, Invisible Theatre has to be clandestine theatre. If it becomes ‘visible,’ the spectator takes a passive role rather than her/his { 27 }

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much more productive one as a free protagonist of the event.”35 While invisibility is essential to ensure optimum audience involvement in Boalian practice, it predominantly serves a security function in hit-­and-­run and works well in a country like Zimbabwe, where police take a long time to react. Hit-­and-­run theatre strives to deliver its message quickly and directly,36 and the message is completely blatant. It is a rare form of political discourse that takes place in public view, sometimes in the face of authorities, right under the nose of the power holders. In this sense, hit-­and-­run theatre not only is a public performance but also is simultaneously an open social protest. Boal describes the beauty of invisible performance practices, particularly the demolition of the fourth wall and the spontaneous participation of everyone within the vicinity as follows: “The invisible theatre erupts in a location chosen as a place where the public congregates. All the people who are nearby become involved in the eruption and the effects of it last long after the skit is ended.”37 Although the actual hit-­and-­run performance is ephemeral, it is designed to achieve a deep and long-­lasting imprint on the psyche of the audience, not only through its highly entertaining styles but also by virtue of its radical and provocative content. As a public form of political discourse, embedded in everyday life and social events, hit-­and-­run theatre takes advantage of the anonymity of pre-­gathered crowds. Unlike conventional theatre, hit-­and-­run is not supposed to be recorded, previewed, publicized, or advertised in advance. The identities of the performers remain undisclosed for their safety. Some artists don baseball caps, woolen hats, and dark glasses to conceal their identities. Although most of them travel light, they usually carry a portable drum which they use as a call to convene an au­dience impromptu. In this way, the drum reverts to its traditional role of summon­ing people to meetings, ceremonies, performances, and special occasions. In a society that associates drumming with cultural ceremonies, celebrations, and apolitical street entertainment, using drums to assemble audiences on the spur of the moment and to publicize a performance enables hit-­and-­run artists to stay below the censorship radar. In modern-­day Zimbabwe, authorities do not usually associate the drum with rebellion or radicalism, and its use becomes convenient for hit-­and-­run artists to run through their performances and take off without raising any suspicions. In a country where the independent press is stifled,38 political news and messages tend to come through word of mouth. Hit-­and-­run theatre plays an important role in disseminating vital information to the civic population and opening up public discussions of pertinent national issues. State repression and censorship created a culture where opposition political views are often only ex{ 28 }

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Figure 5. At a protest performance in Harare’s working-­class suburb of Mabvuku, hit-­and-­run artists don woollen hats and dark glasses to disguise themselves from state security agents and ruling party vigilantes. December 2007. Photo courtesy of Savannah Arts Trust.

pressed among trusted audiences in confined spaces. Hit-­and-­run theatre helps to bring national political discourses back into the public space. The idea is to prompt the civic society to openly debate and discuss issues affecting their well-­ being. Much like invisible theatre techniques, hit-­and-­run theatre artists engage audiences in discussions during performances. This not only leaves people openly discussing issues they are afraid to talk about in public but also makes audiences contemplate practical ways of acting to bring about the desired change in their lives. Unlike most Boalian techniques, there are no elaborate post-­ performance discussions in hit-­and-­run theatre, because safety concerns dictate that artists vanish immediately after the performance. In view of the limited performance time at the artists’ disposal, audience interaction and discussions are highly controlled. Hit-­and-­run artists use their improvisation skills to quickly steer the performance back to its key issues and themes to avoid straying from the core message. Hit-­and-­run theatre’s extemporaneous performance style requires artists trained in the art of improvisation. Thorough rehearsals and “the detailed preparation of a skit with a com{ 29 }

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Figure 6. In Mabvuku, another working-­class suburb in Harare, hit-­and-­run artists interact and educate young audiences on their right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-­being of the individual and family. December 2007. Photo courtesy of Savannah Arts Trust.

plete text or a simple script” are an essential starting point for a hit-­and-­run performance.39 While the performance is prepared in advance, performers do not necessarily follow a script. Hit-­and-­run artists should be psyched up for the obvious likelihood of improvising and integrating into their performance what Boal calls an “optional text” that emanates from “every imaginable intervention from spectators.”40 Conditions on the ground and the audience’s reaction to the information presented often compel artists to deviate from the script as they improvise and add the audience’s participation into their performance. To a large extent, hit-­and-­run theatre parallels other forms of protest theatre because it makes use of public spaces such as storefronts, streets, pavements and sidewalks, town squares, or any other open areas in front of shopping centers, malls, markets, parks, and bus or taxi terminals. The collapse of a formal economy in Zimbabwe led to the rapid rise of a vibrant informal sector that gave birth to numerous unconventional commercial spaces such as flea markets, private bus terminals and taxi ranks, and “home industries.”41 These spaces are always full of activity, making it easier for hit-­and-­run artists to gather a sizeable audience, sometimes exceeding a hundred people, in an instant. { 30 }

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Although Boal’s invisible theatre has a higher level of audience participa­ tion than hit-­and-­run theatre, the two share identical performance spaces. When performed on the streets or in a public vehicle like a taxi or a city bus, hit-­and-­ run uses interactive approaches to draw the audiences into the performances. Amakhosi Theatre’s artistic director describes how this approach works: When we do presentations in emergency taxis42 in the townships, for example, actors pretend that they do not know each other and one of them initiates the dialogue on a particular topic. The performer who establishes the dialogue drops off the taxi first to give passengers confidence. The other performers take over as if leading a gossip agenda about the dropped-­off passenger while still pretending they do not know each other to maximize audience participation. Issues are broken down into acts for emergency taxi presentations. Dialogue is only written for the first page of the topic between the performers until the first one drops off, then the rest turns into improvised dialogue.43

Hit-­and-­run theatre techniques often differ per presentation. Sometimes artists remain embedded among audiences and guide the dialogue with pointed questions. Although hit-­and-­run theatre performances are highly informal and often leave room for well-­managed in-­character dialogue, post-­performance discussions seldom take place due to time constraints. This is where hit-­and-­run differs significantly from Boal’s invisible theatre and forum theatre, where empha­ sis is on optimum audience participation and post-­performance discussion. In Zimbabwe, the regime construes any post-­performance discussion as an unsanctioned political meeting or gathering. Since hit-­and-­run is by nature an unauthorized practice, artists quickly disappear after a performance. As the audience disperses, it shares and re-­creates the information for others who could not witness the performance. Due to Zimbabwe’s strong oral culture, where information is transmitted by word of mouth, hit-­and-­run becomes one of the most effective ways of spreading political messages. The autocratic regime finds it difficult to censor information that citizens share in the intimacy of their private lives.

Hit-­and-­Run Theatre Research: Ethical Dilemmas and Considerations As a politically engaged theatrical practice in a repressive environment that inhibits free association and expression, hit-­and-­run theatre often requires per{ 31 }

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Figure 7. Savannah Arts gives a rare rural hit-­and-­run performance of “But She Screamed,” a play that depicts political violence as a precursor to domestic vio­ lence, in Hurungwe District, Mashonaland West Province. November 2007. Photo courtesy of Daniel Maposa.

formers to stay underground for their own security and survival. The need to safeguard the artists’ anonymity and ensure their safety creates ethical problems for hit-­and-­run researchers. I made conscious moral and ethical decisions to restrict earlier versions of this paper presented at conferences to more of a theoretical level. I restricted my references primarily to theatre companies and practitioners that had already publicly disclosed their practice of hit-­and-­ run to international and local media. My research is guided by social and political sensitivity to the security and survival concerns of hit-­and-­run theatre artist-­activists who perform and live in fear of state security agents. I exercise my professional and ethical consideration and avoid divulging names, interviews, photographs, and performance sites of any performers without their express consent. In spite of a fragile political settlement reached in Zimbabwe in early 2009, political activists opposed to President Mugabe’s party are still endangered. After prolonged negotiations and regional mediation, the ruling ZANU-­PF party and the main opposition, the MDC, committed to a political settlement and formed a transitional Government of National Unity (GNU) on February 15, 2009. But people are dubious that there has been real change in policy. Of the country’s oldest political theatre companies, and known critics of the Mugabe { 32 }

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Figure 8. Savannah Arts performs “But She Screamed,” a play about domestic and political violence, to an attentive and curious audience in Hurungwe District, Mashonaland West Province. November 2007. Photo courtesy of Daniel Maposa.

regime, only Amakhosi and Savannah theatres gave me consent to cite their performances and interviews and to use their photos in this research. After all, leaders and performers from these two companies have been arrested, detained without trial, photographed, fingerprinted, tortured, cautioned, and released without trial; the security agents already know who they are and the kind of anti-­establishment performance they do. Regardless of the minimal political reforms that came with the transitional unity government, there are continued arrests of opponents of Mugabe. With Mugabe still wielding substantial presidential powers, the world has been waiting to see if the transitional regime will uphold human rights and the rule of law. Hit-­and-­run theatre techniques enable Amakhosi and Savannah to play cat and mouse with security agents and militias loyal to Mugabe’s party. For the media and researchers, revealing the artists’ identities and techniques is tantamount to transgressing the performers’ operating principles. Although companies such as Amakhosi and Savannah freely granted me interviews and encouraged me to document their hit-­and-­run performances for posterity, I refrained from exposing and jeopardizing their security during the crisis decade. It was only after the political conflict diminished following the formation of the GNU in February 2009 that I felt comfortable sharing this exciting theatrical practice with the rest of the world. My study of theatre censorship in { 33 }

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Zimbabwe during this same period revealed that publicizing political theatre practices and artists in international media and scholarly works poses minimal risks for the practitioners.44 I discovered that, regarding theatre, the Zimbabwean state practices selective censorship. Some plays are banned in certain cities and provinces but are allowed to play in other parts of the country. Similarly, as part of its “multi-­t iered censorship,” the state allows more critical documents to circulate in academic journals and international media not readily available and accessible to its civic population but not in the popular media. Kept out of mass media, documents are sometimes allowed to die a natural death within the confines of academic publications and discourse. When the state feels that theatre artists have minimal impact inciting the public, their political performances are left uncensored. When censorship is deemed to draw national and international attention to the artists, their performance, and its political message, the Zimbabwean state simply allows some radical theatre productions to die a natural death.45

The Genealogy of Hit-­and-­Run Theatre As a form of resistance, hit-­and-­run theatre bears a genetic resemblance to other types of theatre for social change, also known as theatre for development, practiced in Africa and other parts of the world. This genetic pool includes protest theatre, political theatre, popular theatre, people’s theatre, guerrilla theatre, radical theatre, invisible theatre, newspaper theatre, panic theatre, urgent theatre, street theatre, theatre of necessity, theatre of the oppressed, theatre of empowerment, and theatre of intervention. To a large extent, hit-­and-­run theatre has affinities with these forms of counterculture performances found in Zimbabwe and the African continent’s rich performance history and traditions. While some elements are drawn from Zimbabwe’s traditional rituals, ceremonies, and liberation war performances (political performances born out of the liberation war era, 1964–79), others resemble anti-­apartheid agitprop performances in apartheid South Africa or radical political theatre in Kenya emblemized by names like Ngugi waThiongo, Kimani Gecau, Micere Mugo, and the late Ngugi waMirii. Hit-­and-­run theatre’s artistic and aesthetic characteristics are also derived from the Tanzanian performance tradition known as the ngonjera. A ngon­ jera is a verse drama that originated traditional Kiswahili poetic dramatic dia­ logues and songs exchanged between poets and singers. Besides the symbol­

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ism in its verse and dialogue, ngonjera is developed through an argument or a question-­and-­answer technique between those who have knowledge of an issue and those who do not.46 Although the earlier forms of ngonjera developed its propaganda unambiguously, Amandina Lihamba describes how it evolved into a subver­sive and syncretic dramatic form that blended music, narration, costumes, song, dance, slogans, settings, comedic elements, and such visual aids as posters, photographs, and charts.47 While the Tanzanian ngonjera promoted nationalist-­communist hegemonic discourse, the rise of hit-­and-­run in Zimbabwe bolstered counter-­nationalist hegemonic discourses; however, the ngon­ jera performance parallels hit-­and-­run not only because of its terseness or employment of multiple artistic forms but also due to its didactic nature and use of in-­character, discussion-­based performance. Hit-­and-­run theatre also bears striking resemblance to the 1960s guerrilla theatre techniques popularized during the U.S. civil rights movement to highlight topical political issues and to ridicule segregationist politicians, public figures, and institutions using commedia techniques. As a subgenre of political performance, hit-­and-­run draws heavily on the four Bs of political theatre (Bakh­ tin, Baraka, Boal, and Brecht) for its major aesthetic forms and performance techniques.48 Scholars like Sandra Richards caution against the notion that the West influences the rest of the world and argue against unidirectional influences in theatrical practices. Instead they talk about parallels between traditional African participatory theatrical performances and the key ­characteristics of aesthetic engagement found in Brecht’s,49 Boal’s, Bakhtin’s, Grotowksi’s, Brook’s, and Artaud’s theatres. Brecht sought to actively engage audiences to contest the subject matter and democratize performance spaces. Robert Cunlife writes that in Western theatre history, Brecht was the first theatre practitioner to appreciate the extent to which all aspects of dramatic production were suffused with ideological significance. Like both Bakhtin and Artaud, Brecht is critical of the way theatre space is divided into two wholly discrete “worlds” separated by an invisible fourth wall. . . . Brecht’s critique of the footlights of the illusionist drama thus clearly supports Bakhtin’s view that they operate as divisive, alienating structures. To this extent, his invocation to demolish the fourth wall signals a carnivalesque initiative to expose the naturalizing effects of illusionist plots and settings and to enjoin audiences to participate more actively in the theatre event.50

Embedded aesthetics enable hit-­and-­run theatre to break the fourth wall naturally. In addition to enhancing anonymity and security, the use of unconven-

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tional spaces and the severely diminished boundaries between the performance and everyday life boost audience participation in hit-­and-­run theatrical practices. Hit-­and-­run theatre transforms the performance space into a forum where “actors and spectators revolve in the same area . . . on equal terms and with equal powers, [and] improvise solutions or alternatives to the problems put forward by the show.”51 The new “aesthetic space” in hit-­and-­run has the potential to transform citizens into artists. Like invisible theatre, hit-­and-­run is also intended “to stimulate genuine dialogue, to bridge the gap between audience and actor, to transform members of the audience from passive spectators to actors, and to culminate in action in the world.”52 In such an interactive performance, participating audience members function as decoy performers, which helps the artists to enhance their anonymity and get away unnoticed. As Boal predicts, “the invisible nature of this form of theatre . . . will make the spectator participate freely and fully.”53 Audience interaction also serves as a delay strategy, because by the time authorities realize that what looks like an ordinary public verbal sparring match between a handful of “crazy guys” is actually a planned political performance, the artists have left the scene. Several aesthetic dimensions in hit-­and-­run theatre parallel forms of Boal’s theatre of the oppressed, like invisible theatre, forum theatre, and newspaper theatre. Using such a wide range of radical popular theatre traditions makes hit-­and-­run the most politically engaged theatre practiced in Zimbabwe to date. Hit-­and-­run artists view themselves as political activists on a mission. Just as in Boalian practices, hit-­and-­run theatre becomes “one of the ways in which political activity can be conducted.”54 This means hit-­and-­run theatrical performances amount to serious political activity. Does it therefore mean that hit-­ and-­run theatre is part of prohibited political activity regulated under POSA? Although its name and method place the practice in an illegal position, Boal argues that this invisible theatrical practice “does not intend to violate the law. It intends to question the legitimacy of the law, which is a very different matter altogether.”55 Hit-­and-­run theatre not only raises questions about the legality of Zimbabwe’s repressive media and security laws like POSA and AIPPA but also challenges the legitimacy of the very process that brought the autocratic regime back into power. Boal’s assertion that “most repression exists legally” also applies to Zimbabwe, where the nationalist regime passed several constitutional amendments to consolidate its hold on power.56 Hit-­and-­run theatre questions oppressive laws and customs that try to normalize oppression. Hit-­and-­run theatrical performances are usually free in parks, malls, buses and minivan taxis, pubs, and open streets. To this extent, hit-­and-­run also falls { 36 }

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into the category of “public performance,” which Bradford Martin defines as a “self-conscious, stylized tactic of staging songs, plays, parades, protests and other spectacles in public places where no admission is charged and spectators are often invited to participate, and it conveys symbolic messages about social and political issues to audiences who might not have encountered them in more traditional venues.”57 Thus, using broad theatrical styles and a wide range of performance techniques and traditions, hit-­and-­run theatre not only adapts to changing political circumstances but also carries with it a latent political potential that simultaneously and constantly tends toward revolution while promoting a progressive political agenda.

Conclusion How then does hit-­and-­run theatre differ from other popular theatre traditions? To date it ranks as the most political theatrical form and as the most anti-­establishment theatre practice in Zimbabwe. In terms of aesthetic content, hit-­and-­run theatre not only deals expressly with political themes but also addresses other pressing health and social issues. Hit-­and-­run theatre challenges the status quo in ways that are threatening enough to lead to arrests: hence the need for artists engaged in this practice to travel and stay incognito. The state’s heavy-­handedness toward dissent during the crisis decade makes hit-­and-­run theatre a risky enterprise for most artists. Out of the hundreds of groups that practice popular theatre in Zimbabwe, only about five specialize in hit-­and-­run theatre. Some level of risk is necessary in hit-­and-­run performances because artists consciously engage in a political theatre activity with an uncertain outcome. The uncertain political environment in Zimbabwe after the GNU continues to make hit-­and-­run theatre risky. Hit-­and-­run theatre’s aesthetic intentions go beyond merely conveying political messages to include consciousness raising, inciting, and mobilizing audiences. To an extent, hit-­and-­run theatre replaces some public independent media outlets banned during the crisis decade. As such it primarily deals with contemporary issues and current affairs often avoided or distorted in the state-­ controlled media. Hit-­and-­run addresses broad thematic concerns, and this explains why it is always fresh, provocative, and comfortably in sync with the political and aesthetic climate of the day. It uses a unique performance style that blends popular theatrical traditions with a firm leftist political agenda. The use of a theatrical style that embraces a grassroots counterculture gives hit-­and-­run theatre a novel aesthetic appeal. As a theatrical project that looks to unravel and { 37 }

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express the root causes of social and political ills, hit-­and-­run theatre is irrevocably associated with resistance to authority. The new form of hit-­and-­run theatre is dangerous to the state because “at its best, it excite[s] its audience if not into action at least to an awareness they had previously lacked.”58 Since hit-­ and-­run theatre in Zimbabwe calls for action, democracy, and change, it resonates with opposition politics discourse. Although hit-­and-­run theatre develops and operates independently of political parties, its objectives are congruent with the agendas of Zimbabwe’s main opposition political parties. Hit-­and-­run theatre’s preoccupation with democracy, governance, and rights issues generates intense antagonism from the autocratic regime. As Jacques Ellul contends, this theatre of opposition “is most often subversive propaganda and has the stamp of opposition. It is led by a party seeking to destroy the government or the established order.”59 Consequently, radical theatre practitioners, including hit-­and-­run theatre artists, become targets in the state’s clamp­down on opposition political institutions and activists that preach regime change; however, a key political development in early 2009 saw the signing of the unity agreement between the main feuding political parties in Zimbabwe. Western nations and international agencies stand ready to help the new government with healing and reconstruction on condition that it commits itself to political and economic reforms. Similarly, hit-­and-­run theatre activists also expect the new Zimbabwean government to immediately address the various socioeconomic and political issues they struggled for. Like Western donor countries, artists are keen to collaborate with the new unity government only if it commits to a firm and irrevocable path to inclusive and effective governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law. Whether these new political developments will cause hit-­and-­run artists to emerge from underground and partner with the new state in reconstruction and development programs remains to be seen.

Notes 1. James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 18. 2. Bonnie Burstow, “Invisible Theatre, Ethics, and the Adult Educator,” International Jour­ nal of Lifelong Education 27, no. 3 (2008): 275. 3. Ibid. 4. See Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Anchor, 1959). 5. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), xix. 6. Ibid.

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H it- ­and-­R un T heatre 7. See Augusto Boal, “Invisible Theatre,” in Re:Direction: A Theoretical and Practical Guide, ed. Rebecca Schneider and Gabrielle Cody (London: Routledge, 2002), 112–21; and Scott, Domination. 8. E. Quetzil Castañeda, “The Invisible Theatre of Ethnography: Performative Principles of Fieldwork,” Anthropological Quarterly 79, no. 1 (2006): 84. 9. Lloyd M. Sachikonye, “Whither Zimbabwe? Crisis and Democratisation,” Review of Af­ rican Political Economy 29, no. 91 (2002): 14. 10. Ibid., 14–15. 11. Brian Raftopoulos, “The Zimbabwean Crisis and the Challenges for the Left,” Journal of Southern African Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 204–5. 12. Brian Raftopoulos and Ian Phimister, “Zimbabwe Now: The Political Economy of Crisis and Coercion,” Historical Materialism 12, no. 4 (2004): 356. 13. Ibid., 371. 14. Preben Kaarsholm, “Mental Colonization or Catharsis? Theatre, Democracy and Cultural Struggle from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe,” in Politics and Performance: Theatre, Po­ etry, and Song in Southern Africa, ed. Liz Gunner (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1994), 225. 15. Ibid., 226. 16. Scott coined this term in his book Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Re­ sistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) to describe how various modes of informal political resistance operate among subordinate peasant populations in rural Malaysia. 17. For more on the function of theatre during the liberation struggle, see Preben Kaarsholm and Ross Kidd’s From People’s Theatre for Revolution to Popular Theatre for Reconstruc­ tion: Diary of a Zimbabwean Workshop (The Hague: CESO; Toronto: ICAE, 1984). 18. John Wiesman, Guerrilla Theatre: Scenarios for Revolution (New York: Anchor, 1976), 4. 19. Raftopoulos and Phimister, “Zimbabwe Now,” 359. 20. Ibid., 367. 21. Ibid., 359. 22. Ibid. 23. In less than a decade, the Mugabe regime turned the country’s economy, which had once been touted as the region’s breadbasket, into a basket case through ill-­conceived land-­ reform policies. 24. See the World Health Organization’s report “Cholera in Zimbabwe: Epidemiological Bulletin number 2,” Harare, Zimbabwe, December 20, 2008, crises/zwe/zimbabwe_cholera_epi_bulletin2_20dec2008.pdf. 25. See Amnesty International Annual Report 2008—Africa Regional Update: Selected Events Covering the Period from January to April 2008,­c794–11dd-­ac96-­b9013ebbff4b/afr460392008en.pdf. 26. Ibid. 27. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance and de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life discuss the linguistic and spatial modes of the particular ways in which resistance operates in social practice. 28. Interview with Savannah Arts artists. 29. Scott, Domination, xii. 30. It is “unwanted” only from the authorities’ perspective: a hit-­and-­run performance brings

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31. 32.

33. 3 4. 35. 36. 37. 38. 3 9. 40. 41.


4 3. 44. 4 5. 46.

47. 48. 49.


together audiences and disseminates information deemed political without clearance from the local police. According to Zimbabwean authorities, an unsanctioned theatrical assemblage constitutes an illegal political gathering and is tantamount to an opposition political meeting. Burstow, “Invisible Theatre,” 275. Cited in Robyn Dixon, “In Zimbabwe’s Theater of Fear, Dissent Plays On: To Skirt Arrest, Political Satirists Hone the Art of ‘Hit and Run’ Shows,” Los Angeles Times Online, http://­fg-­fear19-­20071119,0,4419739,full .story. Jerzy Grotowski, Towards a Poor Theatre, pref. Peter Brook (Holstebro, Denmark: Odin Teatrets Forlag, 1968), 20. Ibid., 21. Boal, “Invisible Theatre,” 115. This explains why other variations of hit-­and-­run practices are also referred to as urgent theatre. Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles A. and Odilia Leal McBride (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1985), 144. Newspapers such as the Daily News, the Tribune, and the Weekly Times were banned as part of the Mugabe regime’s crackdown on dissent in Zimbabwe. Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 144. Ibid. These are informal clusters of small-­scale manufacturing and service industries found in many Zimbabwean urban centers. These home industries manufacture or sell goods not available in the formal sectors. These range from automobile spare parts and services, electrical appliance sales and repairs, and furniture manufacturing and sales to contraband goods like stolen mobile phone handsets, etc. Emergency taxis are conventional minivans used as the primary mode of transport in most urban centers in Zimbabwe. They carry between twelve and eighteen seated passengers. Interview with Cont Mhlanga, Amakhosi Theatre’s executive artistic director. See Praise Zenenga, “Censorship, Surveillance and Protest Theatre in Zimbabwe,” The­ ater 38, no. 3 (2008): 64–83. Ibid., 73. Amandina Lihamba argues that following the Arusha declaration (February 5, 1967, outlining the principles of ujamaa [President Julius Nyerere’s vision of socialism]), the ngonjera became the official theatrical mouthpiece of the ruling party and its government in Tanzania. Amandina Lihamba, “Tanzania,” in History of Theatre in Africa, ed. Banham Martin (Cam­bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 233–46, esp. 242. Glenn D’Cruz, “Electoral Guerrilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements,” Modern Drama 49, no. 4 (2006): 539. Sandra L. Richards, “Wasn’t Brecht an African Writer? Parallels with Contemporary Nigerian Drama,” in Brecht in Asia and Africa: The Brecht Yearbook, ed. J. Fuegi and M. Silberman, vol. 14 (Hong Kong: International Brecht Society, 1989). Robert Cunlife, “The Architectonics of Carnival and Drama in Bakhtin, Artaud and Brecht,” Critical Studies 3, nos. 2–4, nos. 1–2 (1993): 48–69, esp. 57–58.

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H it- ­and-­R un T heatre 51. Augusto Boal, Legislative Theatre: Using Performance to Make Politics, trans. Adrian Jack­son (London: Routledge, 1998), 67–68. 52. Burstow, “Invisible Theatre,” 274. 53. Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 146–47. 54. Boal, Legislative Theatre, 67–68. 55. Ibid., 20. 56. Boal, “Invisible Theatre,” 119. 57. Martin D. Bradford, The Theatre Is in the Street: Politics and Public Performance in the Sixties America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004), 4. 58. George H. Szanto, Theatre and Propaganda (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978), 74. 59. Jacques Ellul, A Critique of the New Commonplaces, trans. Helen Weaver (New York: Knopf, 1968), 71.

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\ Abject No More Authority and Authenticity in the Theatrical Career of Rose McClendon — Cheryl Blac k

A Rose is just as sweet, they say by any other name. but when it comes to actresses all roses aren’t the same There is one Rose—McClendon Among our stars, the best. For poise, abandon, soulfulness, She really leads the rest. Filled with human tenderness her eyes express her soul A star, is Rose McClendon A Goddess as a whole.

From her professional debut, in 1919, until her untimely death at the age of fifty-­ one, in 1936, Rose McClendon enjoyed a unique status among African Ameri­ can theatre artists. Dubbed a “dark Duse” by critic Alexander Woollcott at the time of her Broadway debut in 1924, within a few years she was generally recognized as the “first lady of Negro drama” and one of the first ladies of the New York stage of any race, sharing critical honors in 1927 with white contemporaries like Ethel Barrymore, Ruth Gordon, and Lynn Fontanne.1 In addition to acting, McClendon also directed and wrote plays; served on several theatre advisory boards; cofounded, in 1935, the Negro People’s Theatre, which laid the groundwork for the development of the black theatre units of the Federal The{ 42 }

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atre Project (FTP); and served, for a short time before her death, as codirector of New York’s black theatre unit. Seldom in Ameri­can theatre history has an individual accomplished so much in so little time, against such odds.2 For when McClendon embarked on a professional theatrical career in 1919, she was black, she was female, and she was over thirty. Yet published scholarship on McClendon is scant, and there are a number of gaps and inconsistencies in the published record. In the invaluable History of African Ameri­can Theatre, authors James Hatch and Erroll Hill recognize the “sketchy” record of McClendon’s life, pointing to actress and activist Vinie Burrows’s one-­woman performance of McClendon’s life as a partial corrective to this historical gap.3 Burrows’s moving tribute does convey considerable information about McClendon’s life and career, but Burrows’s dramatic script is not bound by historiographic restrictions, and she has, by her admission, fictionalized certain aspects.4 To date, Jay Plum’s unpublished master’s thesis is the most comprehensive survey of McClen­ don’s career, but Plum was hampered by lack of access to archival materials that have since become available.5 Lillian Voorhees pioneered research on McClendon’s life, publishing a biographical entry on McClendon in Notable Ameri­can Women in 1971.6 Other than brief entries in biographical dictionaries, I have located only two published essays devoted exclusively to McClendon: an article by Jay Plum focusing on McClendon’s role in the formation of the black FTP units and Glenda Gill’s chapter on McClendon in her study of pioneering African Ameri­can performers.7 In her essay, Gill focuses primarily on McClendon’s vision for a Negro theatre,8 highlighting McClendon’s discontent with the roles she played, which Gill categorizes as “almost exclusively” the three racist and sexist stereotypes identified by critic Lisa M. Anderson as the Mammy, the Tragic Mulatto, and the Jezebel.9 Despite her reading of McClendon’s stereotypical casting, Gill later cites, and seems in agreement with, the contemporary critic who hailed McClendon as one who “gave to the Ameri­can theatre its first real, authentic depiction of the Negro woman.”10 It is that seeming paradox that led, in part, to this undertaking. In gratitude to and inspired by previous scholarship that laid the groundwork for this study, I am interested in expanding and clarifying the documented record of McClendon’s career with particular emphasis on Rose McClendon as a subversive force in the Ameri­can theatre who effectively challenged prevailing racist and sexist assumptions about African Ameri­can female identity during the Harlem Renaissance/New Negro era. Although McClendon’s stage roles include two characters named “Mammy” and at least five domestic servants employed by white families, my analysis considers a fourth type, largely untreated by Anderson and Gill, which seems equally, perhaps even more, significant in understanding McClendon’s unique achieve{ 43 }

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ment. That type I am calling the Abject—the suffering, helpless victim of injustice, a type in racist literature frequently connected to poverty, ignorance, and peasantry—a dehumanizing construct that may incorporate elements of other stereotypical constructs.11 Hardly a role existed at that time in the Ameri­can theatre without some racist or sexist undertone, and McClendon certainly had her share. Yet, almost all of her portrayals worked to subvert racist stereotyping, and she quickly achieved, and sustained, a peerless reputation for artistry and authenticity. This study examines the factors that allowed her subversive success, including the relative complexity of certain roles (and here this study veers from Gill’s reading of several roles) as well as her ability to undermine more stereotypical ones. Together these factors allowed her to present a new vision of African Ameri­can womanhood onstage—a vision of mature beauty, authority, and dignity that resisted identification with the prevailing mythic representations of African Ameri­cans or women in general and African Ameri­can women in particular. McClendon’s efforts to control her public image, particularly in relation to racist assumptions about black and female identity, include denying her south­ ern roots, highlighting her middle-­class domestic contentment, and shaving five years off her age. Although she was born in Greenville, South Carolina, moving to New York City at the age of six, she told newspaper reporters she was born in New York and had lived there all her life.12 She married at the age of twenty (which in at least one interview is recorded as fifteen). Although her husband, H. P. McClendon, apparently trained to be a chiropractor, and newspaper accounts invariably refer to him as “Dr. McClendon,” he worked primarily as a Pullman porter for the Pennsylvania Railroad.13 In several newspaper interviews, McClendon assured readers of her marital happiness and her culinary skills.14 Details of the McClendons’ married life are scanty; they had no children, and after 1919 their two-­career status inevitably caused a degree of geographic separation. Brief but affectionate opening-­night telegrams from her husband are included in her scrapbook at Schomburg Library, always signed “Dr. H. P. McClendon.” The fictional romance between McClendon and the actor and playwright Frank Wilson portrayed in Vinie Burrows’s solo performance is an intriguing possibility, as they did work together frequently, but I have found no evidence of such a relationship. McClendon’s scrapbook and other scattered correspondence reveal a wide fan base of affectionate friends and colleagues, including Wilson, Leigh Whipper, Abbie Mitchell, Countee Cullen, Butler Davenport, Langston Hughes, Laura Bowman, Carl Van Vechten, Franchot Tone, Bobby Lewis, and Arthur Hopkins, and she enjoyed an espe-

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cially close personal and professional relationship with the gay artist and writer Richard Bruce Nugent. Like other women of her generation, and in keeping with Thomas Postlewaite’s theory regarding the autobiographical narratives of actresses, McClendon, in newspaper interviews, minimized her personal goals and ambitions in the narrative of her career development. In the autobiographical paradigm Postle­waite describes, turning points occur with a “fortuitous and unexpected meeting” with a “grand man of the theatre.”15 This turning point occurred for McClen­don around 1916, when Franklin Sargent, founder of the Ameri­ can Academy of Dramatic Art, visited the Lafayette Players and offered to give night classes (presumably segregated) to black actors. McClendon was one of three thespians (Frank Wilson and Adele Dabney were the others) who took advantage of the opportunity.16 The New York Times reported a slightly different version of the event. In that story, Franklin Sargent told the executive secretary of the National Urban League, Eugene Kinckle Jones, that he was “planning to train a Negro actor” in order to challenge the assumption that black actors could not do serious drama, and Jones recommended McClendon.17 Both versions confirm that McClendon already had some sort of reputation as an actress, perhaps working with the Lafayette Players. The Times story also reaffirms the bias against black actors in serious drama, and McClendon became one of the few African Ameri­can actresses of her generation to receive formal training that was not exclusively musical. Sargent’s three-­year course included training in pantomime, fencing, voice, movement, and development of the imaginative and creative powers. McClendon must have been interested in the theatre for years prior to Sargent’s appearance—she had been directing children in Sunday-­ school plays and pageants at the Hope Day Nursery and St. Marks AME Church, and she either performed with the Lafayette Players or was known to them. In an interview with Crisis magazine, McClendon explained why she accepted Sargent’s offer in terms of service to others, specifically children: “I cannot say that all my life I had wanted to act. I had seen so many things badly done in churches that I wanted always to teach children what to do and when to do it.”18 Undoubtedly, McClendon was interested in church and community activism, which she continued throughout her life, but she must have also desired an individual career, which she determinedly pursued for the next two decades in a mostly hostile (racist, sexist, ageist) envir­onment. Her professional debut came in the fall of 1919 (when she was thirty-­five years old) with a Bramhall Players production of Butler Davenport’s Justice.19 The name of McClendon’s character was Miranda Wright. As this script is un-

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available, we cannot know for sure what sort of woman Miranda was, but a ­Lafayette Theatre advertisement suggests that the play was anti-­racist and subversive. Set in Atlanta with an integrated cast (including Davenport and Frank Wilson), Justice was described as “a drama of race, love and law. . . . Justice will go far to liberate the white man’s mind from prejudice. . . . [T]his drama of justice shows the way to solve this problem of the color line.” The flyer also includes an endorsement from anarchist Emma Goldman: “Justice is a great play. It should be played at once, but won’t be in the condition our theatre is in ­today.”20 Davenport was a noted progressive activist who founded the first Free Theatre (meaning no admission charged) in New York. McClendon returned to the Free Theatre in 1932 to perform in Joe Patchin’s My Lucky Star, a comedy with an integrated cast (including Wilson), and The Test, by African Ameri­can and Puerto Rican Ameri­can actor Juano Hernandez.21 I was unable to find any further information on these plays, but their authorship and venue suggest that they are not likely to have presented sexist or racist stereotypes. During the next few years following Justice, McClendon worked opposite actors Lawrence Chenault and Charles Gilpin on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit with the vaudeville sketch “White Mule,” in which McClendon played a good wife trying to reform a husband who drinks. The three were purported to command the highest salary ever paid for a sketch over the TOBA circuit.22 She also appeared with Richard B. Harrison and Frank Wilson at the Lafayette in Wilson’s romantic comedy Pa Williams’ Gal (also known as Pa Williams’ Daughter). McClendon played the title role, Hattie Davis, a young, middle-­class woman whose overbearing father demands she marry a man who turns out to be a cad. She then marries the man of her choice, a college graduate and star athlete. The New York Age described the play as the “best piece of comedy drama depicting the life of the modern Negro ever seen by this writer” and “100% Negro.”23 Several years later she played a similar comic role in Brainsweat on Broadway, as the loyal, long-­suffering wife of a man determined to sit and think his way into a fortune. The New York Times critic noted that McClendon played even this thankless role with “all the delicacy of a sensitive artist; she has a presence and a grace that are wholly admirable.”24 McClendon was introduced to mainstream white critics and audiences in the 1923–24 theatre season in the title role of Roseanne, a serious play about black life by white playwright Nan Bagby Stephens that had opened at the Greenwich Village Theatre with an all-­white cast in blackface. Illustrating the depth of racial segregation and ignorance on the part of white audiences regarding the subject matter, the program answered helpful questions like “What are ‘Colored { 46 }

the T heatrical C areer of Rose McC lendon

People?’ ” and “What are Spirituals?”25 Although the white cast, led by actress Crystal Herne, received good reviews, the producer decided after a brief run to recast the production with black actors, with McClendon in the title role. The title character, Roseanne, is a laundress, a hardworking, devout woman devoted to her family and community, especially her younger sister, whose downfall and death are caused by a treacherous preacher. With McClendon and Charles Gilpin, Roseanne opened at the Shubert-­R ivera; one critic reported a packed balcony of black spectators and skimpy white attendance, also noting that McClen­ don and Evelyn Ellis (as her sister) “registered strongly.”26 Alexander Wooll­cott praised McClendon’s “compelling nobility,” labeling her “a dark Duse rising to the call of a fine role.”27 Critics also marveled at the “uniqueness of an all Negro cast in a serious play” and “unheard of innovation.”28 Phrases used to describe McClendon’s performance included “superior” and “beautiful.”29 Playwright Rachel Crothers sent McClendon a letter praising her “beautiful” performance, and producer Mary Kirkpatrick wrote that she was “intensely interested in every moment you were on stage.”30 After a brief run in New York, Roseanne toured the black circuit, including the Lafayette in Harlem and the Dunbar in Philadelphia. Then, in 1926, came McClendon’s legendary performance as Octavie in Lawrence Stalling’s operatic Deep River. The sexist and racist components of the play, a romantic melodrama with music set in the antebellum demimondaine society of New Orleans, are clear. The female characters, including ­Octavie, are quadroons (all but Octavie were played by white actresses), and they are, or have been, the mistresses of wealthy white men. Several factors, however, allowed for the startling impact McClendon’s performance made on the Great White Way, perhaps beginning with the fact that the cast was integrated and that the beautifully dark-­skinned McClendon and the white actress Lottice Howell (in all her natural paleness) played quadroons side by side. Although Octavie has elements of gender and race stereotypes, she is closer to Dumas’s Camille than to Boucicault’s Zoe. She speaks French fluently and English with a French dialect; her long-­dead but never-­forgotten lover is even named Armand. Octavie is incurably romantic; she speaks of love rather than sex or money. She is a significant character, and she opens (and survives) the play, but it was her performance in act 3 that caused a sudden hush in the opening-night audience. Before Octavie’s entrance in act 3, the author’s stage directions read: “She is as mannerly as a queen, a marvelously matured old woman. All the garrulity of Act 1 has vanished, and she is serious and softened. She is, I hope, the strangest colored figure ever found in a Broadway play. She stands at the foot of stairs near a pedestal, back of the unconscious Hazzard, in superb control. She finally { 47 }

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speaks.”31 Reviews and anecdotes abound in rapturous responses to her performance; critics use words like “grace,” “charm,” “imperious beauty,” “proud,” “poised,” “serene,” “queenly,” and “innate aristocracy” to describe her performance.32 Woollcott expanded on the McClendon-­Duse connection he had begun with Roseanne: “She stood there for a moment, serene, silent, queenly, and I could think only of the lost loveliness that was Duse. The noble head, carved with pain, was Duse’s.”33 Richard L. Stokes, writing for the New York Evening World, found McClendon the most impressive of the cast, citing her “quiet authority.”34 These are not words that evoke mammies, tragic mulattoes, or J­ezebels. Photographs from the production provide visual evidence even more striking: here is a dark-­skinned, mature, beautifully and tastefully costumed, gorgeous black woman sharing a stage (including stage embraces) with white actors in 1926. It was a vision of black womanhood that had not previously existed in the minds of white America, and the Arthur Hopkins office was deluged with letters demanding her life history.35 Poet and journalist Alice Dunbar Nelson recorded the significance of this performance: “Years ago I dreamed of a day when great artists, black and white, might sing in opera from the same stage, without a race riot. I did not think I would live to see that day. . . . [O]ne could write forever of the haunting beauty, the art of the opera, the infinite possibilities which it opens to Negro artists, of its meaning to the race, but there is neither time nor space. But we must not forget the beautiful restrained and graceful art of Rose McClendon’s acting as Octavie. It was exquisitely well done.”36 McClendon later identified Deep River as the “most beautiful” play she had ever performed in.37 Deep River was perhaps too strange for Broadway audiences; it closed within two months, but McClendon went right into In Abraham’s Bosom by Paul Green, which opened at the Provincetown Playhouse in December 1926, eventually moving to the Garrick. According to its producer, Eleanor Fitzgerald, the play (which ultimately won a Pulitzer) had been rejected by twenty producers because it was about special problems of Negroes and demanded an all-­Negro cast.38 The play spans twenty-­plus years, and McClendon’s character, Goldie McAllister, is first seen as Abraham’s sweetheart, a lovely, good girl frankly in love with an exceptional young man who is intelligent, ambitious, and eventually, militant. As Abraham’s desires for social justice and opportunity get him increasingly in trouble and eventually murdered, Goldie is worn down into a fearful, relatively passive wife. The qualities she exhibited in performance, however, of “poignance,” and “classic restraint,” strengthened her reputation as a serious actress of formidable technical and emotional gifts.39 Moreover, although

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the T heatrical C areer of Rose McC lendon

Figure 1. Lottice Howell (left), Rose McClendon, and unidentified actor in Deep River by Frank Harling and Laurence Stallings, Imperial Theatre, 1926. Photo courtesy of Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

the protagonist is a tragic mulatto who dies, black critics generally welcomed the play as a frank revelation of virulent racism. E. Franklin Frazier deemed it a “genuine appreciation of the character of the Afro-­Ameri­can” and suggested that this kind of drama would help promote “wider participation” in Ameri­can life for African Ameri­cans.40 As Paul Green’s biographer John Herbert Roper has noted, In Abraham’s Bosom attracted progressive, reformist audience groups, including the Teachers Union, the Socialist Party, Young Israel, and the Mohegan Modern School.41 McClendon left the run of In Abraham’s Bosom in 1927 to join the cast of her most commercially successful venture, Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s Porgy, a tale of black slum life in Charleston, South Carolina—largely admired at the time (black critic Edward Perry called it a “masterpiece”) but filled with racist and sexist stereotypes (most notably the “Jezebel,” Bess; the crap-­shooting, knife-­ wielding Crown; and the drug-­dealing Sportin’ Life).42 McClen­don’s “erect”­ Serena Robbins, however, whose husband is murdered by Crown, does not fit

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neatly into stereotype, and is something of an outsider in the Catfish Row community. She is the community’s moral arbiter, variously described as the “Catfish Row aristocrat” and “the militant Christian of the alley.”43 McClen­don’s commitment to Porgy lasted about two years, including the London tour in 1929, and her performance in this long-­running hit further established her reputation as a serious dramatic actress whose hallmark traits were integrity, au­ thority, dignity, and grace. From 1930 to 1932, McClendon participated in an artistic venture noted for authenticity—NBC’s radio serial Careless Love, created and written by Carlton Moss. Careless Love consisted of one-­act plays of Negro life in the South, with musical interludes by the Southernaires Quartette. I have discovered only seventeen titles and a few brief descriptions of the scripts, with one specific reference to McClendon—the play Hard Trials featured Rose McClendon in “a good wake scene.” Educator and playwright Randolph Edmonds welcomed Careless Love as representative of an authentic Negro drama, expressing “the character and feeling of Negro people, written by a Negro pen.” Edmonds also drew a sharp distinction between Careless Love as “a serious program of plays written by one of us and about us” and the white-­authored and white-­acted Amos and Andy and others that “simply burlesque us.”44 Richard Spencer also praised Moss’s “simple stories of Negro life—of yesterday and today—stories replete with heart throbs and emotion—written by a Negro pen and brought to the radio audiences with a Negro cast.”45 Although she was regularly presenting a powerful figure onstage, in private life the petite, slender McClendon was in fragile health, possibly suffering from (and concealing) some form of cancer.46 Evidence of illness and surgery in 1930 exists in the form of well wishes, especially poetry written in her honor, from friends during this time. An ode by Richard Bruce Nugent suggests that she had an appendectomy and, possibly, a hysterectomy, in the summer of 1930. An Equinox to Rose McClendon As any and all if may be Rose There is but ten thousand and All are Rose McClendon. Even thru appendicitis and Her womanly insides flung To paint the insides of jars That hung In Edgecombe Sanitarium Then— Even iced-­tea and gin

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the T heatrical C areer of Rose McC lendon With poets, cabbage a la king And abandoned grace Oh shake that thing Rose McClendon—Star.47

In 1931 McClendon performed in one of the landmark theatre events of the era—the Group Theatre’s inaugural production, House of Connelly, another Paul Green vehicle. Glenda Gill has described McClendon’s role, Big Sue, a servant on a crumbling plantation in the early years of the twentieth century, as “yet another mammy, the stereotype of one who lives to nurture white children while neglecting her own.”48 Again, the racist implications and potential for sustaining white supremacist notions permeate both the play and the circumstances of its rehearsal and performance. However, Big Sue, and her companion, Big Sis, played by Fannie Belle De Knight, are strikingly different from the selflessly nurturing or even the loyally irascible mammies made famous on film by Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel. Dramaturgically, they seem surreal presences in an otherwise realistic play: hovering, disappearing, reappearing, laughing eerily, giving dire warnings; sometimes respectful of, sometimes contemptuous toward, the white family; participating in a weirdly sensual ritualistic dance while the aging white patriarch grovels before them. In Green’s original script, Big Sue and Big Sis strangle their new mistress, the poor white Patsy. According to Green’s biographer, “that was the script that Montrose Moses wanted [to publish], that black actors like Rose McClendon wanted to play, and that Group director Cheryl Crawford liked.”49 Group directors Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg, however, found that resolution unrealistic and pessimistic and had the two servants submit to the new Mrs. Connelly. That two white men would find aggressive resistance from a black servant “unrealistic” is telling. Not surprisingly, the characters were diversely interpreted by contemporary observers, who described them variously as ironic vassals, poetic creations, Fates, a Greek Chorus, and an Amos and Andy team. No matter how variously critics perceived the characters, however, their admiration of the performances was nearly unanimous. Richard Lockridge, writing for the New York Sun, pronounced them “the stars of the cast.”50 Establishment critics hailed the Group as “something fine and true in the Ameri­can theatre” and identified McClendon as one of the best-­k nown members of the young ensemble.51 McClendon and De Knight were not treated like Group members during the rehearsal process, however; as historian Wendy Smith writes, “they were treated with personal friendliness—Bobby Lewis could often be seen strolling arm in arm with McClendon—and they slept and ate with everyone else; but the line was drawn, { 51 }

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all the same. They were not invited to attend the afternoon lectures; nor were their scenes rehearsed according to Strasberg’s method.” Instead, Strasberg’s codirector, Cheryl Crawford, was assigned to direct McClendon and De Knight.52 The same year McClendon appeared in House of Connelly, she began to take on other responsibilities—she directed Harlem Beauty Shoppe by Edward Perry and Rider of Dreams by Ridgely Torrance for the Harlem Experimental Theatre. She also directed, and cowrote, with Bruce Nugent, an urban comedy titled Taxi Fare. According to Edward Perry, Taxi Fare was well written, popular, and timely. The plot involves a dispute over a cab fare resolved at the 135th Street police station in Harlem.53 I have been unable to find a copyright record or copy of Taxi Fare, and the possibility exists that McClendon wrote other lost or forgotten plays. Beinecke Library owns an unpublished one-­act script titled Revolt against God, credited to Rose McClendon and held in the James Weldon Johnson Collection. The characters are Adam, Eve, and God, the setting the Garden of Eden. The central character is a discontented and intellectually curious Eve, who cannot reconcile the world around her with the explanations provided by God via Adam. She has observed the natural processes of the earth, sea, and sky and finds the divine explanations illogical. Eve is equally troubled by the cruelty and sadness she observes in nature. Plants die, fruits rot, and animals hunt each other down. “Why did God allow them to happen?”54 Defying God’s commands and ­Adam’s fearful entreaties, Eve eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now gifted with greater understanding of the nature of the universe and God, Eve openly defies Him. Threatened with expulsion from the Garden, and a life of toil and pain, Eve welcomes God’s curse as a gift: “It is what I’ve longed for. Your Paradise was too easy; there was nothing to conquer.”55 Eve’s courage and moral outrage are extraordinary. In her encounter with God, she does not speak as an individual but as a spokesperson for humanity, at this moment, presumably, a community of two: “You tried to keep us in ignorance. You tried to make us believe that you were all-­good and all-­powerful and all-­k nowing. You tried to make us superstitious and you tried to make us afraid. And when we saw you for what you were—an unjust, untruthful, vain, lazy vicious tyrant—you turned us out of your Garden.”56 Despite the lack of explicit reference to race or racism, the play’s indictment of an unjust and tyrannical power might be read as a critique of white supremacy. That this retelling of the Adam and Eve myth may be read as a metaphor for black and white relations in the United States becomes even clearer in Eve’s final speech. Here the author uses the imagery of slavery (“beating” and “shackles” and “freedom”) and race (“we will paint you in your true colours”) to evoke an escape from a kind of slavery not unlike that { 52 }

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from the mythical “paradise” of southern plantation life: “we will go forward unafraid and undaunted. We will not train our children by putting temptation in their way and then beating them if they succumb. We will not keep them ignorant or superstitious. We will not tell them lies about the universe. We will paint you to them in your true colours. And our examples will shine down the coming ages as an incitement to the children of men to throw off the shackles of God. (A pause and then turning to Adam) Come, Adam, we are free.”57 Because this play lacks a copyright record or even an author’s name on the title page, its authorship must remain, for the moment, in question; however, the political and spiritual attitudes expressed in the play were precisely those held by McClendon. Decades after his collaboration with McClendon on Taxi Fare, Bruce Nugent had no memory of that particular play but some recollection of McClendon as a playwright: “We wrote whatever Rose wanted us to write. Rose had an exaggerated opinion of what we could do.”58 According to Nugent, McClendon had written and directed plays for children at the Hope Day Nursery.59 Nugent also reported that McClendon, like Eve in Revolt against God, had, at a young age, discovered God’s cruelty and had never forgiven him. As a child, she had watched a chicken flutter up in her backyard and knock over a box of laundry blueing, spilling it over the yard. When her mother came out, she punished McClendon for the deed. The incident made a strong impression on McClendon, who related it to Nugent decades later with passionate indignation: “And God knew about that and he didn’t do anything about it!” Nugent also recalled that McClendon talked aloud to God, not afraid to challenge him when she had a grievance against him. “Now, listen, God, this has gone too far.” McClendon, Nugent reported, “bawled him out.” And when she was done, she dismissed him: “Now that’s understood, forget it.”60 In 1932 McClendon performed a role she later identified as her favorite, in James Knox Millen’s anti-­lynching drama, Never No More.61 Although the character is called Mammy, she has no specific relationship with any white family, and white racists are the unequivocal enemy. She is the mammy or mother of her own family, and in the play’s harrowing conclusion she witnesses her son’s lynching. As in In Abraham’s Bosom, the woman (wife or mother) appears as a suffering witness to racist atrocity—not exactly the loyal Mammy of white delusion, nor Jezebel, nor Mulatto, but another sort of racist and sexist stereotype—­ the abject, powerless victim of, or witness to, racist or sexist violence. Critical response suggests, however, that McClendon’s performance of this “female Job” invested this potential victim stereotype with “breadth and height and human understanding”—her trademark authority and grace.62 “Quiet,” “dignity,” and “powerful” are recurring descriptors of her portrayal, although sev{ 53 }

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eral critics found her too restrained, too “patrician” to play the peasant mother-­ martyr, as the part requires a “sort of earthy maternalism, strong, emotional, simple. Her performance is constricted and poised.”63 J. Brooks Atkinson, however, thought she struck a perfect compromise: “As the mother, Miss McClendon is both majestic and humble, if such a thing is possible. She acts from the inside out. The emotion she conveys is interior; it has pride, dignity and sweetness and confirms the high esteem in which she has long been held.”64 Writing for Opportunity, Sterling Brown published a lengthy and admiring discussion of the play, which he called a “frontal attack upon lynching—one of the important plays in Ameri­can dramatic history.” Recognizing the “fatal submission” in McClendon’s role, he added, “there is courage, too,” referring to her character as “the dignified matriarch” and pointing out the racist overtones in critical reviews that objected to “her restraint” as “probably influenced by ancient stereotypes, or by what they think a mammy should be.”65 That summer, McClendon took on the role of another domestic servant, a West Indian housekeeper whose employer has been dead for twenty years, in the mystery farce The Cat and the Canary, by John Willard, at the Westchester County Center Summer Theatre. The ironically named “Mammy Pleasant” veers considerably from nurturing subservience: “If I like the new heirs I stay here. if I don’t I goes back to the West Indies.” The stage directions have Mammy Pleasant “glaring venomously,” “smiling maliciously,” exiting with “a sinister look of triumph,” and predicting death for someone in the room with a “voice surcharged with malice.”66 One critic declared McClendon “undoubtedly the world’s greatest colored actress” and wrote that she made this strange role “delightfully creepy yet very human.”67 McClendon returned to New York in the fall of 1932 to portray a charac­ ter type that had been nonexistent on downtown stages. The play was another anti-­lynching drama, Annie Nathan Meyer’s Black Souls, and the character was Phyllis Morgan. Although Gill has written that “the Mammy role lingered for her when she took the part of Phyllis,” Phyllis Morgan is a teacher in a south­ ern school modeled on Tuskegee, happily married to its principal, the loving mother to two young children, and devoted sister to a poet.68 A gracious, attractive adult woman, she receives the unwanted attentions of a white senator and benefactor of the school, rejecting him in a ringing manifesto: Senator Verne, you don’t seem to understand. I don’t love you—never have—I love my husband—I adore him. You think I’m making a ridiculous fuss for a colored woman! But let me tell you, I’m just as proud of my honor as a white woman is of hers—you know easy-­going black women and you know plenty of easy-­going white women. I tell

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the T heatrical C areer of Rose McC lendon you there’s hundreds of black women like me who love our husbands and are faithful to them.—You dare to talk about the black man’s lust. Good God! you—the kings of the earth! You—the superior white man! What do you think when God looks into your souls, and into the souls of my people—don’t you think HE sees which are really white and which are black?69

The central plot, however, concerns an interracial romance between Phyllis’s brother, a poet and veteran, and the senator’s daughter, and ends with the brother’s death by lynching. White critics generally found the play well-intentioned but overwrought, and several found McClendon’s role negligible. She was commended, however, for playing with “sharp and effective bitterness” and “authority.”70 A number of black critics were impressed with the representation of an educated middle-­ class black onstage. Vere Johns declared the performance “a true picture of the cultured and educated Negro of the south,” and a writer for the Chicago De­ fender declared the production “as bold a note in the interracial mess as was ever sounded in the theatre.”71 The Amsterdam News found the play less satisfactory but lauded McClendon’s performance (the review was subtitled “Rose McClendon’s Acting Saves the Plot”): “Rose McClendon, as Morgan’s wife, is her usual grand self, revealing her fine, inner dramatic sense that had won her the title of ‘Our First Lady of the Theatre.’ ”72 Despite these favorable responses, Geraldyn Dismond headlined her review “Critics Are Not Impressed with ‘Black Souls’ ” and found McClendon “too cold and brittle” to inspire lust in a man.73 From January through September 1933, McClendon performed the female lead in another radio series, John Henry, Black River Giant, based on Roark Bradford’s stories and starring Juano Hernandez. This white-­authored adaptation of a black folk hero was not quite as warmly welcomed as Carlton Moss’s everyday stories of black life; however, African Ameri­can musician and writer Maud ­Cuney Hare found the series “one of the most interesting programs broad­ cast during 1933, quite apart from the ordinary radio drivel (although spurious in part),” and she particularly praised the songs adapted by Hernandez and the performance by “the exceptionally fine actress of color, Rose McClendon.”74 The year 1934 brought the performances of long-­suffering wifehood in Brainsweat, a comedy mentioned earlier, and Roll, Sweet Chariot, McClendon’s third (and least successful) Paul Green vehicle. Green described Roll, Sweet Chariot, which was formerly known as Potter’s Field, as a “symphonic drama” presenting the generally miserable lot of southern Negroes in a non-­realistic, symbolic manner, with a measured pace, chanted dialogue, and musical underscoring. McClendon played another long-­suffering wife (of an abusive, blind musi{ 55 }

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cian) and mother (of an escaped-­convict-­turned-­evangelist son). John Chap­ man praised the cast in general, but Wilella Waldorf noted that McClendon seemed “hopelessly lost somewhere amid the sobbers at the funeral.”75 In May 1935, McClendon appeared briefly, but notably, as a character not identified racially in Archibald MacLeish’s poetic, anti-­capitalist Panic. Panic featured an integrated cast that included Orson Welles, Zita Johann, and ­Osceola Archer, with choreography by Martha Graham and design by Jo Mielziner. The following is an excerpt from one of McClendon’s eloquent speeches: Now that the roof ’s riddled we see again! stars march and the mute indifferent dark has purposes not for us but touching us!—turn as we must!— die as we can! There’s something stronger than we that comes with the starved—the darkened fires: Some power desiring Harm to us all: and to him too.76

Panic played only three special performances, as a benefit for the New Theatre, but McClendon’s performance was pronounced outstanding.77 By 1933, poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen had both written roles for McClendon, who was indisputably one of the most admired actresses of her era. Cullen had adapted Medea, Chick Austin had designed a Chirocoesque set with Minoan costumes, and according to John Houseman, a production was planned for the winter of 1934. But Houseman had another commitment that delayed the production, and McClendon accepted the role of Cora Lewis in Hughes’s Mulatto. The sensationalism of this melodrama of the tragic mulatto (Cora’s son, Robert, who kills his white father and shoots himself to avoid lynching, is the title character)—was intensified by producer Martin Jones’s rewriting (he eventually claimed credit as coauthor). McClendon seemed to try to resist the more lurid aspects of her own character (the housekeeper/mistress of a white southerner) through performance: “Miss McClendon as the downtrodden housekeeper bears her grievous loads with strength and fortitude.”78 Wilella Waldorf noted that McClendon did not seem to feel particularly at home in the ranting over the corpse scene but “was helpful in the earlier passages.”79 The role was a dramatically powerful one, however; compared to the passive suffering of Goldie in In Abraham’s Bosom or the mother in Never No More, Cora does give her son a gun, providing him at least with the ability to { 56 }

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cheat the lynch mob; she does finally lash out at the man she has served; and at least one of their three children seems to break away. The play was a hit; illness, however, forced McClendon to leave the show in December 1935. Two white actresses, first Gertrude Bondhill and then Lucille Laverne, assumed the role.80 That this black role, written by a black playwright and originated in performance by a black actress, would go to not just one but two white actresses after her departure, highlights how anomalous McClendon’s career was, and how difficult it was, even in 1935, for black actors to be cast in serious roles. It was a circumstance McClendon was aware of and sought to change. She spent the last five years of her life working for more and better opportunities for all black theatre artists, or as she put it, “a new Negro stage . . . to develop not an isolated Paul Robeson, or an occasional Bledsoe or Gilpin, but a long line of first-­rate actors.”81 Her efforts included her work for the Harlem Experimental Theatre as board member, director, and playwright and her founding of the Negro People’s Theatre, which performed Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty (codirected by McClendon and Chick McKinney) in June 1935 for an audience of more than four thousand. The Negro People’s Theatre formed the foundation of and was essentially absorbed by the Harlem unit of the FTP, codirected by McClendon and John Houseman until her health required her withdrawal from this project as well as her performing career. In addition to her work with these organizations, McClendon served on the boards of several theatre organizations dedicated to social change, including the Theatre Union, Herbert V. Gellendre’s Negro Repertory Company, and the New Theatre League, and participated in benefits on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys, the National Urban League, the Brooklyn Urban League, the Hope Day Nursery, and the Hunton School, a project of the Harlem YMCA.82 McClendon died, at the age of fifty-­one, in July 1936. Newspapers reported the cause of death as pneumonia, developed from pleurisy.83 Friends and fans flocked to the funeral at Grace Congregational Church, and Abbie Mitchell and the Hall Johnson Choir sang her favorite songs, including “Thou Wilt Keep Her in Perfect Peace” and “Steal Away to Jesus.” Flowers covering her casket came from Langston Hughes, the Negro Theatre, the Gilpin Players, Abbie Mitchell, Georgette Harvey, and Alla Nazimova. Others attending included Fredi Washington, Bobby Lewis, Richmond Barthes, Edna Thomas, Jack Carter, and John Houseman. Published tributes at the time recognized her as one of the greatest actresses of her generation but also as one of the most influential, whose career was significant for its social as well as its aesthetic impact. The New York Times recognized her as “a crusader for the advancement of the Negro in the theatre.” The New York Herald Tribune similarly identified her as an “uplifter of her race { 57 }

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in arts,” commending her steady interest in “the advancement of the Negro Theatre, believing it offered one of the best mediums for an honest portrayal of the Negro’s part in Ameri­can life as against the more commonly accepted antics in Harlem night clubs.”84 Opportunity magazine pointed out the significance of McClendon’s having given “to the Ameri­can theatre its first real, authentic depiction of the Negro woman.”85 And Theatre Arts editor Edith Isaacs hailed McClendon as a “gallant artist who through a long career carried the torch high and passed it on to a younger generation.”86 Shortly after her death, and in honor of her memory, two members of that younger generation, Dick Campbell (who made his Broadway debut as McClendon’s son in Brainsweat) and his wife, Muriel Rahn, founded the Rose McClendon Players, whose roster of aspiring artists included, in addition to Campbell and Rahn, actors Frederick O’Neal and Ossie Davis, playwright Lofton Mitchell, and designer Perry Watkins. Plays in their repertoire included Ferdinand Voteur’s A Right Angle Tri­ angle, George Norford’s Joy Exceeding Glory, Allan Scott and George Haight’s Goodbye Again.87 In a culture that was overtly racist, sexist, and ageist, a dark, slender black woman nearing middle age embarked on a professional career as a dramatic actress. Against all odds, she succeeded, working steadily (almost exhaustively) for nearly twenty years onstage and in radio, appearing in several of the era’s most celebrated works, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning In Abraham’s Bosom, the long-­running commercial hit Porgy, the debut offering of the influential Group Theatre’s House of Connelly, and the most successful Broadway play by a black author of that era, Mulatto. She won her acting laurels primarily in serious dramatic roles, and the image she presented to her audiences was one of maturity, dignity, grace, integrity, intelligence, and authority, an image she reinforced in her private life. Her career was not equal to her talents, but to say that she made the most of her opportunities is an understatement. The degree to which McClendon was able to subvert racist and sexist representations varied from role to role. Although few roles for women are devoid of sexist overtones, and few roles for black women are devoid of racist and sexist undertones (now, and even more so in McClendon’s time), she avoided the most typical of typecasting—she was not cast as a tragic mulatto (although she appeared in plays with such characters, usually male); she was never a Jezebel (although Octavie might have been a temptress in her youth); and although she portrayed domestic servants in three plays, they all veer substantially from the devoted, “neutered mammy” who lives to serve a white family, having no family of her own, or placing the white family’s needs before her own.88 The McClen{ 58 }

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don role closest to this type would seem to be Cora in Mulatto, the housekeeper and mistress of a southern brute whose protest against his cruel treatment of their children comes tragically too late. McClendon faced gender as well as racial restrictions. In almost all of her roles she was significantly identified in relation to a man—as daughter, wife, mother. In one instance, her maternal/sororal relation is with another woman, a younger sister—but in all cases she is gendered as nurturing, faithful, frequently long-­suffering. The most prevalent racist and sexist stereotype McClendon had to overcome was the Abject—the suffering, passive victim of, or witness to, violence and death. She played such roles repeatedly, in Roseanne, In Abraham’s Bosom, Porgy, Never No More, Black Souls, Roll, Sweet Chariot, and Mulatto. These roles are potentially dehumanizing, but McClendon invested them with intelligence and dignity, risking critical complaint that she was not sufficiently abject. Given the nature of so many of her roles, in which she was a witness to the suffering and deaths of husbands, sons, brothers, and sisters, it was perhaps this ability—to portray the suffering of injustice and pain without becoming an abject object of pity—that was her most remarkable achievement. Even in those roles that included the greatest potential for reinforcing racist and sexist stereotyping, her “innate aristocracy,” her dignity, and her authority resisted such reinforcement. McClendon’s quiet nobility challenged the racist and sexist notion that abjection was a “natural” state for blacks or women, or, especially, black women. That a black southern woman could face a lynch mob with “aristocratic restraint” confounded (and annoyed) some white critics, who were probably only partially aware of how profoundly she was disturbing their preconceptions. That the image Rose McClendon conveyed—of mature and dark beauty, intelligence, dignity, authority—was so startling and anomalous to white audiences and critics highlights the degree to which racist and sexist representations had fixed themselves in the minds of white and, to some degree, black Ameri­cans. The legacy of those inauthentic representations still lingers, but for nearly two decades, the presence of Rose McClendon steadily and persistently challenged them. And she inspired a new generation to pick up her torch and carry on.

Notes The poem that serves as the epigraph to this essay is Ann Lawrence’s “To Rose McClendon,” June 1930, in Rose McClendon Scrapbook, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York City. Research for this article was funded in part by University of Missouri Research Board and NEH grants.

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C heryl Blac k 1. This is a reference to the Morning Telegraph awards for meritorious performances of the 1926–27 season, awarded by a vote of eighteen Manhattan and Brooklyn newspaper dramatic critics. Female honorees, besides McClendon, included Pauline Lord, Ruth Gordon, Helen Menken, Lynn Fontanne, Ethel Barrymore, Blanche Yurka, and Jane Cowl. New York Times, June 12, 1927, X1. 2. Following what still seems to be standard usage, I use “Ameri­can” here to refer to theatre in the United States. 3. Erroll G. Hill and James V. Hatch, A History of African Ameri­can Theatre (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 314. 4. Vinie Burrows, Rose McClendon: Harlem’s Gift to Broadway, VHS, in Theatre on Film Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation [hereafter NYPLPA]. Burrows discussed minor instances of artistic license, including the invention of a romance between McClendon and actor Frank Wilson in her performance text, in a July 24, 2003, e-­mail to the author. 5. Jay Plum, “Broadway, Harlem, and the Federal Theatre Project: The Theatrical Careers of Rose McClendon” (master’s thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, 1991), 78. Apparently, the first volume of McClendon’s two-­volume scrapbook, now housed at Schomburg Library, was missing in 1990 when Plum was conducting research. 6. Lillian W. Voorhees, “Rose McClendon,” in Notable Ameri­can Women, 1607–1950: A Bio­ graphical Dictionary, ed. Edward T. James (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1971), 2:449–50. 7. See Jay Plum, “Rose McClendon and the Black Units of the Federal Theatre Project: A Lost Contribution,” Theatre Survey 33, no. 2 (1992): 144–53; and Glenda Gill, “Crucible and Community: The Vision of Rose McClendon,” in her No Surrender! No Retreat! Af­ rican Ameri­can Pioneer Performers of Twentieth-­Century Ameri­can Theater (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 21–33. 8. McClendon’s vision of a Negro theatre involved developing a consistent tradition of producing plays about the Negro experience and developing Negro theatre artists. 9. Gill, No Surrender! 21; see also Lisa M. Anderson, Mammies No More: The Changing Im­ age of Black Women on Stage and Screen (Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield, 1997). 10. Opportunity, August 1936, 228; see also Gill, No Surrender! 21 and 30. 11. Although I employ the term “abject” primarily in its traditional usage as “existing in a lowly state or condition; cast down in spirit; and showing helplessness or resignation” (http://www.merriam-­, in this context the usage also resonates with the political deployment of the concept of “abjection” as theorized by Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and others to critique power relations in society, particularly the outcast status of women and other minorities. See Julia Kristeva, Powers of Hor­ ror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); Sara Beardswith, Julia Kristeva: Psychoanalysis and Modernity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004); Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993). 12. Mistakenly reported as Greenville, North Carolina, in Gill, No Surrender! 22, and in Hatch and Hill, History of African Ameri­can Theatre, 314. On McClendon’s incorrect reporting of her birthplace, see Grace Nash McClendon to Lillian Voorhees, April 5, 1960, in Lillian Voorhees Papers, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans; see also Voorhees, “Rose McClendon,” 449–50. Although several newspaper articles cited New York City as McClendon’s birthplace, in 1932 Ralph Matthews correctly identified it as Greenville. See

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14. 15.

16. 17. 18.

19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24.

25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32.

Matthews, “Looking at the Stars,” Afro-­Ameri­can, April 30, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. Matthews also reported on McClendon’s happy marriage and the fact that she smoked Chesterfields and loved to read. Dr. McClendon would seem to have been one of scores of African Ameri­cans denied entry into professions despite their education and training, a circumstance notably dramatized in Angelina Weld Grimkè’s Rachel. A program for Roll, Sweet Chariot notes that Rose McClendon is married to a “Harlem physician.” Program in McClendon Scrapbook. See Edward Perry, “Impressions,” Inter-­State Tattler, June 20, 1930; Ralph Matthews, “Looking at the Stars,” Afro-­Ameri­can, April 30, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. Thomas Postlewaite, “Autobiography and Theatre History,” in Interpreting the Theatri­cal Past: Essays in the Historiography of Performance, ed. Thomas Postlewaite and Bruce A. McConachie (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1989), 260. Abbie Mitchell, unpublished memoir, Mercer Cook Papers, Moorland-­Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. “Urban League Protegées,” New York Times, March 25, 1928, 124. “Dramatis Personae,” The Crisis 34 (April 1927): 55. Although the story of McClendon’s formal training is frequently (if somewhat variously) recounted, none of the accounts record the specific dates—as the Ameri­can Academy of Dramatic Art’s course was typically three years, and her professional debut is generally listed as the 1919 production of Justice, it is assumed that she began her studies around 1916. Mistakenly reported by Jay Plum as the play of the same title by John Galsworthy. Plum, “Broadway, Harlem, and the FTP,” 36. Lafayette Theatre advertisement, in Leonard C. Archer, Black Images in the Ameri­can Theatre: NAACP Protest Campaigns, stage, screen, radio, and television (Brooklyn: Pageant-­ Poseidon, 1973), 151. New York Times, June 18, 1932, 9, and July 9, 1932, 7. Chicago Defender, January 3, 1925. New York Age clipping, n.d., McClendon Scrapbook. Brooks Atkinson, “On the Advantage of Using the Mind—Brainsweat with a Negro Cast,” New York Times, April 5, 1934, clipping in McClendon Scrapbook. I could not locate a copy of this script, but descriptions may be found in reviews of the production in McClen­don Scrapbook, and the Brainsweat clipping file, NYPLPA. Roseanne program, Roseanne clipping file, Theatre Collection, NYPLPA. Roseanne clipping, March 19, 1924, paper unidentified, Roseanne clipping file. Alexander Woollcott, “The Stage,” New York World, March 11, 1924, Roseanne clipping file. Three unidentified clippings, applauding performers, express similar sentiments at the “innovation” of an all-­Negro company, in McClendon Scrapbook. “Roseanne Presented by Colored Players,” Philadelphia Record, April 1, 1924, in Theatre Scrapbook, Schomburg; “Negroes Play Roseanne,” New York Times, March 11, 1924, 16. Rachel Crothers to Rose McClendon, March 11, 1924, and Mary Kirkpatrick to Rose McClen­don, March 11, 1924, McClendon Scrapbook. Laurence Stallings, Deep River, typescript, act 3, p. 10, Theatre Collection, New York Library of the Performing Arts. Reviews in McClendon Scrapbook and Deep River clipping file, Theatre Collection, ­N YPLPA.

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C heryl Blac k 33. Alexander Woollcott, New York World, October 5, 1926, quoted in The Crisis 34 (April 1927): 55. 34. Richard L. Stokes, “Realm of Music,” New York Evening World, n.d., McClendon Scrapbook. 35. Unsigned clipping, New York Evening World, October 24, 1926, McClendon Scrapbook. 36. Alice Dunbar Nelson, “As in a Looking Glass,” Washington Eagle, n.d., in McClendon Scrapbook. 37. Frank Byrd, “Rose McClendon,” Interstate Tattler, March 24, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. 38. Helen Deutsch and Stella Hanau, Provincetown: A Story of the Theatre (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1931), 149. 39. Pittsburgh Courier, January 2, 1927, in McClendon Scrapbook. Additional, similar critical comments in reviews in McClendon Scrapbook and In Abraham’s Bosom clipping file, NYPLPA. Performing Arts. 40. Edward Franklin Frazier, “The Negro’s Struggle to Find His Soul,” unpublished typescript, ca. 1927, Edward Franklin Frazier Papers, Moorland-­Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, quoted in John Herbert Roper, Paul Green: Playwright of the Real South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003), 108. 41. Roper, Paul Green, 108. 42. Edward Perry, “Porgy Did 90,000 Gross in Six Weeks; Race Payroll $3,000 for 54 People,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 3, 1929, in Theatre Scrapbook, Schomburg. 43. J. Brooks Atkinson, New York Times, September 14, 1929, 24. “Erect” is also his descriptor for McClendon’s performance. See also DuBose Heyward, “The Casting and Rehearsing of Porgy,” New York Times, October 22, 1927, in McClendon Scrapbook. 44. Randolph Edmonds, “The Little Theatres,” Afro Ameri­can, November 21, 1931, in Theatre Scrapbook, Schomburg. 45. Richard Spencer, “Southland Sketches on NBC,” paper unidentified, in Theatre Scrapbook, Schomburg. See also “Eva Taylor in Careless Love,” Amsterdam News, January 20, 1932, “Radio” clippings file, Schomburg. Searches at the Schomburg, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Broadcast History have yielded no trace of these plays. 46. Although newspaper obituaries report the cause of McClendon’s death as pneumonia, John Houseman identified her illness as cancer, which was possibly masked because of the stigma attached to cancer during this era. John Houseman, Run-­thru (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 179. See also Gill, No Surrender! 30. 47. Richard Bruce Nugent, “An Equinox to Rose McClendon,” June 1930, manuscript of poem in McClendon Scrapbook. 48. Gill, No Surrender! 28. 49. Roper, Paul Green, 159. 50. Richard Lockridge, review of House of Connelly, New York Sun, September 29, 1931; see additional reviews in McClendon Scrapbook and House of Connelly clipping file, Theatre Collection, NYPLPA. 51. J. Brooks Atkinson, “The Play,” New York Times, September 29, 1931, 22. 52. Wendy Smith, Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931–40 (New York: Knopf, 1990), 41. 53. Edward G. Perry, Amsterdam News, January 2, 1931, in Theatre Scrapbook, Schomburg. See also Brenda Ray Moryck, “Harlem Experimental Theatre Gives 3 Plays,” New York Age, May 2, 1931, in McClendon Scrapbook. 54. [Rose McClendon], Revolt against God, 8, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Yale Col-

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the T heatrical C areer of Rose McC lendon lection of Ameri­can Literature, Beinecke Library. In 1957 Harold Jackman gave the script of Revolt against God along with some scripts from the John Henry radio series to Carl Van Vechten, who was instrumental in creating the James Weldon Johnson Collection, telling Van Vechten that “these things belonged to Rose McClendon and were given to me.” See Jackman to Van Vechten, April 26, 1957, Van Vechten Papers, Yale Collection of Ameri­can Literature, Beinecke Library. 55. Ibid., 16. 56. Ibid., 18. 57. Ibid., 19. 58. Interview with Bruce Nugent in James V. Hatch, Artists and Influences (New York: Hatch-­ Billops Collection, n.d.), 89. 59. Thomas H. Wirth, ed. Bruce Nugent: Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), 214. 60. Hatch, Artists and Influences, 90–91. 61. Byrd, “Rose McClendon.” 62. Robert Garland, “The Colored Folks Act Mr. Millen’s Never No More,” New York World Telegram, January 9, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. 63. John Anderson, Evening Journal, January 8, 1932; see also Gilbert Gabriel, New York Ameri­can, January 8, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. 64. J. Brooks Atkinson, New York Times, January 8, 1932, 27. 65. Sterling Brown, Opportunity, February 1932. 66. John Willard, The Cat and the Canary (New York: Samuel French, 1927). 67. Unsigned clipping from the [Westchester?] Daily Reporter, August 16, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. 68. Gill, No Surrender! 29. 69. Annie Nathan Meyer, Black Souls, in Strange Fruit: Plays on Lynching by Ameri­can Women, ed. Kathy A. Perkins and Judith L. Stephens (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 138–76. 70. The quotes are from the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Daily News, respectively; see also reviews from the New York Times, New York World Telegram, and New York Evening Post, March 31, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. 71. Vere Johns, “Black Souls,” New York Age, April 9, 1932; and “Black Souls,” Chicago De­ fender, April 9, 1932, both in McClendon Scrapbook. 72. W. C. C., “ ‘Black Souls’ Lacks Appeal,” Amsterdam News, April 9, 1932, in McClendon Scrapbook. 73. Geraldyn Dismond, “Critics Are Not Impressed with ‘Black Souls,’ ” Afro-­Ameri­can, April 9, 1932. 74. Maud Cuney Hare, Negro Musicians and Their Music (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1936), 155. 75. John Chapman, unidentified paper, October 3, 1934, and Wilella Waldorf, New York Post, October 3, 1934, clippings in McClendon Scrapbook. 76. Archibald MacLeish, Panic: A Play in Verse (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935), 39–40. 77. Robert Garland, review of Panic, New York World Telegram, March 16, 1935, in McClendon Scrapbook. 78. New York Herald Tribune, October 25, 1935, clipping in Mulatto clipping file, Theatre Collection, NYPLPA.

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C heryl Blac k 7 9. Wilella Waldorf, New York Post, October 25, 1935, in McClendon Scrapbook. 80. “Rose McClendon Ill,” New York Times, December 9, 1935, 25. 81. Rose McClendon, “As to a New Negro Stage,” New York Times, June 30, 1935, X1. McClendon modestly refrained from including her own name in this list. 82. “Actors to Aid Southern Boys,” New York Amsterdam News, May 4, 1932, 7; see also New York Post, November 14, 1933, clipping in McClendon file, Theatre Collection, NYPLPA, and program, In Abraham’s Bosom, benefit performance, in McClendon Scrapbook. 83. New York Times, July 14, 1936, New York Daily News, July 14, 1936, and New York Ameri­ can, July 14, 1936, clippings in McClendon file, Theatre Collection, NYPLPA. See also Amsterdam News obituary, July 18, 1936, in McClendon Scrapbook. 84. New York Times, July 14, 1936, and New York Herald Tribune, July 14, 1936, clipping in McClendon file, Theatre Collection, NYPLPA. 85. Opportunity, August 1936, 228. 86. Edith Isaacs, The Negro in the Ameri­can Theatre (New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1947), 12. 87. Dick Campbell, interview with Jean Hutson, May 5, 1982, audiotape, Schomburg Library. See also New York Times, November 27, 1938, 47, May 18, 1939, 30, and October 17, 1939, 31. 88. L. M. Anderson, Mammies No More, 10–11.

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\ How Does the Show Go On? Theatre for Development in Post-­election Kenya — C hristopher C onnelly

Practitioners in the Theatre for Development movement have always faced difficult challenges. Because their performances are developed with, for, and about communities—often of poor and marginalized constituencies—civic disruptions within these communities can create extreme obstacles to performance. The violence in Kenya following the disputed presidential election of December 2007 caused mayhem in areas where a medley of ethnic groups once lived together peacefully, including in the slums of Kibera and Mathare, where more than half of Nairobi’s citizens live (more than 800,000 people live in Kibera alone). These areas have seen some of the worst violence. These areas are also where several Theatre for Development groups focus their performances. The inherent difficulties for theatre groups performing in partnerships with these kinds of communities become extreme when the communities as well as the theatre groups are composed of opposing political factions and ethnic groups. In the United States, productions may face crises, but rarely are they life-­threatening. In an environment of political strife and violence among neighbors, how does the show go on? Theatre for Development groups such as the Peoples’ Popular Theatre in Nairobi (PPT); Shining Home for the Community (SHOFCO), a Youth for Youth Service Organization in ­Kibera; and REPACTED’s (Rapid Effective Participatory Action in Community Theatre Education and Development) Magnet Theatre in the city of Nakuru have shown that it does. In January 2008 my six-­year-­old son asked me to promise him that I would not go back to Kenya until, in his words, “the war is over.” While the violence that erupted in Kenya after the disputed presidential elections is not usually { 65 }

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r­ eferred to as a war, its results were much the same. The country descended into turmoil after a deeply troubled presidential election in December. The dispute released decades of frustration about political, economic, and land issues, pitting opposition supporters against members of the president’s ethnic group and groups perceived to support the government. More than a thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were forced from their homes. Although the violence appeared to be political and not ethnic, in Kenya it is often difficult to discern a difference between these motivations. Kenya has more than forty ethnic groups. Incumbent president Kibaki is of the dominant group, the Kikuyu, whereas Odinga, his political rival, is of Luo heritage, the second-­largest group. The disputed national election ignited widespread violence pitting the Kikuyu against others, especially the Luo. As neighbors killed neighbors, this violence at times raised the specter of the genocidal violence of Rwanda and created fears among Kenyans of a prolonged civil war. These events have deeply affected the relationships between the multiethnic communities and the Theatre for Development groups with whom they have formed partnerships, as well as the inner workings of the multiethnic theatre companies themselves. When daily life in these communities becomes marked by murder, beatings, destruction of property, and displacement, as it did after the election, maintaining a theatre program in them becomes a very dangerous endeavor. The practice of Theatre for Development generally includes approaches such as participatory theatre, popular theatre, community theatre, legislative theatre, theatre in health education, educational theatre, and entertainment. The theories of Brazilians Augusto Boal and Paolo Freire have become pervasive in academic discussions of Theater for Development. Boal, through the theatre, and Freire, through public education, emphasize empowerment through consciousness-­raising and an awareness of self and society to lead to individual and institutional transformation. They advocate for a form of communication and education that is reflective and incites action both in acting onstage and in daily life as a fundamental principle for democratization. Although many members of community-­based Theatre for Development groups are either unacquainted with or only slightly familiar with Boal and Freire, their work is of the kind that Boal and Freire wrote about, supported, and practiced. PPT and groups like them function at a grassroots level, focusing far less on theory and much more on practice by concerning themselves with the daily lives of the people in the communities where they perform. In the United States, the term community theatre generally refers to non­ academic amateur play production with a primary goal to entertain; it is usually { 66 }

theatre for Development in Post- ­election Kenya

deliberately devoid of social and political commentary or content that might possibly be offensive to the community. The work of the Theatre for Development is community theatre with a very different agenda; their community-­ based performances strive to change existing texts or create new texts or improvisational frames to address community concerns. Performances are topical and localized in their focus to their audiences, and audience participation serves to promote social and political awareness and action after the performance is over. Through a process of drawing audience members into the characters’ ethical dilemmas, spectators make active choices that may affect the performance and its narrative outcome. Using active and unpredictable audience participation may increase the possibility of artistic failure for the performers, but it has the potential to enhance the development of community awareness of an actual problem that will outlast the performance itself. These performances can provide the opportunity for community members to integrate and interact in order to learn about common problems and share an experience that could enable them to make individual and collective appraisals of their hopes, aspirations, norms, beliefs, and practices. In effect, theatre popular to the people plays a role in solving the socioeconomic, political, and moral conflicts in the society. Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, often considered the father of the Theatre for Development movement in Kenya, says: “It is the assumption that community theatre is performance about the people by the people for the people. It is about celebrating their struggle to change their social environment and in the process changing themselves. It is about communities in motion performing their dreams for a better day tomorrow. It is about the self-­empowerment of a community.”1 PPT, SHOFCO, and REPACTED’s Magnet Theatre use theatre to address and promote dialogue on issues facing some of the poorest communities in ­Kenya, such as education, HIV/AIDS, gender equality, and poverty reduction. These groups usually perform in non-­theatre forums, including facilities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), village centers, churches, parks, and open markets, often in Nairobi slums such as Kibera and Mathare. ­REPACTED’s Magnet Theatre performs in similar areas in Nakuru. Offering theatre performances for the poorest, instead of the wealthiest, audiences is an essential part of many Theatre of Development projects. The purpose is to bring performances to the people in their own settings without the social and economic barriers often found in traditional theatre venues. Furthermore, their aim is to address issues relevant to the audience’s community and, through a combination of education and entertainment, to stir the emotions, not for a catharsis that dissipates, but to provoke action that empowers. { 67 }

C hristopher C onnelly

These theatre groups do not stand apart from the community, and the issues that affect the community members affect company members. This connection became clear to me during the recent post-­election violence. Multiethnic composition of the communities was reflected within the diversity of the theatre companies. All of the above-­mentioned groups consist of several ethnic groups, including Kikuyu, Luo, and Kalenjin. According to the Human Rights report Ballots to Bullets: Organized Political Violence and Kenya’s Crisis of Gov­ ernance, these three groups organized and carried out the majority of the violence.2 This situation affected the theatre groups both externally and internally. Kenya has a long history of ethnic violence, and several of these groups created performances in civic education in the weeks before the election. Yet, the suddenness and ferocity of the violence surprised many people. Rosemary Wanjala of PPT described herself as “being Luhya but looking like a Luo,” with the effect that she was unable to leave her home for a month.3 Dennis Kimanbo of REPACTED described the conditions in Nakuru: “One unique thing about our organization was that most of us were saved during the violence due to the fact the communities’ members knew [us] from the work we do there, that is community outreaches on health issues . . . but one of us almost lost his life going to save one of the group members when they were attacked by gangs in their area.”4 Members of SHOFCO reported being displaced and made ­homeless. During this period of violence, theatre activities became difficult and life-­ threatening, if not impossible. Yet, these companies attempted to continue their missions. Dennis Kimanbo said REPACTED endeavored to quell the violence by “spreading peace messages through the mobile phone to the youths who were participating in the war. Ensuring that those targeted in worst hit areas could get to safety and this we did by sending them airtime which they used to call for escort. We also housed some of the displaced peoples in our homes. We also went to visit the internally displaced in the camps and took them food stuffs and clothes since they were in need. We visited the fighting communities and held peace forums with them in order for them to stop fighting. We held community theater outreaches in some of the sites which were adversely effected and taught them the need to live peacefully.”5 PPT, led by Kimingichi Wabende, held a series of programs with company members and University of Nairobi students to reflect on whether, by omission or commission, they had played a part in the violence. In one session it was revealed that one of the Kikuyu students who was chased from Kericho was hosted by the family of a Luo friend and classmate in Nairobi. The students and company members supported one another, sometimes financially, during the crisis.6 After an agreement forming a national coalition government with power { 68 }

theatre for Development in Post- ­election Kenya

shared between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, the violence subsided, but these theatre groups continued to look for ways to build peace by using participatory theatre techniques within the affected communities. These theatre artists hope the creation of performances and interactions with communities can serve as a medium for healing and reconciliation in the same way that theatre has been used in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide. One of the primary goals of the Rwandan group Isoko in Kigali is to provide safe spaces for discussion and healing through theatre. Safe space is a special concern for young Rwandans. This provided the impetus for another NGO in Rwanda, Never Again Rwanda, to create a youth theatre festival in which twelve teenagers created a play around the theme of reconciliation, The Question Mark, in which a survivor of the genocide falls in love with the nephew of a perpetrator. The group toured the play to three different provinces in Rwanda.7 SHOFCO shares this focus on the children and teenagers, since it is located in the Kenyan slum of Kibera, where more than half of its estimated 800,000 residents are under the age of fifteen. Kibera suffers from massive unemployment, an HIV/AIDS infection rate of more than 15 percent, and high population density (with an average of fifteen thousand people living in the area of a soccer field). Because of these factors, as well as the ethnic divisions within the slum, Kibera experienced large waves of violence after the election. In July 2009, SHOFCO youths from Kibera presented Tutafutane (To Find Each Other), a play about post-­election violence directed by Jessica Posler and Kennedy Odede, as a means to educate and foster dialogue about what the young people of Kibera experienced during those days.8 During the widespread violence, due to safety concerns for audiences and performers alike, theatre groups were unable to enter areas where they had regularly and recently performed. There was also a widespread fear of a repeat of the violent and sometimes lethal interventions of the police, as there were in the days following the election, especially in Kibera. As soon they were able, PPT and REPACTED’s Magnet Theatre held peace forums that used role-­playing and community discussions to address the violence. As Kimingichi Wa­bende explains: Art has lived alongside conflict all the time. Given this scenario, theatre is then an available methodology as our stories have conflicts relative to life here. Dramatic conflict gives room for debate and views on how to resolve conflict situation. People are able to talk about the conflict without [the] bitterness and inhibitions that come with real life conflict. The dilemma for organizations that are working on conflict especially now is that they do not have a clear way of dealing with it . . . without personalizing and trivializing the national agenda for the process of healing and reconciliation. This

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C hristopher C onnelly artistic mode is best placed since it gives us options that are similar to life, that which people can easily relate to their situations during and after the performances, for example “ooh, this is how its supposed to be.”9

The dilemma discussed by Wabende points to the challenges of creating open discussions within communities where residents have very strong reasons to distrust each other. One method of raising awareness of others’ perspectives while lowering the threat to personal well-­being is the use of role-­play. As Frances Harding explains: [Role-­play] allows people to explore the potential of their own physical presence as they realize that they hold within themselves the power to present themselves in several different ways to the society. A distinctive feature of Theatre for Development is how it fictionalizes the narrative which emerges from the accounts of the daily lives of the local people. In constructing the narratives, people project characters who are amalgam[s] of the people they know—including themselves—and then go on to play the characters which they have created in the story they have created. This gives people control over content and presentation and allows individuals to “inch forward” in the creation and presentation of a character they purport to be, and ultimately in the definition of self.10

Role-­play has the potential to allow both victims and attackers to play roles and have their true identities protected in a public forum. It may also allow them to play the other role to address unresolved issues within the community and facilitate communal discussions. Although using role-­play may help to address the conflicts within the communities affected by the violence, how did these companies address the impact of the violence within the companies themselves? When asked about how the ethnic and political violence affected relationships within these ethnically diverse theatre companies, members from each group responded that it had made them, as individuals and as an organization, more dedicated to their collective mission of community self-­achievement and self-­empowerment. They also became more acutely aware of how destructive ethnic divisions can be under the surface of the daily life of a community, whether it is a neighborhood or a theatre company. Both PPT and REPACTED’s Magnet Theatre plan to focus more on what is needed to create a tolerant and open society. They believe this involves a proactive stance to meet the needs of youth and guide their energies through positive channels and into nondestructive ways. It also involves the need to aggressively campaign for nonviolent ways to seek justice and truth. “The post election crisis has changed our outreach commitment and the messages that we are going to pass to the public and the world at large. Through { 70 }

theatre for Development in Post- ­election Kenya

what we saw and [what] happened we have a different perspective of how we live in the country. It is emerging that [in] communities that were living together and trading together[,] most of the members there were living a hypocrite like life with one another. In this way we want to bring out the message of reconciliation and coexistence with one another.”11 However, it remains difficult to determine if the situation is improving. While Prime Minister Odinga and President Kibaki have formed a coalition government and managed to stop the bloodletting between ethnic groups, they have accomplished little else. Government reforms have not been enacted, and public confidence in the Kenyan government has continued to erode. Members of Parliament have been implicated in an endless string of scandals involving tourism, fuel, guns, and agriculture. Ethnicity and the country’s lingering Balkanization are topics diligently ignored by the government. Few of Kenya’s politicians seem ready to address the pressing issues of land reform, constitutional reform, or the dangerous culture of impunity. All of these matters were named as urgent priorities after the violence that occurred after Kenya’s December 2007 general election, yet nothing has been done. Kenyans hope the International Criminal Court in The Hague will become involved, because there is little faith that the Kenyan justice system will bring the well-­k nown politicians suspected of organizing and funding the killings to trial.12 The March 5, 2009, murder of two Kenyan human-­rights activists sitting in midday traffic in downtown Nairobi has added to the distrust and fear of the police and government. Despite official denials, a police death squad sanctioned by the government is suspected of the murders. Both the United Nations and the U.S. government have called for independent investigation into the killings, but little action has been taken by the Kenyan government. Philip Alston, the UN special reporter on extrajudicial executions, stated, “It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi. . . . This constitutes a major threat to the rule of law, regardless of who might be responsible for the killings.”13 Kenya, once a nation of so much promise, remains a land divided. Kenyans appear to be divided within themselves between hope and fear about the future. What the future holds for PPT, SHOFCO, and REPACTED’s Magnet Theatre is also difficult to know. These groups share a strong mission and vision, yet their resources are meager. Why do they do it? In a 2005 interview with the PPT in Nairobi, Rosemary Wanjala declared: “When I look at my country there is so much wrong, so much helplessness, such stagnation, you have try to make things better, and theatre is our way to do that. Theatre needs to be part of the life of the community. I believe things can change and we have to help them { 71 }

C hristopher C onnelly

to, we just have to.” To which Kimingichi Wabende and Marlene Wambui responded: “I don’t think we can stop. No, we cannot stop.”14 The show must go on, since now more than ever, for these theatre artists and for their country, the work of the PPT, SHOFCO, and REPACTED’s Magnet Theatre is not just theatre, but necessary theatre. Because, as Dennis Kimanbo of REPACTED warns, “The political crisis might be over in terms of the fighting but if the issues that caused it are not addressed, it might go back to that situation and even be far more worse than it was because communities have armed themselves and are ready for anything.”15

Notes 1. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, foreword to Community in Motion: Theatre for Development in Af­ rica, by L. Dale Byam (Westport, Conn.: Bergin and Garvey, 1999), xv. 2. Human Rights Watch, Ballots to Bullets: Organized Political Violence and Kenya’s Crisis of Governance, volume 20, no. 1 (A) (March 2008), 4, 5, 53. 3. Rosemary Wanjala, e-­mail to author, August 25, 2008. 4. Dennis Kimanbo, e-­mail to author, August 22, 2008. 5. Ibid. 6. Rosemary Wanjala, e-­mail to author, August 25, 2008. 7. “Never Again Rwanda’s First Youth Theatre Festival,” http://www.neveragainrwanda. org/ 8. SHOFCO, “Key Figures: What You Should Know about Kibera,” english/inbrief.html. 9. Kimingichi Wabende, e-­mail to author, August 22, 2008. 10. Frances Harding, “Neither ‘Fixed Masterpiece’ nor ‘Popular Distraction’: Voice, Transformation and Encounter in Theatre for Development,” in African Theatre for Develop­ ment: Art for Self-­Determination, ed. Kamal Salhi (Exeter: Intellect, 1998), 15. 11. “REPACTED: Giving Voice to the Kenyan Youths,” blog/2008/04/03/repacted-­giving-­voice-­to-­the-­kenyan-­youths. 12. Jeffrey Gettleman, “Starvation and Strife Menace Torn Kenya,” New York Times, February 28, 2009, national edition. 13. Alan Cowell, “Shooting of Activists in Nairobi Spurs Outcry,” New York Times, March 6, 2009, national edition. 14. Members of Peoples Popular Theatre, Marlene Wambui, Kimingichi Wabende, and Rosemary Wanjala interview with the author, Nairobi, Kenya, June 16, 2005. 15. “REPACTED: Giving Voice to the Kenyan Youths.”

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\ The Unreported Miracle of Paul Robeson and The Miracle — F elicia H ardison Londr é

Miracles are not easily pinned down. What some see as a miracle, others consider mere coincidence. Granted, no violation of the laws of nature complicates the following chain of events from a religious spectacle in 1926 to a momentous moment for African Ameri­can civil rights in 1942. Yet there is a miracle in it. The Miracle that we can all agree actually happened is the Austrian director Max Reinhardt’s production of a spectacular pantomimic drama about a young nun who goes astray but is redeemed through a miraculous intervention. With music by Engelbert Humperdinck and a scenario by Karl Vollmoeller, The Miracle premiered in 1911 at London’s huge Olympia, which Reinhardt and designer Ernst Stern converted into a cathedral seating eight thousand spectators. Over the next six years, Reinhardt staged The Miracle in sixteen cities: ­Vienna in 1912; Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Elberfeld, Breslau, Cologne, Prague, and Frankfurt am Main in 1913; Karlsruhe and Hamburg in 1914; and Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö, Hälsingborg, and Bucharest in 1917. World War I stymied Ameri­can arts philanthropist Otto H. Kahn in his initial efforts to get an Ameri­can production of The Miracle, but it finally happened in New York in 1924. Its 298 performances at the Century Theatre, from January to November, surpassed the combined total for all the European productions. Before the New York Miracle closed, Cleveland arranged for a three-­ week engagement over Christmas 1924. Other cities picked up on the idea, which impresario Morris Gest readily facilitated—to his personal profit of two million dollars.1 The extraordinary cost of transporting forty boxcars of scenery and equipment, transforming a public auditorium into a cathedral, arranging accommodations for the enormous cast, and rehearsing local extras meant that { 73 }

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only cities large enough to guarantee a minimum run of three weeks could book the spectacle. The Miracle played twelve Ameri­can cities during the five years following its New York success. During those five years, the great African Ameri­can actor-­singer Paul Robe­ son was rising to prominence. He performed in two plays by Eugene O’Neill, The Emperor Jones and All God’s Chillun Got Wings, in 1924. In 1925 he began giving concert performances with accompanist Lawrence Brown, and he gained the patronage of Otto Kahn. Despite being refused lodging in hotels and service in restaurants,2 Robeson persevered to achieve his first European concert tour and, in November 1929, a sell-­out concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall. There is no indication that Robeson ever saw The Miracle. The fact that Kahn boosted both Reinhardt’s Miracle and Robeson’s career is irrelevant to the quasi-­miraculous happenstance of timing that would give rise to an incident of lasting impact. When Robeson famously interrupted his own concert in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 17, 1942, to speak out against the segregated seating of blacks and whites in the audience, the ensuing national coverage not only contributed to curbing racial determinants in seating policies but also gave blacks a powerful example of how to take a reasoned stand on issues that mattered.3 The origins of that galvanizing moment in 1942 might be traced back to 1926, when The Miracle played Kansas City. Although the cast of The Miracle lacked racial diversity, the production certainly stands as a monument to multiethnic, multinational artistic endeavor. The internationally acclaimed Viennese “genius” director, Max Reinhardt, his Polish assistant, Rudolf Kommer, his Ameri­can presenter, Morris Gest, and his Maecenas, Otto Kahn, were Jewish, while the story of The Miracle, which begins and ends in a cathedral, is grounded in Catholicism. “The Catholic Church should thank Max Reinhardt for the propaganda” was a comment reported after the London production. The scenario, supposedly based upon a Rhine legend, evoked comparisons to the Oberammergau Passion Play.4 A more obvious source would be the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Sister Beatrice, which had premiered in Berlin in 1901, when Reinhardt was working there. Maeterlinck’s Sister Beatrice and Reinhardt’s The Miracle employ the same plot devices, notably, the nun who leaves the convent to experience life and the statue of the Virgin Mary that miraculously steps down to take the nun’s place until she returns. But it was The Miracle’s elimination of spoken text in favor of pantomime, music, and spectacle that made possible the multilingual casting of its several hundred roles. That at least fifteen different languages could be heard backstage was the claim of a Kansas City Post reporter who ventured behind { 74 }

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the scenes at Kansas City’s Convention Hall (November 27, 1926). For example, Mikhail Dalmatoff, who played the emperor, spoke Russian, as did Romola Nijinska, wife of the great dancer Nijinsky (she also spoke Hungarian and German). In Kansas City, as in each of the other cities on the Ameri­can tour, about two hundred local extras were integrated into the touring company of approximately four hundred performers plus fifty or so backstage personnel. Within this huge ensemble, transnational friendships formed, like that between a Jewish Kansas Citian, Mrs. Sadie Frank, and an English actress, ­Emmita Thomp­son, both of whom were among the sixty women playing nuns (Kansas City Post, December 11, 1926). The production was touted from the pul­pits in churches of all denominations, as well as in Kansas City’s German-­language news­paper, the Presse, in society’s the Independent, in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, and others.5 Beyond the Catholic and Jewish constituencies, The Miracle in Kansas City drew especially large numbers from surrounding rural areas that might be called the Protestant Bible Belt. Designer Norman Bel Geddes commented in his memoir Miracle in the Evening: “Only a very great director could keep an audience enthralled for three hours without a word being spoken. That was Reinhardt’s achievement in The Miracle.” That audiences were enthralled is evident in the reviews and commentary from cities where it was performed. Critics emphasized the production’s beauty, elaborated in terms of the harmonious blend of color, visual poetry, music, and movement. The sweeping grandeur impressed many, while the huge panorama of emotion and spectacle still encompassed remarkable richness of detail. Alexander Woollcott, writing in the New York Herald, called it “at once a play and a prayer and a pageant.” An editorial in the Chicago Journal of Commerce noted that “the essence of the religion of The Miracle is the essence of all the great religions. Christian and Jew, Moslem and Buddhist—all must find their hearts touched by this story of human hearts and human faith.”6 But that experience was dependent upon getting people to the theatre in sufficient numbers, and selling enough tickets to repay the investment was by no means a sure thing, even in New York City. The touring production of The Miracle had a payroll of $32,000 per week. In each city the performance space had to be virtually converted into a cathedral, and the different configuration of each auditorium brought unique problems. Setting up the scenery and equipment in Kansas City’s Convention Hall took two weeks. Seventeen miles of electrical cable were strung to create the spectacular lighting effects. The sheer logistics of running a show with a cast of six hundred wearing 3,084 costumes complicated matters. Kansas City actor Art Ellison recalled that one fast change for the mob was handled by having the extras file backstage with their arms { 75 }

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raised above their heads so that costumes could be dropped onto them as they continued in procession. For the three-­week engagement in Kansas City (November 22 to December 11, 1926), the contract with Gest required a guarantee of $240,000. Arthur W. Hardgrave of the chamber of commerce formed a Miracle Committee to assume the financial risk and raise the money. Convention Hall could seat five thousand. Ticket prices ranged from $1.10 to $4.40. To everyone’s surprise, theatregoers from out of town accounted for over 50 percent of ticket sales. Numerous excursion trains were run, especially from Kansas and points southwest, and this resulted in heavily booked hotels as well as a noticeable increase in business for downtown merchants. On the second Saturday of the run, more than ten thousand attended the matinee and evening performances, with extra chairs placed on the arena floor for both and thousands more turned away. It was estimated that thirteen thousand people arrived on special trains that day. Because the run could not be extended, extra matinees were added to the final week. At the end of the twenty-­six-­performance run, there had been 88,135 paid admissions with net receipts totaling $214,436. While the figures were impressive, they resulted in a shortfall of $22,000 for the Miracle Committee. A representative of the 187 sponsors who underwrote the deficit expressed satisfaction that the amount was not higher. Especially gratifying was the $650,000 in new money that out-­of-­town visitors spent in Kansas City.7 Kansas City had always seen itself as the little cowtown that could. The success of its booking of The Miracle in the same month as the Armistice Day opening to the public of Liberty Memorial, America’s only major monument to World War I, was a great source of civic pride. The joint endeavors of both Christian and Jewish leaders to support The Miracle were duly reported. However, there is one strand of the story that I have omitted thus far. There was one constituency in the city to which the great communal spirit generated by The Miracle did not extend. The African Ameri­can side of the story is preserved for us thanks to the Kansas City Call, a weekly newspaper founded in 1919 by Chester A. Franklin and still publishing, one of the oldest black-­owned newspapers in the United States. On November 19, 1926, the Call ’s front-­page headline proclaimed: “Jim Crow Seats for ‘The Miracle’ / Section ‘K’ of $2.20 Seats Is ‘Reservation’ / Order from New York, Managers Say; No Other Prices Available.” The article explained that Convention Hall’s box-­office managers had designated the worst section of seats priced at $2.20 for Negroes and that there were “no other seats at any price available for colored purchasers.” Managers Benjamin and Lang, both Kansas Citians, claimed they were acting on instructions from New York. This seemed { 76 }

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odd, since seating had not been segregated for the St. Louis production of The Miracle a year earlier. That same issue of the Call also carried a separate editorial titled “The Kansas City Spirit”: A great community attraction arrives. A tremendous spiritual and artistic achievement. A huge religious spectacle, powerful beyond words to describe; moving; great, in the true sense of the word; transcending international boundaries, tongues, colors, creeds, prejudices—all pettiness. That is “The Miracle”—everywhere else except Kansas City. In Kansas City, the great Miracle must conform to the Kansas City spirit. It must shrink. It must stoop to notice the color of those who come to witness the unfolding of its religious story. It must come from the clouds to the muck of men’s little minds. Black people can see it, yes, but from a corner. How can a city with a spirit like this appreciate the moving beauty of a spectacle like “The Miracle”? These pale folk will see only color and people and sets and lights. The Miracle they will never see, for the Kansas City spirit blinds their eyes and shrivels their hearts. And in Kansas City they have weeks of prayer and prattle of love and brotherhood!

Reporting about the situation continued in the following week’s issue of the Call, published on November 26, four days after The Miracle opened. “Only Back Row Seats For ‘Miracle,’ ” asserts the front-­page headline. That is, even within the inferior section K, blacks were being relegated to the twenty-­third— the last—row. Thus some Negro leaders in the women’s clubs and churches were calling for a boycott of The Miracle. An editorial-­page commentary in the same issue reinforced the point that a city-­sponsored event in a public building presupposes equal treatment of all citizens of the city and that blacks could demonstrate their self-­respect by spending their money only where goods and services would be rendered on the same terms to all people.8 The December 3 issue of the Call printed a letter from Mrs. Ida M. Becks, president of the City Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, in which she refuted the statement in the November 26 issue that the federation had “condemned the segregated undesirable seats and advised club women to refrain from attending.” By her account, the question had never been raised when the federation met on November 12, nor had they met since that date. Mrs. Becks went on to explain that, in response to the Call’s original story (November 19), Mrs. John Love, president of the local NAACP, had appointed a committee composed of representatives from several organizations to investigate the situation. The ensuing report, not given by a representative of the federation, noted the call for a boycott and the suggestion that those who had purchased tickets might return them. Following that meeting, Mrs. Becks along with Mrs. ­Estel Woods went directly to Convention Hall and purchased $1.10 tickets, which they used the following Thursday, “unmolested, in a section where very few colored people { 77 }

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were seated.” Mrs. Becks’s letter concluded: “The City Federation believes in de­ fending the rights of citizenship, but do not wish to make mountains out of molehills, nor be misrepresented.” The Call’s explanatory note followed: “Immediately after inquiry by The Call on November 17 as to seats for colored people, action was taken by Louis W. Shouse, manager of Convention hall, to open cheaper seats to colored patrons. The $1.10 section was actually opened to Negroes and sold to them ‘face to face’ at the box office on Nov. 19, the day The Call was on the street. Mrs. Becks and her party purchased seats, according to her letter, on Monday, Nov. 22. Prior to Nov. 17 when The Call took the matter up, only two rows of $2.20 were being sold to Negroes at the box office. Other Negroes had bought cheaper seats, but they had secured them through the mail or through light-­colored Negroes at the box.” Interestingly, the Call’s encouragement of a black boycott of The Miracle was supported by an advertisement in which the words “No Miracle” stood out in boldfaced large type: “It is NO MIRACLE to have good hair. Use O.K. Hair Pomade.”9 The Call’s final commentary on the subject came in the December 17 issue, nearly a week after The Miracle had closed, and piece largely to defend the editorial position it had taken: “The Call is not criticizing those who went. Our purpose in starting what many called unnecessary agitation was to see that those who cared to go could do so without embarrassment and insult.” The Call’s November 19 article about discriminatory box-­office policy was corroborated in a letter from Miss Blanche Morrison, supervisor of music in the colored schools. Before The Miracle’s opening, she had gone to the box office to purchase one hundred tickets at $1.10 for Lincoln High School students. When the ticket seller could offer only fifty-­six tickets at $2.20, Miss Morrison decided not to buy any.10 The following paragraph from the Call’s long article is noteworthy in terms of the circumstances of Paul Robeson’s famous concert fifteen years later: “The Call’s position on the matter was clear and outspoken. We did not believe there should have been any segregation in a public, city owned hall for all citizens of Kansas City and we did not believe Negroes should be restricted to any one price. There is no comparison between Convention hall and the various theatres downtown. The theatres are private enterprises and their owners can do as they please. If they think they can make money without Negroes, they exclude them and nothing can be done about it. But Convention hall is the hall of the people and has no right to exclude colored citizens.”11 None of this appears to have anything to do with Robeson’s visit to Kansas City in 1942, six years after

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Convention Hall was torn down. But there are a couple of hitherto unnoticed connections. Surely it is a miracle of sorts when extraordinary people cross paths and they make a difference in the world. One truly extraordinary person was a fifteen-­ year-­old African Ameri­can high school student at the time The Miracle was performed in Kansas City. Indeed, it is probable that Lucile Bluford was one of Blanche Morrison’s one hundred “very disappointed” Lincoln High School pupils who did not get tickets to the show at Convention Hall. Bluford is listed in her senior yearbook as one of fourteen in the Girls’ Glee Club that was organized by Miss Morrison in 1925.12 Lucile Bluford (1911–2003), who would eventually succeed Chester A. Frank­ lin as editor and publisher of the Kansas City Call, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1928. The Lincolnian yearbooks published during Bluford’s fresh­man through senior years show that journalism was already her passion. As a sophomore in 1926, she served as school editor of the Lincolnite and was elected chairman of the newly organized Civics Club, which organized excursions to a fire station and a prison and brought in speakers who addressed the civics problems of the city. According to the 1927 Lincolnian, Bluford served on the student council, was elected to the honor society, and was one of four students who rotated duties as editor in chief of the student newspaper. The 1928 Lincolnian features Bluford in a framed photo at the front of the senior section and signals her as “Honor Student, Average E+.” In the class section, we find her motto: “Nothing is too hard to work for, nothing too great to gain.” She wrote the valedictory, acknowledging that there would be “stumbling blocks” in the course of “life’s journey.” Elsewhere in the volume she contributed a poem. Another section refers to her as “our most energetic student,” and the voters in the senior ballot designated her as “Best Girl Student.” She was an officer of the newly organized NAACP Club, as well as vice president of both the National Honor Society and student council.13 Beyond high school, Lucile Bluford’s distinguished career as a newspaperwoman and her numerous honors are well documented in the press. She earned her BA in journalism at the University of Kansas, joined the Call as a reporter in 1932, and continued working there until she suffered a stroke at eighty-­seven. For the purposes of this story, we can certainly posit a connection between the high school journalism student and the African Ameri­can newspaper that took a stand against Jim Crow seating at The Miracle. Lincoln High School, then located at Nineteenth and Tracy, stood about four blocks from 1715 East Eighteenth Street, where in 1922 the Call established its offices. Furthermore, during

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her four years as the only black journalism student at the University of Kansas, Bluford spent her summers working at the Call. Bluford’s supervisor at the Call during those summers was a young news editor named Roy Wilkins (1901–81), the same Roy Wilkins who would earn renown as executive director of the NAACP from 1955 to 1977. Wilkins worked at the Kansas City Call from 1923 to 1931 and had a strong voice in the paper’s editorial policies. Although his autobiography, Standing Fast, does not mention The Miracle, Wilkins did claim to have “organized a boycott of the theaters” in Kansas City.14 With a few friends, Wilkins formed the Stellar Concert Company in 1926 to bring in African Ameri­can performers. Their first attraction was soprano Lillian Evanti, and then they aspired to book Paul Robeson. Robeson’s usual fee was $1,000 per concert, but he agreed to perform in Kansas City for $750 because the Stellar Concert Company was a black group that had not yet amassed much working capital. And that is how, amazingly, Robeson gave a concert performance at Kansas City’s Grand Avenue Temple on January 18, 1927, exactly five weeks after The Miracle closed its Kansas City engagement. Wilkins recalled in his autobiography: “Our seating plans shocked white Kansas City. Since we were selling pews, not numbered seats, and since we were not in the Jim Crow business, we simply set up rows at $3 and $2—75 cents in the balcony—­and threw them open on a first-­come, first-­served basis. It wasn’t long before we started getting anxious calls asking if we were going to reserve a section for white people. Our answer was a very firm no, and advance sales went poorly.” Wilkins was concerned that the box office would not meet the amount guaranteed Robe­ son. However, the walk-­up sales were good enough to bring in $300 over the guarantee. Moreover, Wilkins recalled that it was one of the largest integrated houses Kansas City had ever had. Under those circumstances, it is no stretch of the imagination to assume that Wilkins talked with Robeson about the issue of seating for The Miracle that had been so prominently featured in the Call scarcely two months earlier.15 In 1942, when Robeson sang at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, it was Lucile Bluford who visited him backstage at intermission to ask why he had broken his famous pledge never to sing for a segregated audience. Robeson was shocked to learn that this was the case, partly because the separate blocs of seating by race were not apparent from the stage and partly because he had been assured by the management that—as reported by the Call (January 16, 1942)—there would be “no discriminatory arrangement of seats.” Apparently there were sections for black audience members on the arena floor, and this gave an impression of integrated seating. When he returned to the stage after talking { 80 }

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with Bluford during the interval, Robeson could see “the all-­colored section on the east” and “the lily-­white west side” (Call, February 20, 1942). He announced his lifelong habit of refusing to sing in any venue where audiences were segregated, but added that local leaders of his own race had urged him to finish the concert, which he would do under protest. A few whites left the hall as he changed the program to include an anti–Jim Crow song, delivered with exceptional intensity.16 Martin Duberman’s biography of Robeson quotes a letter that Bluford wrote to the singer to thank him “for the stand you took against segregation in the Municipal Auditorium here. I think that your protest has spurred the Negro citizens here to wage a campaign against discrimination in our tax-­ supported buildings. You have given us a good start.”17 That is the story of The Miracle in Kansas City: an uplifting religious pantomime capable of uniting its audience in a communal spirit of goodwill, but presented under discriminatory policies that alienated one segment of its potential audience. Of course, I have not proved that the 1926 Miracle was a direct impetus for the 1942 outburst that proved to be one of the most galvanizing moments in the long process of breaking down racial barriers. But surely The Miracle of 1926 lurked somewhere in the minds of the earnest young ­Lucile Bluford, the zealous reporter-­editor Roy Wilkins, and the great singer Paul Robe­ son, and thus influenced their patterns of thought and action over the decades. Surely there is something miraculous in the way people and events make an impression that lies dormant until the unanticipated, yet suddenly compelling, moment when the merest spark of memory sets off an outburst that floods the whole world with light.

Notes 1. Norman Bel Geddes, Miracle in the Evening (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1960), 302. 2. Martin Bauml Duberman, Paul Robeson: A Biography (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989), 99. 3. Ibid., 256–57; Roi Ottley, “New World A-­Coming”: Inside Black America (Cleveland: World, 1945), 240; Kansas City Journal, February 18, 1942; Kansas City Times, February 18, 1942. 4. Gottfried Reinhardt, The Genius: A Memoir of Max Reinhardt by His Son (New York: Knopf, 1979), 224. 5. Kansas City Post, November 27, December 11, 1926; Kansas City Presse, November 7, 14, 21, 24, December 1, 15, 1926; Kansas City Independent, November 13, 20, 27, 1926; Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, November 12, 19, 1926. 6. Geddes, Miracle in the Evening, 295; Alexander Woollcott, New York Herald; editorial, Chicago Journal of Commerce. The critical observations in the New York Herald and the Chicago Journal of Commerce are taken from the excerpts published in the large-­format

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7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.


souvenir program for the Kansas City edition of The Miracle; no dates are provided. In addition to those cited here, the following reviewers are quoted in the program: Robert C. Benchley in Life, James O’Donnell Bennett in Chicago Tribune, Heywood Broun in New York World, John Corbin in New York Times, editorial in New York Evening World, Gilbert Gabriel in New York Sun and Globe, Percy Hammond in New York Tribune, Arthur Hornblow in The Theatre Magazine, Ludwig Lewisohn in The Nation, Kenneth Macgowan in Theatre Arts Monthly, Burns Mantle in New York Daily News, George Jean Nathan in The Ameri­can Mercury, E. W. Osborne in New York Evening World, The Out­ look, Arthur Pollock in Brooklyn Eagle, Stephen Rathbun in New York Sun and Globe, J.  Ranken Towse in New York Evening Post, Boston Herald, St. Louis Globe-­Democrat, ­Virginia Dale in Chicago Daily Journal, C. J. Bulliet in Chicago Evening Post, Frederick Donaghey in Chicago Daily Tribune, Amy Leslie in Chicago Daily News, and Ashton Stevens in Chicago Herald and Examiner. Kansas Citian, December 14, 1926; Kansas City Post, December 2, 4, 5, 1926; Kansas City Journal, December 5, 13, 1926; Kansas City Journal-­Post, December 12, 1926. Kansas City Call, November 19, 26, 1926. Ibid., December 3, 10, 1926. Ibid., December 17, 1926. Ibid. The Lincolnian, vol. 28 (Kansas City: Lincoln High School, 1928). Ibid., vols. 25–28 (1925–28). Roy Wilkins with Tom Matthews, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins (New York: Viking, 1982), 63. Ibid., 71, 72. Sherry Lamb Schirmer, A City Divided: The Racial Landscape of Kansas City, 1900–1960 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 189; Kansas City Call, January 16, February 20, 1942. Duberman, Paul Robeson, 256.

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\ Mvett Performance Retention, Reinvention, and Exaggeration in Remembering the Past — M bala D. N k ang a

We experience our present world in a context which is causally connected with past events and objects, and hence with reference to events and objects which we are not experiencing when we are experiencing the present. And we will experience our present differently in accordance with the different pasts to which we are able to connect that present. Hence the difficulty of extracting our past from our present: not simply because present factors tend to influence—some might want to say distort—our recollections of the past, but also because past factors tend to influence, or distort, our ­experience of the present.

Paul C onnerton ,

How Societies Remember

When the rooster crowed “cock-­a-­doodle-­do” for the first time, I was not born yet.

Fang saying

The concept of mvett1 represents a cultural institution among the Pahouin (Fang) people, of Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo-­Brazzaville in central-­west Africa. The presence of this institution in all major social and cultural circumstances in Fang society testifies to its prevalence. It is a well-­ established tradition of musical and storytelling performance based on an epic story and performed with the musical accompaniment of an African cordophone with the same name. Unlike many similar African traditions, mvett has long been overlooked by scholars and observers of Central Africa. Pierre Alexandre, { 83 }

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one of these observers, states that “a strange fact about this highly original literary genre is that it was ‘discovered’ so late. It is hardly alluded to in Tessmann’s monumental monograph on the ‘Pangwe’ and not at all in Largeau and Trilles.”2 However, since the publication of Herbert Pepper’s,3 Eno Belinga’s,4 and Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume’s5 transcription and translation of various episodes of the mvett, many young scholars have taken to it in the form of academic theses. Others, such as Grégoire Biyogo and his group of researchers at the Cheikh Anta Diop Institute at the Omar Bongo University in Libreville, are attempting to develop a scholarship of the mvett based on Cheikh Anta Diop’s historiographical concepts. This essay presents the characteristics of the mvett performance tradition. It also discusses why mvett performance plays such an important role in social and cultural events among Fang people. Perhaps more importantly, it explores the process of memory activation and the solidification of Fang identity through performing and attending a session of the mvett. Listening to the Gabonese National Radio every day around 5 p.m., one can hear public announcements and advertisements of upcoming events. The most popular events in Libreville and other cities are traditional ceremonies concern­ ing deaths, marriages, and other kinds of celebrations. Most announcements, especially by Fang people, involve mvett. At first they did not seem so remarkable, but after a while the emphasis on the word mvett caught my attention. Why is there so much concern for mvett? What is the meaning of the word or concept? Why is it so publicized, but without any explanation by the organizers? These were the prime questions in my mind when I first heard the word. The emphasis placed on it intrigued me. I thought that if Fang people scheduled mvett regularly during all major family events, then it should be a very important part of Fang life. My first encounter with mvett, in July 1991, was an eye-­opener. It was a very complex artistic activity that was a presentation of genealogical records. An individual led each event, simultaneously playing an ancestral instrument similar to the Western kithara, recounting an epic, and dancing. This musician-­ storyteller, called mbômômvett in Fang, referred family members to their ancestral origins and the ways the family evolved through generations. He underscored the violent life they led to (1) survive the oddities of nature they learned to control and (2) compete for supremacy among themselves. In this context, the mbômômvett resembles the West African griot, who uses the kora to support his incantation of epic stories about distinguished ancestors. Here the focus is the relationship between the organizer of the performance, who invites the griot to perform, and the epic character of the recounted { 84 }

Figure 1. Aloys Mezui Me Ndong in performance in Libreville, Gabon. The audience shows its delight in response to a provocative comment about the author. Photo courtesy of the author, 2001.

Figure 2. The main aba in the center of Oyem City, Woleu-­Ntem province, Gabon. Photo courtesy of the author, 2001.

M bala D. N k anga

story. But the West African griot is different from the mbômômvett, for the griot performs alone in front of a select audience, while the mbômômvett’s performance involves the audience in all its phases and aspects. The griot’s performance deals with epic stories based on the sponsor’s genealogical tree. Personalized praise songs and stories purport to teach the listeners of the sponsor’s history and status in the world. Djibril Tamsir Niane portrays the griots as “counselors of kings” who “conserved the constitutions of kingdoms by memory work alone.” They were attached to each princely family to preserve the traditions and their genealogies. The kings chose griot tutors for young princes; however, a griot also served as memory of the past, recording customs, traditions, and governmental principles of kings for the sake of the society. Generally, he inherited his art from his father. “He has learnt the art of historical oratory through long years; he is, moreover, bound by an oath and does not teach anything except what his guild stipulates.”6 In this essay my aim is to convey the meaning of mvett for the Fang of Woleu-­Ntem, the northern province of Gabon, and to analyze a mvett performance. Then I will examine the sociopolitical and historical circumstances of this important art in the lives of the Fang. I will then analyze the intertextual relationships between the mvett performer and the Fang audience for whom mvett serves as an allegory of the new society.

Defining Mvett Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume defines the mvett as the musical instrument as well as the player and the recounted epic stories drawn from a large body of orature, but more broadly it is synonymous with Fang culture. According to Eno Belinga, the mvett is a cordophone made from the branch of the raffia palm. Four sinews from the branch are stretched to make the cords, pulled tautly in relation to the bridge to enrich an imperfect pentatonic scale with minor thirds.7 A resounding calabash opposite the bridge amplifies the sound. During the performance, the mbômômvett adjusts the calabash on his belly or chest to vary the sounds. Depending on the musician, there might be other calabashes, smaller than the main one, affixed on both ends of the branch. Research by ethno­ musicologists such as Pepper and Belinga and by sociologists such as Assoumou Ndoutoume and Ndong Ndoutoume has noted the presence of the instrument in various parts of the world, including Angola, Congo-­Brazzaville, Congo-­ Kinshasa, Cameroon, and Brazil (allusion to the Berimbau).8 Like many other African people, the Pahouin, or the Fang, “incline to rhe{ 86 }

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torical devices of representation” that combine “iconic and enactive rather than symbolic forms of representation.”9 This means that both everyday verbal interaction and special circumstances entail the use of performance or some kind of acting. Thus the mvett pertains to a complex artistic and literary phenomenon that encompasses epic songs and stories, topical songs, personal lyrics, the musical instrument, the performer and his audiences, and the performance itself. It is a communal event aimed at social interaction. In that context the exchange of knowledge and information involves the appraisal of messages in relation to actual social and personal experiences. Mvett stories are to be understood today in relation to the social and political organization of Engong people, the mythical ancestors of the Pahouin, or Fang. “Only the mvett still recounts the past as it was lived by our ancestors,” said Daniel Assoumou Ndoutoume.10 The Fang did not have any written language; therefore mvett has been the repository of ancestral knowledge, wisdom, and life. These have direct bearing on spirituality, social and individual behaviors, violence, and warfare. Fang people of the Woleu-­Ntem province of Gabon generally understand that the mbômômvett lives the mvett narrative personally. In performance, the mvett narrative is a set of “restored behaviors,” to use Richard Schechner’s term. The mbômômvett acts as if he were in Engong controlling both the flow of the story and the reactions of the audience. He does not go into trance but rather into, in Stanislavski’s words, “second nature.” He thus recounts what he has supposedly experienced with his body and his mind. The repetition of this action affects his memory to the extent that his own persona gives way to those involved in the story. Since all of the situations he evokes take place in the mythi­cal world of Engong, during the performance the mbômômvett supposedly travels from the material world of the everyday to the ancestral spirit domain of Engong. As the performer develops the epic, he introduces a variety of songs recounting more situations for dramatic effect. The audience must know each song fully in order to participate in the evolution of the story. Audience members also add dances. They must also be able to decipher the images and idioms used by the performer. Mvett performance thus combines epic stories with situational songs, dance, and the knowledge that the mbômômvett and his audience share. Who is this leading figure in the performance process? When I sought to establish contact, I quickly realized that an mbômômvett does not like to talk about what and how he comes to do what he does in front of his audiences. Be­ bômômvett (plural of mbômômvett in the Fang language) tend to be secretive, while exposing other people’s troubles in public. Because mvett performance { 87 }

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is an esoteric art, outsiders to Fang society are allowed to participate in it. The intricacies and techniques of production and the preparations for performance are secret, known only to a few initiated persons. The mbômômvett remains an itinerant observer of society and culture. As a bearer of cultural knowledge from other parts of Fang country, he also was (and still is) a source of gossip and other valued news. He demonstrates this aspect of his knowledge during digressions created within the performance of the narrative. During these digressions, he teases, attacks, criticizes, and even scolds inhabitants of a village whose behavior, or misbehavior, was the talk of the town. Most of all, the mbômômvett is considered a medium between current social situations and those of the past, reflecting on society in the light of intrinsic values such as wisdom, courage, and modes of action. The performer addresses these values allegorically as ancient problems. Hence, according to Fang traditions, a mbômômvett is a nnem, that is, a connoisseur of the Fang way of life, a knowledgeable man who is supposed to have a double existence: earthly and ancestral. The mvett is thus a communal and collective performance for which the main contributors are the mbômômvett, his assistants or disciples, sometimes his wife (who fills in with dancing), and the audience. The latter listens to the story, but also intermittently sings and supports the mbômômvett in tapping lightly on bamboo sounding boards or on used bottles played as rattles.

Experiencing a Mvett Performance Mvett performance is a rich experience of learning and exchange of knowledge and information between the mbômômvett and his Fang audience about the latter’s legendary ancestors. The main performance space of the mvett has always been the aba (council house), an extremely important space in Fang society. Some observers of the Fang society, such as George Balandier, have called it abènö. To “speak of the aba is to necessarily speak of the Fang village because both realities are fundamentally tied.”11 The aba is the center of all the male activities in the village, and women are excluded. It is usually situated at the center of the village a few meters from the principal road that divides the village into two main rows of houses. Depending on the number of minor lineages (nd’è bòt), there may be two or three meba in a very long Fang village.12 An aba, built from the same materials as the other houses in the village, is a rectangular shed open on all sides and covered with either thatch or galvanized iron roof. When an important event (death, wedding, end of mourning period, visit { 88 }

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of important guest, and others) occurs, a village generally invites the mbômôm­ vett. That was the case with the mbômômvett Ndong François, whose performances I attended at Monaco, a quarter of Oyem City, on Friday, August 28, 1992, and in Akouakame, a village on the outskirts east of the same city, on ­Sunday, August 30, 1992. The two performances took place at the end of the mourning periods of two important deceased men. That was also the case of Aloys Mezui Me Ndong’s performances in Libreville (on July 22, 2001 and August 2, 2001) and in Oyem City (on August 15, 2001) for the celebration of Gabonese Independence Day. At Akouakame village, Ndong François started his performance around 1 p.m. While the men sat inside the aba, women and children clustered outside trying to participate enthusiastically in the performance. The aba, as a performance space in this village, had three main parts: the first was made of three long benches placed alongside the half-­walls of the house. One side of the house was left open for the mbômômvett’s and the public’s entrance and exit. The second part was the open space in the center of the house, between the benches. This was the mbômômvett’s acting area. It was also for audience members caught up emotionally in impersonating a character. The third part was outside the aba along the walls, where women and children gathered to follow the performance. Ndong François arrived in the village with his mvett well packed in a bag. Three assistants, apparently his disciples, accompanied him. One of them carried the covered mvett instrument. They were greeted at the entrance of the compound of the funeral’s organizer and then led to the aba, where the other men in attendance were waiting. Just before the performance he received his fees from the family sponsoring the event: a cock, a cluster of bananas, a liter of palm oil, a bottle of liquor, and an amount of money (15,000 FCFA). After getting his fees he left the aba and went alone to the back of the house closest to the aba. A long silence followed, interrupted at times by soft conversations between the audience members. Like all the mbômômvett in the same circumstances, it was revealed to me, he performed a preparatory ritual involving the two basic tasks learned during the last stage of his training. He first put on his performance attire, as I was told all mbômômvett do in those circumstances. Then he invoked the ancestral spirits, especially his beloved one immolated at the end of his own training. By some magical formula known only to him, he called for this spirit to allow him attain to the necessary degree of transmutation for his performance. At this point the mbômômvett was said to be able to remember all the events that made up the story he was going to recount. This prepa{ 89 }

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ration is important because it determines the quality of the performance and the interaction to come. Most importantly, all mbômômvett perform in a specific dialect of Fang called Ntumu, and they all recount the same stories. On this occasion, the person the audience saw after this ritualistic preparation was totally different from the one who first entered the village. From his hideout, he blew a whistle made of an antelope horn to announce his readiness to his aides. They started playing their bamboo sounding boards and rattles to help Ndong François find the rhythm and his way to the aba. He entered the acting area and started to mumble some faint incantations before calling the audience to silence. His entrance called for silence, not only because he came in playing the instrument, but also because of his spectacular costume and makeup. He wore a piece of raffia loincloth tied around the waist; civet cat skins fixed above the loincloth; a headdress made of an assortment of bird feathers, mainly from the touraco, hornbill, hawk, and parrot; some amulets around the neck and arms; and a combination of seed rattles tied on the upper arms and ankles. He painted his face around the eyes and his chest and arms with white and red clay. He called to the audience: “Melo me beegue!” (I call for your ears!). They responded: “Me beegue mvett!” (Our ears listen to the mvett)! This in­ troductory pattern allowed him to establish the first direct contact with his audience as a performer. Throughout the performance, this pattern served as a controlling device every time the audience’s attention began to fade. From time to time he would add to that formula: Ndong: Mawe nfouang (I sow the wind)! Audience : Faa (Yes)! Ndong: Mandini zok! (I shoot at the elephant!) Audience : Emuwi one mousane! (Today is Sunday!) Ndong: Melo me beegue! (I call for your ears!) Audience : Me beegue mvett! (Our ears listen to the mvett!)

From that moment he started checking the audience’s knowledge of oral traditions, challenging them with riddles and other kinds of enigmatic verses. The audience responded with enthusiasm and joy. He then asked them what part of the legend they wanted to hear. The audience selected one that dealt with Akoma Mba’s fights with Andome Ella. After these preliminary comments and discussions, he proceeded to recite his master mbômômvett’s genealogy, concluding with naming himself direct heir to the mvett’s legendary inventor, Oyono Ada Ngone. Then he introduced himself, giving the name of his village and some of its ancestors. This part of the introduction legitimated the authority of the performer, letting the audience know his origins and his credentials. He was able { 90 }

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to attach himself to the people of Engong and to Akoma Mba, the hero of the epic, through his master mbômômvett and his master’s masters. Akoma Mba, the supreme king of the Ekang Nna, a major clan in Engong, was born of an incestuous union between Bela Mindzi and one of her brothers, an unlawful event against the gods’ will. At birth the boy’s name was ­M borzok Bela Mindzi. Due to the circumstances surrounding his birth, he was subjected to all sorts of opprobrium and humiliation. While still a young boy, he changed his name to Akoma Mba and took many other surnames, such as Biyang Bi Mba, Engoungo Mba, Mindoungou, Ekoko Nsong, Biyo Bi Minafann (that is, agitator of palavers, man of initiatives, nephew of the tribe of monkeys, son-­in-­ law of sparrow hawks).13 He forbade everyone to call him by his birth names. Growing up against all odds, the boy proved very strong and smart, with a keen sense of leadership. His brutal and sanguinary behavior provoked concern and panic for some and apprehension and terror for others throughout the Fang countryside. According to some traditions, he chopped off the head of his brother-­in-­law, Bitsemetse Bi Ndong, because he visited him bearing only birds: seven chickens and four ducks. The mbômômvett also reported how Akoma Mba became bald when Assame Ella, from Okü, lifted him by his hair in a fight. ­Assame Ella’s hands were full of Akoma Mba’s hair. Akoma Mba then killed and skinned him. Rumor has it that at special occasions Akoma Mba wears that skin like a coat. For fear of their lives, all those who knew about his shameful birth ignored it, seeking instead to befriend him to avoid his wrath. At this point in the performance, mbômômvett Ndong François established an analogy between the violent story and the contemporary Gabonese people who lacked the maturity to choose leaders and allowed themselves to be corrupted by them. My collaborator translated one excerpt of his intervention as follows: Even those who extorted money from the country Claim today to be opponents of the regime. The same people who took advantage of the previous regime Claim today to be “Bucherons.” I won’t die until I see improvement I shall live.14

This short digression raised a lot of reaction from all the participants in the aba. Some laughed because they understood the allusions the mbômômvett made about the leading opposition party to President Omar Bongo’s regime. It attacked members of the opposition who had discredited and compromised them­selves at one time or another, claiming to be opponents of the government. People { 91 }

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appreciated the digression, showing signs of happiness and détente. Some complained that the mbômômvett was deviating too much from the ancestral perspective, getting too involved in politics. For a few minutes the mbô­môm­vett let participants voice their comments. It was clear some people disagreed with the mbô­môm­vett and the allusions he made, especially many young people unaccustomed to these kinds of stories. Ndong Fran­çois was obliged to call for silence so he could continue his story. Mvett players and performers all recount Akoma Mba’s stories. Although they agree on the incestuous circumstances of his conception, there are two different versions of the conditions of his birth. The first reports that Akoma Mba was born in his mother’s village before her marriage. His grandfather offered him to his stepfather because, according to Fang custom, a child’s father is the one who pays the mother’s bride-­price, not necessarily his biological father. The second version reports that when Mba Evini Ekang married Bela Mindzi, she had just conceived, and thus her son was born in Engong. This is the version favored by Aloys Mezui Me Ndong. He acknowledged Akoma Mba’s unrelenting will to power and eternal life by any possible means. In all the stories, Akoma Mba is a hero driven by his instincts for domination and subjugation over all life, including animals and insects. With the assistance of other legendary violent characters, such as Engoang Ondo, Medang Endong, and ­Ndoutoume Mfoulou, he sought people’s submission to his power by attempting to pacify all of humanity, an exalted but very dangerous task. In any case, this was his only option to justify his power and his thirst to conquer.

The Fang Yesterday and Today Despite mvett’s prominence in the social and cultural life of Fang people, dating its appearance is problematic, and its direct connection with Fang history remains a mystery. Most writing mentioned above is postcolonial, published after 1966. Colonial writers such as M. H. Kingsley, G. Tessmann, H. Trilles, Pierre Alexandre, J. Binet and, most notably, Georges Balandier allude to mvett as if it were a minor form of oral and musical performance. Considering Fang’s insistence on social and cultural significance, I will consider mvett’s origins and its relation to the present. In the beginning of a series of articles published between 1959 and 1961, Philippe Ndong Ndoutoume (aka Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume) relates how Oyono Ada Ngone, a legendary musician and warrior, discovered the mvett. Coming from northeast Africa, Fang were running from the Mvele. During their flight, Oyono Ada Ngone went into { 92 }

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a coma that lasted a week. The fugitives carried his body until he regained consciousness and announced to them that he had found a way to help them recapture courage and self-­confidence. He invented a musical instrument from a branch of the raffia palm. When he started playing it, he recounted epic stories about a group of warriors whom he named People of Engong, or the People of Iron. These stories energized the Fang and transformed them into a warlike people. They attacked anyone they encountered on their route southwest with the same violence with which mvett heroes pillaged and ransacked other villages.15 This mythical origin parallels the migration of Fang people from the north­ east to the areas in which they live today. George Balandier suggests in Sociolo­ gie actuelle de l’Afrique noire that the Fang people were fleeing the Haussa from northeast Cameroon to the Woleu-­Ntem and the Estuaire provinces of today’s Gabon.16 Colonial literature alluding to the mvett does not yield any useful information. As many scholars recognize, mass migration characterized the precolonial period of Fang history. André Raponda-­Walker, in Notes d’histoire du Gabon, writes: “Nothing much is known of the Fang before the second half of the 19th century. In 1846, coming from the Northeast, their vanguards arrived at the confluence of the Mbei and Como rivers. Du Chaillu met them far in the North around the sources of both rivers in 1856. Twenty years were enough to complete the occupation of Gabon’s Northwest region and the Spanish Guinea.”17 Raponda-­Walker drew his comments from testimonies made by Father Neu and Paul Du Chaillu, who were the first Europeans to encounter the Fang people. The abolition of the slave trade and the signing of treaties in 1839 and 1842 between the main Mpongwe chiefs and the future admiral Bouet-­ Willaumez seem to have motivated their migrations toward the coastal part of Gabon. David E. Gardinier attributes Fang migrations to their necessity to contact Eu­ro­pean traders on the Estuary who were buying “their ivory ten times the price they received through a network of Bakele, Seke, and Mpongwe middle­ men” with whom they exchanged various products.18 Historically, they were a nomadic people who settled in one place for ten to fifteen years. The French colonial system effectively stopped the migrations in the early years of twentieth-­ century German Cameroon in the wake of the imposition of cocoa farming in 1914. Balandier reported two relevant events occurring in the early years of colonial occupation. Perceiving the Fang as a threat to colonization, the colonial administrators first orchestrated a campaign to destabilize Fang social and political structures through policies to modernize the villages. Villages were created more in accordance with the demands for cheap labor than out of con{ 93 }

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cern for Fang identity and culture. Second, the Fang reacted to the crisis these policies created by researching their own social history. A movement appeared in the late 1930s and early 1940s known as Alar Ayong, although Balandier asserts 1947 as its actual beginning. As a movement meant to “unite the clans,” it spread widely among the Fang of Woleu-­Ntem before gaining momentum among other Fang groups. The Fang researched their past through legends, myths, and clan genealogies. At that time, they began to realize their highly organized clan relationships. Fang leaders shared their findings during bisulam, or periodic meetings of clan chiefs recognized by the colonial administration. These meetings encouraged them to unite. Fang leaders rallied to become political leaders, starting a new discourse on social and political awareness. Led by Jean-­Hilaire Aubame, they convened a Pahouin Congress in 1947. According to Balandier, this congress was crucial for the Fang movement of restructuring their clans and villages. It was also instrumental in the creation of a new political leadership, one that focused on the relationships between the natives and the colonial administration. When Gabon became an independent country on August 13, 1960, the Fang community was already polarized into two major parties: the Fang of the Estuaire province close to Libreville, led by the first president of the republic, Leon Mba; and the Fang of the Woleu-­Ntem province, led by Jean-­Hilaire Aubame. A few years later, in February 1964, Aubame and other leading figures from the Woleu-­Ntem province participated in a provisional government established by the military after a coup attempt against Mba’s regime. After the French army restored Mba to the presidency, Aubame and the other members of the provisional government were arrested, tried, and served time in prison. Among them was Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, one of the leading bebômômvett. From Balandier’s short historical account, from Eno Belinga, Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, and from my own observations in the field, I deduce the following. Mvett probably existed in Fang culture prior to 1947, but the colonial administration and early ethnographers paid little attention, assuming it to be a minor form. Mvett saw a revival after the Pahouin Congress in 1947. Through the mythical stories of mvett, the Fang could assert new confidence in their historical claims and social system. The Alar Ayong movement gave renewed meaning to the concept of village. Instead of a nomadic life, Fang found it politically expedient to become a sedentary people. The village emerged as the basis for identification and membership in Fang ethnicity and clan. The advent of new media, such as television and radio, has directed many villagers’ attention away from the aba; however, Fang believe that the structure of life has not changed much since.19 { 94 }

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Aba and Village: Sites of Memory and Life Everyday life in a Fang village centers on the aba. The building is constructed so that, although people seated inside can see anyone entering the village from any direction, the arriving person cannot see into the aba. Most men, and sometimes young male children, too, spend three-­quarters of their time there, engaging in a well-­developed Fang community life. Men deal in serious and sometimes in futile businesses there. This space can operate simultaneously as a game room, a workshop for various handicraftsmen, or a courtroom, whenever there is any legal business or a marriage to conduct. The aba is also the space for male-­ oriented artistic entertainments. After a day’s work in the fields, men converge there to chitchat. That is also where rumor originates or dies, depending on its meaningfulness. Finally the aba is where the mvett cycle of stories and performance takes place. Fang people generally acknowledge that after they settled down as sedentary people, the concept of the village came to mean permanence and identification with family; therefore, the concept of village as a sedentary place does not really capture all the religious, philosophical, political, and sociological dynamism there. It is also imperative to include the local natural resources that support all the economic and social activities that provide stability and ­harmony. In considering the mvett performances by Ndong François and Aloys ­Mezui Me Ndong, I noticed the important roll of the aba in the Fang community as the place where all social and political interactions take place, where men of all ages learn about their ethnicity and their masculinity. Women also go to the aba when summoned or when there is a performance. Although not allowed inside, they see through the largely open walls. The first question is, Why the segregation? The Fang I questioned did not consider segregation as negative. They claim the aba is for men because it had been that way historically and that there was no need for them to change. It is clear, however, that the aba is the place where they fully claimed their masculinity and patriarchy. Recall that their past was riddled with warfare and the annihilation of their neighbors. It might also be the place where they historically strategized warfare. If this were the case, women’s presence might jeopardize their plans, particularly if they took wives from rival groups. Mvett performance maintains Fang identity within the prescribed context of the aba, for it transmits cultural values and knowledge from generation to generation. According to Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, the epic struggles in mvett were invented to mobilize Fang people and empower and encourage them. Mvett was an inflammatory medium at first, but later, with the end of { 95 }

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warfare, it became simply an instructive distraction. And while it no longer excites enthusiasm for conquest, it still contains “a literature, an ethic, and a philosophy of an incontestable richness and variety.”20 Similarly, James Fernandez comments: Though the epic heroes were immortal and their exploits miraculous, the everyday village life of Pahouin was presented with much veracity: the problems of respect and forbearance toward in-­laws, the troubled relationship between man and wife, the problems of courtship and bride price, and the problems, in an egalitarian and unstructured society such as Fang, of the maintenance of authority by those who had been granted it only briefly. . . . The more obscure and more unwelcome aspects of Fang life, the devious struggle for power by sorcery and witchcraft as played out in the patrilineage, was also well represented.21

Fang generally agree that all these situations took place, and still take place, in the mythical world of Engong and in society today. Despite the changes brought by external contacts and exchanges with other cultures, the mvett shows signs of adaptation to new realities as they appear in the lives of the Fang.

Interpreting and Inscribing Meaning: The New Society The moment of sharing between performer and audience is one of the most interesting aspects of mvett performance. It allows the audience to participate directly in the story and the performance. There is an interrelation between the mbômômvett, the audience, and the mvett as both instrument and story. It is a powerful, intertextual moment when a dialogue is established between the original story as the mbômômvett relates it and the text as the audience understands it and completes it with physical and vocal comments. The mbômômvett deliberately creates moments to coax the audience members into creating their own meanings and understandings of the human and social conflicts that applied to their own situations. In a more global context, Patrice Pavis has argued that this type of technique “is different from the simple social and political contextualization done in many productions: the search for an intertext transforms the original text on the level of both signifier and signified; it explodes the linear fabula and theatrical illusion, contrasts two often opposing rhythms and writings, and places the text at a distance by stressing its materiality.”22 Likewise, Fang observers believe that it is better to attend the mvett performance and witness it with your own eyes and ears. The best way to appreciate mvett is to live it, to listen to its story, and to watch the performer himself. { 96 }

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Figure 3. A performance by Elam Assemane in Oyem. Photo courtesy of the author, 2001.

From that moment you truly live mvett and feel its world in you. Good listeners find themselves transposed in that world. They transcend the mortal world to that of the mythical characters. They are like the fans watching a soccer game. They anticipate the players’ actions and act it out on the stands. This transcendence and anticipation leading to an intertextual exchange introduces new meanings and understandings in accordance with individuals’ dispositions and inclinations within their social and political context. In the performance described above, the audience seemed to agree completely that society had always operated through bloodshed and the death of corrupt actors. As a storyteller, the mbômômvett carries out what Ingrid Inglis, in a comment on Walter Benjamin’s definition of storytelling features, has called a “story, which is deliberately enigmatic (you can’t be sure of any single meaning) and is also a source of practical counsel as well as an everyday guide to conduct.”23 His story provides lessons for an insightful understanding of current events in Fang society. Most of all, it contains both the affective and collective memory of the Fang, for it teaches specific cultural and moral values related to communal life. Reliving the past in front of the audience with the support of music and songs transports the audience into the mythical and legendary world of the ancestors. Teaching social values depends on two main conditions associated with { 97 }

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Figure 4. Aloys Mezui Me Ndong in performance. Photo courtesy of the author, 2001.

performance reality. The first is the audience members’ reception of this performance. The people who attend a mvett performance have varied interests in one or another aspect of the performance: music, violent actions in the myth, social and political organization, dances, the story itself, and the mbômômvett’s imaginative sense. Others take the mvett as a pastime, a leisure activity after a busy day in the fields. The second condition is the circumstance of the performance and the moral and social messages the mbômômvett brings forth. As it appears through this analysis, mvett performance produces esoteric knowledge and encompasses the fact that the mbômômvett travels between mythical and actual time. The stories he narrates cross time and space to relate situations of the legendary past to contemporary life in Fang society. Fang agree that mvett performance prepares Fang to fight oppression and provides lessons of courage, ardor, and abnegation to the ethnic cause. As a visible, staged reproduction of the myth, the mvett performance works on the basis of the mbômômvett’s verbal description and projection of the mythi­ cal past into the present. The mbômômvett, through his performance, represents specific scenes such as fighting in the deep bottom of a well, the charac­ters’ flights to quicken their movements or their getaway from the fighting, securing a partner, facing a dangerous enemy by enclosing him in a balloon-­like bag, and many other actions of this sort. These are what Fernandez calls the “rhe{ 98 }

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torical devices of representation.” For as verbal figures, they have “the profundity of a concrete immediacy” on the audience’s imagination.24 Thus, what the mbômômvett performs through songs, dances, and mythical tales, with the accompaniment of the instrument, the audience feels as a physical reality. The mythical past leaves the realm of the imaginary and the fictional to become a lived experience through the direct awareness that results from the mental association of the verbal imagery of the past and its visualization. During these moments, some audience members are caught up as if the characters’ spirits possess them. They start behaving and speaking like epic characters. In response to this kind of impromptu impersonation, the mbômômvett turns his attention to other audience members and evaluates the improvised performance with exclamations of encouragement or disapproval. Audience members neither imitate, per se, nor parody mythic characters. Rather, the performance is a reflection, projection, and representation of all the mental activity of receiving and understanding the mbômômvett’s narrative. The impromptu performer creates a new performance text that represents his experience of the mythic story. That is where the intertextual reception and interpretation of the performance really start. It is a transposition of one system of signs, symbols, and meanings onto another. In the mbômômvett’s performance, the intertextuality happens when the audience engages and transforms mvett into an allegory in which mythical story and dramatic characters and situations symbolically illustrate moral, social, and cultural principles that Fang respect. The story exposes the problems Fang face in their everyday life, along with models for responses and solutions. The intertextual exchange between performer and audience fuels the evolution of the epic. It becomes an important interaction practice in the constitution of the narrative, its performance, and the audience’s understanding. Inter­ textuality is a determining factor when encoding the story, transforming it into a metaphor with allegorical implications for today’s society. In Parables and Fables, Valentin Yves Mudimbe argues that narratives dealing with ancestral societies are monological texts. This argument is hardly sustainable in the context of mvett, for the very structure of the performance r­equires dialogue between the performer, his story, and the audience he addresses. It is not simply the performed text that speaks to Fang; rather, the Fang also speak to the mvett performer through their choice of a particular story or episode he then presents and the audience discusses throughout the performance. Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume and Daniel Assoumou Ndoutoume have attempted to render mvett as literary texts, fictional rather than legendary and mythical. Still, Mudimbe’s idea on the ability of narratives to control ethnic { 99 }

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identity is sustainable. He writes: “Those stories are narratives that maintain control over the past and the future. They are used, invoked, exploited in order to protect an ethnic identity.”25 It is sustainable in the sense that people make an effort to understand the past and its analogue in the present. Mvett is therefore perceived as collective memory containing values and experiences that help recall principles for rebuilding Fang ethnicity. Referring to the “memory-­text,” ­Mudimbe holds a similar view in his analysis of Luba narratives, because “they link words and names to possessed things and spaces, designating motions of ancestors (Nkongolo, Mbidi, llunga) according to processes of appropriations of power and governance over new lands.”26 The Fang public confronts the mvett story, interpreting and inscribing new meanings on new lands. The dialogical and intertextual dimensions of mvett performance are based in the artistic performance and the mbômômvett and the Fang audience’s semantic interpretations. The artistic performance, as I have shown, combines (1) esoteric artistic training and preparation, (2) esoteric knowl­ edge of the ancestral mythical world, and (3) the exoteric presentation of the story incorporating music and dance. The semantic performance is the interplay of the “memory-­text” and its various audience interpretations; performance is the interplay of the “memory-­text” and its various audience interpretations, reactions to it.

Notes 1. Although some writers and scholars, especially those from Cameroon, have adopted the spelling mvet, this essay will use mvett. Gabonese authors such as Tsira Ndong Ndou­ toume and Daniel Assoumou Ndoutoume call it mvett, while Eno Belinga refers to it as mvet. 2. Pierre Alexandre, “Introduction to a Fang Oral Art Genre: Gabon and Cameroon Mvet,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 37, no. 1 (1974): 1–7. Alexandre notes that G. Tessmann, in his 1913 Die Pangwe, only briefly made mention of the instrument and players, while V. Largeau’s Encyclopédie pahouine (1912) and Proverbes, légendes et contes fang (1905) quote passages of biban bi-­ekang (common tales of magical wars fought underground and in the skies) as factual history. 3. Herbert Pepper, Un mvet de Zwè Nguéma, chant épique, reedited by P. and Paule De Wolf (Paris: Armand Colin, Classiques Africains, 1972). 4. Eno Belinga, Littérature et musique populaires en Afrique noire (Paris: Editions Cujas, 1965) and L’épopée camerounaise: Mvet, moneblum ou l’homme bleu (Yaoundé: CEPER, 1978). 5. Tsira Ndong Ndoutoume, Le mvett, 2 vols. (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1970–75), and Le mvett: L’homme, et la mort et l’immortalité (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993). 6. Djibril Tamsir Niane, Soundjata, ou l’épopée mandingue (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1985), vii.

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M v e tt Performance 7. Eno Belinga, L’épopée camerounaise, 5. 8. The mvett instrument is also found in Brazil, to which it was brought by African slaves from Central Africa. In many instances, it has the same characteristics as the original instrument in Africa. It is called berimbau. 9. James Fernandez, Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa (Prince­ ton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 7. 10. Daniel Assoumou Ndoutoume, interview with the author, Libreville (Gabon), August 10, 1991. My translation from the French. 11. Pierre Abessolo Edzang, interview with the author, Essong, a village on the outskirts of Oyem City, August 17, 1991. 12. Fernandez, Bwiti, 10; and Ferdinand Okoue Ngou, Fragments de la tradition fang (Self-­ published, 1984), 9. 13. Daniel Assoumou Ndoutoume, Du mvett: Essai sur la Dynastie Ekang Nna (Paris: L’Har­ mat­tan, 1986), 116. 14. Bucherons (Lumberjacks) are members of what used to be one of the leading opposition parties to President Omar Bongo in the 1990s. Led by Mba Abessole, the party is called Rassemblement national des Bucherons (RNB). Since 2002 it has become part of the presidential majority, and its leader has been offered a cabinet post. The mbômôm­ vett was alluding to political events and the Gabonese electoral timetable for 1993–94. 15. Philippe Ndong Ndoutoume, “Le mvett, ses origins,” Réalités Gabonaises 1 (April 1959): 7. 16. George Balandier, Sociologie actuelle de l’Afrique noire (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1955), 76–77. 17. André Raponda-­Walker, Notes d’histoire du Gabon (Brazzaville: Mémoires de L’institut d’etudes centrafricaines, 1960), 12. 18. David E. Gardinier, Historical Dictionary of Gabon (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1994), 138. 19. In the meantime, women have developed their social and economic life in the kitchen, called kisin. Women gather in a kitchen built according to clans and families. They, too, spend most of their time there, cooking, chatting, gossiping, and engaging in many other domestic activities. 20. Ndong Ndoutoume, “Le mvett, ses origins,” 7. 21. Fernandez, Bwiti, 60. 22. Patrice Pavis, Dictionary of Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis, trans. Christine Shantz (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 188. 23. Ingrid Inglis, Media Theory: An Introduction (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1990), 11. 24. James Fernandez, Persuasions and Performances: The Plays of Tropes in Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 7. 25. Valentin Yves Mudimbe, Parables and Fables: Exegesis, Textuality, and Politics in Central Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 135. 26. Ibid., 91.

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\ “You Hip to Buffalo?” The Hidden Heritage of Black Theatre in Western New York — V irg inia Anderson

We’re makin’ it to Buffalo, man. You hip to Buffalo?

C urt in E d Bullins’s

Goin’ a Buffalo

Identity: one’s history, one’s memories, one’s sense of self in relation to others. The subtitle of Anna Deveare Smith’s Fires in the Mirror—Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities—suggests that geographical location may function as a carrier of each of these personal elements.1 Buffalo, New York, a city with a reputation for failed dreams,2 bears a cultural heritage that has shaped the thinking and representations of generations of African Ameri­cans. Four moments in the city’s history demonstrate how the portrayals of and performances by African Ameri­cans in and around the city reflected changes in both local society and national ideological trends. First, in 1842 the city served as a springboard for the international success of Christy’s Minstrels, one of the first “make-­believe negro bands of singers and musicians.”3 The second instance is that of the Buffalo Historical Marionettes, formed in 1932. Despite their important contribution to the Federal Theatre, the troupe’s eight African Ameri­ can performers have received little scholarly attention. The third area of focus involves a dramaturgical analysis of Ed Bullins’s Goin’ a Buffalo. The play was written in 1966 within the context of Buffalo’s Second Great Migration, a movement that gives richer meaning to the characters’ struggles. Finally, the 1978 formation of Buffalo’s still-­thriving Ujima Company provided the city with African Ameri­can theatre that demanded recognition for its predominantly black { 102 }

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artists and black themes. Analysis of the social, economic, and political context in which each of these theatrical events originated engenders a nuanced understanding of not only the events themselves but how the history of western New York represents the evolution of African Ameri­can history and performance across the nation. Before turning to industry, Buffalo served as a commercial center during the nineteenth century, most significantly demonstrated by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The canal connected the Great Lakes with the eastern seaboard, allowing the shipment of products both east and west of the terminus. As Neil Kraus explains in his study of community power in Buffalo, “the canal made Buffalo the largest inland port in the United States. With the completion of railroad construction a few decades later, Buffalo’s role as a major center of trade was solidified.”4 Prior to the canal’s opening, the first theatrical performance advertised in a Buffalo newspaper took place among military men, none of them black, on March 17, 1815.5 In 1828, fifty-­eight African Ameri­cans lived in Buffalo, working as servants, barbers, laborers, and boat stewards.6 Evidence of community cohesion can be found in the 1831 formation of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Buffalo became an official city shortly thereafter, in 1832.7 In the years that followed, Buffalo struggled to define its identity in relation to better-­established cities like Albany and New York City. Perhaps the insecurity felt by its inhabitants made the city particularly vulnerable to the cultural impact of a performance by T. D. Rice.8 In his historical memoir, Home History, Samuel M. Welch recalls, “In August ’35, at the old Eagle Street Theatre,9 Mr. Rice, known as the original ‘Jim Crow Rice,’ sang and jumped ‘Jim Crow,’ in negro character; the first negro song of the stage, from which sprang that afterwards popular branch of entertainment, ‘negro minstrelsy.’ ”10 Already wildly successful financially, Rice was in the middle of a national tour that would eventually lead him abroad. With his established reputation, Rice undoubtedly inspired his audience; yet to establish their place within the growing nation, white, middle-­class Buffalonians sought to elevate their sense of themselves, and thereby their city, by supporting and developing performance that denigrated African Ameri­cans. Rice’s appearance at the Eagle Street Theatre set a powerful cultural precedent. Within this fertile atmosphere, the group that was to become famous as Christy’s Minstrels performed in a tavern-­theater on the Buffalo waterfront in 1842. The group consisted of Edwin P. Christy, George Christy (Harrington), L. Durand, and T. Vaughn.11 Local legend attributes the Minstrels’ success to James “Peg-­Leg” Harrison, a one-­legged black man “of towering height, pro{ 103 }

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digious strength and amazing musical talents.”12 Conductor and soloist of the Vine Street Black Methodist Church, Harrison may have collaborated with E. P. and George Christy just prior to the Minstrels’ formation, providing them with the stories and songs of the Deep South as well as the “down South” talk and plantation dances seen in their performance. Whether or not the story of ­Peg-­Leg Harrison’s influence is true, the circulation of the story lent authenticity to their act, serving to legitimate its stereotypes of the “lazy” or “lascivious” black man. After an initial period of acclimation, Buffalo audiences of all social levels engaged in the entertainment provided by Christy’s Minstrels. William A. Porter, the last surviving member of the troupe, recounted that “the idea was a new one and the people of good society were inclined to look askance at a performance that delineated ‘Jim Crow.’ ”13 The Minstrels did not have to wait long for their success. In a 1924 interview, Mrs. Elizabeth Leavitt Keiler recounted early childhood memories of the minstrels: “Everybody got talking about this new kind of show and the uptown people wanted to see it. So Christy brought his troupe up on Main Street and the town simply went mad over his performances. I myself remember seeing him dance and sing with his blackened face.” Keiler further explains that Christy’s act became all the rage to the point that friends passing on the street would greet each other with exchanges from the shows they had seen: “We had never heard of conundrums before the minstrels brought them here. But after that the whole city began asking such questions and they became quite a feature of the children’s parties.”14 Minstrelsy, a phenomenon across the nation, had found a home in Buffalo. The influence of Christy’s Minstrels would permeate Buffalo society even after the troupe left the city to seek their immense fortune. In his recollections of dancing in early Buffalo society, Welch explained that the normally social and graceful cotillion or quadrille would become “very lively, as  .  .  . our old ­leaders . . . would now and then give us a set of ‘Christy’s’ negro ­melodies arranged for a quadrille, selections of which would include the airs of: ‘Old Uncle Ned,’ ‘Dandy Jim,’ ‘Rose of Alabama,’ ‘Lucy Long,’ ‘Old Dan Tucker,’ etc.”15 Stereotypes presented by Christy had found their way into everyday ­discourse. Christy’s paved the way for other minstrel groups to tour through Buffalo, such as the Ameri­can Minstrels, Rumsey’s Minstrels, and Ward and Vokes. An undated playbill for the Ameri­can Minstrels held at the Buffalo Historical Society notes an act with “The Three Crows” and a “negro song and dance” called “Angels Meet Me.” Rumsey’s Minstrels also toured through Buffalo, where they performed an act that included “The Four Crows” and a conclusion of the “Expedition of the Black Brigade!” Minstrelsy remained popular in western New

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York through 1940, when the Kiwanis Minstrels performed in Geneva in blackface with one black performer. While local audiences were prepared to support white minstrels’ impressions of blackness onstage,16 actual black performers faced insurmountable obstacles, no matter their talent. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (1809–76), an African Ameri­can from Natchez, Michigan, established her reputation as a professional soloist through an 1851 appearance before the Buffalo Music Association. Critics quickly dubbed her “the Black Swan,” presumably as a racist compliment on her grace rather than a comparison of her singing to the large birds’ honking sound. Over the next two years Greenfield toured the northern states, and in 1854 she visited England to give a command performance for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. Despite the critical acclaim she received, her singing career was brief due to lack of wide public support in the United States.17 Despite pervasive racism in Buffalo’s general population, some of the most important serious African Ameri­can thinking in the country emerged from the city. In fact, Buffalo has long served as the site where pivotal political and ideological foundations have been laid for African Ameri­cans nationwide. In 1843, just one year after Christy’s Minstrels formed, the city hosted the National Convention of Colored Citizens of the United States. The most noted event to take place during the convention was a debate between former slave Frederick Douglass and college-­educated minister Henry Highland Garnett on whether or not slavery should be overthrown by force.18 The conference reflected the lack of confidence African Ameri­cans had in federal, state, and local governments to care for their condition. Buffalo historian Lillian Serece Williams argues that the most significant aspect of these debates was the clear indication that “the new generation of African Ameri­cans would insist on speaking for themselves.”19 Forty people attended, including William Wells Brown, a mulatto who had moved his family to Buffalo to find work on steamboats. The author of many books and several plays, Brown led the abolitionist movement in Buffalo and inspired others nationwide.20 An important event for the city of Buffalo and national impressions of African Ameri­cans took place approximately fifty years later when Buffalo proudly hosted the Pan Ameri­can Exposition of 1901. White organizers planned two exhibits to represent African and African Ameri­can communal life: “The African Village,” in which inhabitants were portrayed as primitive beings, and the “Old Plantation,” depicting southern slavery. Buffalo’s Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women publicly denounced the planned exhibits on November 12, 1900. Due to their adamant protest, especially that of Mary Talbert and Mrs. John

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Dover, a third exhibit was added: “The Negro Exhibit.” Extolling the progress made by African Ameri­cans over one hundred years, the exhibit included such accomplishments as more than three hundred books written by black authors, models of inventions, and documentation of scientific and mathematical contributions. People from all over the country, indeed the world, witnessed this and other exhibits and presumably acquired what was likely a new awareness of African Ameri­cans’ contributions to Ameri­can culture. Further national and enduring change would be born in Buffalo through the foundation of the Niagara Movement, so named for its place of origin; the group held its organizational meeting July 11–14, 1905, in the Buffalo-­Niagara region.21 Twenty-­nine members, including W. E. B. Du Bois, attended this meeting of protest and demand for change. They chose Buffalo for three primary reasons: it was the eighth-­largest city in America, it had excellent rail connections, and it bore symbolic value because of western New York’s role as a major crossing point in the Underground Railroad. Although the city’s black population was relatively small at the time, it provided enthusiastic support to the organization.22 Formed to make Ameri­cans aware of the discrimination and violence imposed on black citizens, the Niagara Movement would pave the way for the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) five years later. A high-­class African Ameri­can magazine with national aspirations began publication in the city shortly after the formation of the Niagara Movement. In 1906, The Gazetteer and Guide, a “Monthly Colored Magazine,” claimed devotion to “Literature, Facts, Fiction, and Industrialism of the Afro-­Ameri­can Race Throughout the United States.” The magazine appears to have self-­consciously depicted a life that most African Ameri­cans would not have had at the time, but a life to strive toward, as illustrated by its subheading, “Our Success Beyond Our Sanguine Expectations, Built Upon Honor and Encouraged by Merit.” While daily life in the Niagara region was quite different from that depicted on the glossy pages of The Gazetteer, the Buffalo-­based magazine projected to its readers an image of African Ameri­can life that provided a sense of possibility where obstacles may have otherwise blinded them. At the turn of the century, the marginalization of African Ameri­cans across the country could be felt geographically, economically, and culturally. Buffalo’s Lower East Side housed the relatively small black community, integrated with Italian and Jewish Ameri­cans. Even the two areas with the largest populations of blacks (census tracts 14 and 15), were still 45 percent and 84 percent white, respectively.23 Between 1900 and 1940, African Ameri­cans were generally unable to penetrate the discrimination that prevented them from participating in { 106 }

Figure 1. An “African native” per­ forms for white onlookers in the ­African Village, Pan Ameri­can Ex­ position of 1901. Photo courtesy of The Buffalo Museum of Science.

Figure 2. Rev. J. Edward Nash and James A. Ross at the Negro Exhibit, Pan Ameri­can Exposition of 1901. Courtesy of Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women, Inc. Photo courtesy of Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Figure 3. The Gazetteer and Guide, a “Monthly Colored Magazine.” Image courtesy of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

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the region’s rapid industrial expansion. As Kraus notes in his study of Buffalo social politics, African Ameri­cans were frequently employed as strikebreakers and usually achieved “only temporary gains in industrial employment as a result of increased wartime production and not because of a change in racial attitudes on the part of white employers and unions.”24 Further aggression became palpable when the Ku Klux Klan took hold of the Buffalo region between 1922 and 1924.25 Racist sentiments remaining well after the Klan’s decline likely prompted the discrimination that remained in all aspects of Buffalo’s economy, including the performing arts. For example, as depicted in a 1929 photograph found at the Buffalo Historical Society, black men worked as porters and maintenance workers while white men served as ushers at Shea’s Buffalo Theater, the city’s most opulent theatre. Discrimination, however, was not restricted to Buffalo’s high-­end theaters. As in most Ameri­can cities, vaudeville became immensely popular in Buffalo during the early twentieth century. Although not explicitly prohibited from participating in the form, African Ameri­cans appear to have made billing only when they exploited the expectations associated with their skin color. Documentation of African Ameri­can theatre in the area acknowledges only ­touring troupes, suggesting that local acts found few opportunities or willing audiences. Among several 1897 listings for “Touring Musical, Dramatic, Vaudeville, and Variety Companies,” only James Smith’s Colored Burlesque Comedy received recognition as a black ensemble.26 By the 1920s, however, local African Ameri­cans penetrated the Buffalo-­area vaudeville circuit. Robert B. Joplin is noted in the 1922 Julius Cahn–Gus Hill Theatrical Guide as manager of Buffalo’s ­McEvoy Theater–Vaudeville House, the words “African Ameri­can” appearing prominently after his name.27 Whether this note was intended to help patrons and potential acts to choose a venue is unclear. Pervasive discrimination like that encountered in the vaudeville circuit may be the reason that one of the most innovative groups of black artists working in the Federal Theatre of the 1930s, the Buffalo Historical Marionettes, remains generally unacknowledged. Following the crash of 1929, Ameri­can citizens of every race found themselves unemployed and struggling to support families and maintain dignity. The residents of Buffalo were no exception. Relief lines stretched around city blocks, and people clamored for the jobs available to them through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Roosevelt’s New Deal to help restore America’s economy and optimism. The Federal Theatre Project, a branch of the WPA headed by Hallie Flanagan, was designed with two primary purposes: to provide employment to thousands of out-­of-­work

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practitioners, and to make theatre available to the masses for the first time. This was to be a theatre for everyone, with free or low-­cost seats available to destitute people across the country. Veteran stage actress Rose McClendon worked with Flanagan to create Negro Units within the project. Following the established examples of the Harlem Experimental Theatre and the Krigwa Players, McClendon’s aim was to create theatre by, for, and about African Ameri­cans while providing opportunities for advancement through mentorship and experience. The Buffalo Historical Marionettes was not an official Negro Unit. Created by Esther Wilhelm in January 1933, the troupe consisted of eight African Ameri­ cans, five men and three women, who presented plays with historical themes to music. The performers likely influenced the content of the plays produced; of particular note is a production that depicted the Battle of Put-­in-­Bay of 1813, a historic event often cited by historians of black culture as a point of pride for the bravery with which the black sailors fought alongside Admiral Perry. Their repertoire further included such plays as The Life of Stephen Foster, Eli Whitney—­T he Invention of the Cotton Gin, Romance of National Anthems, Abraham Lincoln, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tremendously popular in the community, the Buffalo Historical Marionettes performed in schools, playgrounds, orphanages, and even on the radio.28 The masking of the puppet theater hid the skin color of its talented performers so that only when the puppets were put down were the performers acknowledged as African Ameri­can. The performers, without marionettes, adopted the communal persona of the Jubilee Singers. A subdivision of the Buffalo Historical Marionettes, their act is described in the repertoire as if it consisted of different performers entirely: “This group of Negro Singers tell the origin of Negro Spirituals from the landing of the first boat-­load of slaves up to the present time.”29 The Jubilee Singers’ act was popular, but likely so because it conformed to general audience expectations by playing into perceived exoticism of black performers. It appears that the Caucasian organizers of the Buffalo Historical Marionettes deliberately downplayed the race of its performers. A publicity photo of the Buffalo Historical Marionettes has three white women as subjects.30 One of them, Esther Wilhelm, manipulates a marionette of a girl in a white dress. On the shelf behind them, as if standing in for one of the actual African Ameri­can performers, is a black marionette. It could be that a photograph of a black performer “manipulating” a white puppet may have been viewed as subversive, despite the fact that such was reality within the troupe’s performances. Discussion of the actual (black) puppeteers is similarly conspicuously absent from Joseph Betzer’s June 26, 1937, article, “They Pull Strings and Puppets Do the Rest.”31 { 110 }

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Figure 4. Mrs. Allan, Mrs. Beu, and Mrs. (Esther) Wilhelm with marionettes. Photo courtesy of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

The article addresses all other aspects of production and touts the unit’s success, but Betzer’s headline leaves the reader to wonder who “they” are that pull the strings. Only a retrospective article printed fifty years later acknowledged the race of the puppeteers. In his article “The Marionettes of the W.P.A.” for Doll Reader magazine, Robert W. Zimmerman declares Buffalo the birthplace of the Puppet Project of the WPA. Describing the unit’s inaugural production of Eli Whitney and His Cotton Gin, Zimmerman writes, “the five-­act play, which chronicled the rise of industry in the Ameri­can South, featured a cast of five black puppeteers who sang and manipulated 14 puppets to the accompaniment of an instrumental quintet.”32 Such a point, presented by Zimmerman as matter of fact in 1988, was likely more controversial in 1934 when the production premiered. In the instances when the race of the performers of the Buffalo Histori­ cal  Marionettes has been acknowledged, critics generally misrepresented the troupe.33 Again, without their puppets, performers used in other productions became the Jubilee Singers. Yet Zimmerman presents the following as fact: “The Jubilee Singers, as this unit was known, was reported by the Courier to be the first all-­black professional puppet company to perform in the United States and its parent group, the Buffalo Historical Marionettes, was credited to be a truly unique experimental program in the field of work relief.”34 Nevertheless, Af{ 111 }

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rican Ameri­cans in western New York made vital contributions to the nation’s theatre throughout the 1930s.35 Black residents’ lack of representation in local government may indicate why the contemporary local press and later historians have passed over the city as a significant contributor to African Ameri­cans’ role in the Federal Theatre Project. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the African Ameri­can community in Buffalo became increasingly segregated and, as Kraus explained in his study, black citizens experienced “little or no representation on any relevant decision-­making bodies within city government.”36 By 1940, African Ameri­cans in Buffalo numbered around 17,000, or only 2.4 percent of the total population.37 The era of the Federal Theatre behind them, more than 75,000 black people relocated to Buffalo between 1940 and 1970 during what would be known as the Second Great Migration of African Ameri­cans from the South.38 During this period the proportion of African Ameri­cans rose from 2.4 to 20.4 percent of the city’s population.39 This increase demonstrates the value and opportunity African Ameri­cans perceived to be there. Read or seen outside of its historical context, Ed Bullins’s Goin’ a Buffalo may appear to be an existential drama in which a group of hustlers and prostitutes yearn to leave one disenfranchised city to seek impossible success in another. However, Bullins’s choice of Buffalo should not be viewed as arbitrary. Written in 1966, the play reflects this important historical period of mass migration. Like other African Ameri­cans around the country during the Second Great Migration, the characters in Goin’ a Buffalo dream of starting over, albeit dealing drugs, in a new town: (lights cigarette and inhales fiercely. Drops head. Two beat pause. In strained voice, holding smoke back ) We’re makin’ it to Buffalo, man. You hip to Buffalo? Art. No, I don’t think so . . . C urt. (takes another drag) It’s a good little hustlin’ town, I hear. . . . Pandora . (receiving cigarette from curt) It’s supposed to be a good little town. A different scene entirely. . . . M ama. Any place is better than L.A. but I heard that Buffalo is really boss. Pandora . It sho is, baby.40 C urt.

By sucking on cigarettes, the characters demonstrate how Bullins employs theatrical signification to suggest their literal and figurative suffocation in smog-­ drenched Los Angeles. Buffalo represents a breath of fresh air. Despite the optimism felt by those coming to the city, Buffalo was to be no panacea for African Ameri­cans seeking to leave their troubles behind. In { 112 }

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his study of African Ameri­cans in Buffalo since 1940, Henry Louis Taylor Jr. found that black citizens have borne the highest unemployment rate, held the least-­desirable jobs, and received the lowest wages in the city.41 Taylor summarized: “Black Buffalo resided in the city’s economic basement.”42 Furthermore, they lived in “the oldest and most dilapidated housing in Buffalo.”43 The characters in Bullins’s play yearn to leave a difficult situation in Los Angeles for what would likely be another in Buffalo; importantly, however, they would become part of a community of people in the same situation. Although Bullins may be suggesting that his characters—indeed, the entire wave of migrating African Ameri­cans—were deceiving themselves by dreaming of a better life in Buffalo, rich and complex tension is found in the positive historical formation of community with strangers from disparate places, an experience at the root of ­A fri­can Ameri­can history.44 Editors James Hatch and Ted Shine compare the situation in Bullins’s play to the savings-­and-­loan scandals of the 1980s, in which “even the most trusted and respected members of our society are capable of cruel and unscrupulous measures in their search for the almighty dollar.”45 Such a comparison may be useful thematically, but Bullins wrote the play twenty years earlier, when a different kind of zeitgeist was at work. Another element of Goin’ a Buffalo, Pandora’s dream of becoming a singer, finds illumination in its placement within the city’s historical context. When Bullins wrote the play, the reputation of Buffalo’s Colored Musician’s Club was well established. After being excluded from the white musicians’ union, the city’s black musicians banded together in 1917 to organize Local no. 533, a racially segregated musicians’ union, and established its Union Hall, which still stands today and plays host to touring musicians. The club itself was not chartered until 1935, and “during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, any musician that came through Buffalo had to check in with the Colored Musicians’ Club.”46 Visiting artists included Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald, and everyone jammed with local musicians. The club would have been a true destination for Pandora, and she—and Bullins’s first audiences—would have known it. Despite economic hardship, the 1960s were a culturally and socially fertile decade for African Ameri­cans in Buffalo. During this time, many of the over six hundred black community organizations now found in Buffalo were formed, including churches, cultural and civil rights groups, educational institutions, and block clubs.47 Frequently geographically constrained to one ghettoized section of other cities, these organizations pervaded Buffalo. Their geographical inclusion may have contributed to the feeling that Buffalo was a “black” city, not just host to one particular enclave. { 113 }

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Figure 5. The Colored Musicians Club in the late 1940s, including Dizzy Gillespie on the piano and Miles Davis standing in the doorway. Photo courtesy of The Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo, New York.

Home to a buzzing music scene and other cultural institutions, Buffalo still lacked a theatrical forum for black artists. In a 1963 editorial for one of Buffalo’s African Ameri­can newspapers, the Buffalo Challenger, Adolph Dupree bluntly asked, “What’s Wrong with Negro Theater?”48 He concludes that the problems faced by black theatre practitioners were no different from those faced by white ones; they were just “much bigger.” He specifically identifies three gaping holes preventing African Ameri­can theatre from taking off in Buffalo and around the country: lack of technical experience, lack of black actors auditioning for jobs (although he acknowledged a shift in this trend), and perhaps most importantly, a lack of community and financial support. These problems were certainly felt in Buffalo, where the African Cultural Center was the only significant venue for black performers. Ed Smith, a resident actor at the Studio Arena Theater and the African Cultural Center’s drama coach, wrote a similar mandate for the city in 1969: “There are now forty or more black theaters existing across the nation. Where the population of blacks is massive, there should be a black theater. Buffalo is such a town: The talent is here, the community wants it and the colleges need it.”49 Nine years after Smith’s editorial was published in the Buffalo Evening News, actress and writer Lorna C. Hill answered his call.50 On December 15, 1978, Hill founded the Ujima Company as the theatre { 114 }

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component of the (now-­defunct) Center for Positive Thought School of Movement and Dance. Well aware of a drastic increase in the percentage of African Ameri­cans in Buffalo’s total population,51 she responded to Smith’s mandate and to the problems identified by Dupree by inviting nearly thirty artists, predominantly African Ameri­cans,52 to attend meetings and workshops with the expectation that an ensemble would form and become a professional company. The company established its reputation by developing and performing original works written and directed by Hill that combined Afro-­Caribbean folklore, African Ameri­can literature, and African Ameri­can song and dance. “Ujima” is Swahili for “collective work and responsibility” and reflects a felt duty to African Ameri­can heritage as well as the ensemble nature of the historically multitasking company; actors for one show will stage-­manage, work the box office, or build sets for another. Such collective action suits the purpose of Ujima, Hill explains, which is to link African Ameri­cans in Buffalo to their heritage and to one another: “At the center of it all is building the beloved community. . . . Other theatres can do something different, and that’s okay; I support that, I understand that, I go to see that. But we can’t afford that, not just as African Ameri­cans, but as modern man. We need cultural institutions that build community, and our part is to make sure that African Ameri­can theatre exists.”53 Ujima specializes in plays both performed and written by African Ameri­cans, promoting its repertoire as a “diverse spread of scripts from the familiar African Ameri­can canon, lesser known works by African Ameri­can authors, premiers of new works, standard works of Western theater, and contemporary Ameri­can theater.”54 Despite the company’s mission, Ujima audiences historically have been Caucasian, a fact that may be a consequence of the theater’s location. Had Hill sought to complete W. E. B. Du Bois’s mandate of theatre about, by, for, and near African Ameri­cans, the increasing population density of African Ameri­ cans in Buffalo’s East Side would have made that area a logical choice.55 Instead, Ujima is “tucked into fashionable Elmwood Avenue, amid the boutiques, the bistros and the bookstores.”56 In a 1989 interview with Rose Ciotta for the Buf­ falo News, Hill acknowledges the makeup of her audiences: “I wish now that more black people would come to the theater. We do so much that speaks to them.”57 Twenty years later, this problem remains; Hill observes that the racial demographics of Ujima’s audiences tend to reflect the proportion of African Ameri­cans within the city’s overall population, adding that “certain plays attract a majority of one race or another because of content.”58 Ujima continues to thrive in Buffalo, boasting the longest-­standing acting ensemble of any theatrical organization in the city. Despite its success, the { 115 }

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company faces challenges similar to those experienced by African Ameri­cans throughout the history of the city, and indeed the nation. While Hill blames institutionalized racism for inequity in public funding of the company, she gratefully acknowledges the role of local audiences: “The citizenry supports us as much as can be expected. I can’t ask any more from the citizenry. . . . The inequities exist in cultural funding. People regardless of age, regardless of color, who want a broader life view, come to our theatre. They are our primary support mechanism. I can’t ask them for another thing.”59 True to historical precedent, Buffalo serves as an exporter of contemporary African Ameri­can theatre. Pieces that begin as workshopped productions  at Ujima frequently find production elsewhere. The company presented the world premiere of Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s The Mississippi Delta, a play nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Hill’s play Yalla Bitch was the only play by a Buffalo writer selected as part of the 1988 First International Women Playwright’s Conference. Hill describes the play as “a celebration of myself, my individuality, my universality (with other women).”60 Perhaps it is this kind of universality found throughout Ujima’s work that demonstrates how African Ameri­can culture in Buffalo continues to permeate outward to affect other places, as it has throughout the city’s history. Interwoven with the challenges of the past, the struggles facing Buffalo’s African Ameri­cans today remain on both sides of the footlights. From T. D. Rice’s visit to the city in 1835 to the success of Christy’s Minstrels in the 1840s, from the failed recognition of the Buffalo Historical Marionettes as a contribution of African Ameri­cans to the Federal Theatre Project to the grounding of Ed Bullins’s Goin’ a Buffalo, and finally, including the ongoing struggles and successes of Lorna Hill’s Ujima Company, the stories that have emerged from the city form an identity for African Ameri­cans not only in the city itself, but across the nation. As Curt suggests in Bullins’s play, in order to further uncover the hidden heritage of African Ameri­cans in the United States, we must first make ourselves “hip to Buffalo.”

Notes I would like to acknowledge the generous critical feedback of respondents, including Ann-­ Marie Bean, as earlier versions of this essay were honored with first place in the graduate division of the Black Theatre Network’s S. Randolph Edmonds Young Scholars Competition and selection for the Theatre History Focus Group’s debut panel for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

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Figure 6. The Ujima Theatre Company in 2006. Rear: Amilcar Cabral Hill, Robert Ball, Rahwa Ghirmatzion, Zoë Viola Scruggs, Brandon Williamson, Adair Luhr, Philip Knoerzer, Catherine Horton; Middle: Beverly J. Dove, Lawrence Sayres, Tankla Shedrick with Resen Shedrick; Front: Asa Biniam Hill, Lorna C. Hil, Raynardo Shedrick, Donald Capers. Photo courtesy of Lorna C. Hill, Ujima Theatre Company.

The epigraph is from Ed Bullins’s Goin’ a Buffalo, in Black Theatre USA: The Recent Period, 1937–Today, ed. James V. Hatch and Ted Shine (New York: Free Press, 1996), 401. 1. Anna Deveare Smith, Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (New York: Anchor Books, 1993). 2. Librettist Terrance McNalley Ameri­canized the film-­turned-­Broadway musical The Full Monty by moving the action concerning unemployed steelworkers-­turned-­strippers from a dilapidated steel town in England to Buffalo. New York congressman Jack Quinn denounced the production and wrote a strongly worded opposition letter to McNalley, inviting him to visit Buffalo so that he may personally give him a tour of the city and the opportunity to meet its residents. McNalley declined. See Mike Salinas, “Congressman Blasts ‘Full Monty,’ ” Back Stage 41, no. 26 (2000): 5. 3. Laris Meloy, “Blackface Comedy a la Minstrel Is Buffalo’s Product,” Buffalo Courier Ex­ press, October 19, 1924, “Local History” (scrapbook), vol. 2, p. 282, Grosvenor Collection, Buffalo Public Library. 4. Neil Kraus, Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), 35. 5. Addressed to “the Officers of the Army, and the Ladies and Gentlemen of Buffalo,” the advertisement announced Tragedy of Douglass followed by “the much admired Comic Farce, in 2 acts of The Sleep Walker; or, Which Is The Lady?” Music was to be performed by the Fifth and Sixteenth Regiments. “The Buffalo Stage: Bill of the First Play Acted Here,” Buffalo Courier, July 8, 1894, 18, cols. 1–4.

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V irg inia Anderson 6. African Ameri­cans arrived in Buffalo well before the planning of the Erie Canal. Joseph Hodge is noted as the first black settler of the Buffalo region, arriving in 1772. Having married an Indian woman, he served as a language interpreter. 7. Although Buffalo officially became a city in 1832, it had been incorporated as a village in 1813. 8. Accounts vary regarding where Rice first “jumped Jim Crow.” According to Colonel T. Austin Brown, Rice claimed to copy the walk and dress of “an old negro” in Louisville, Kentucky, around 1929. Brown, “The Origins of Minstrelsy,” in Fun in Black, or Sketches of Minstrel Life, ed. Charles H. Day (New York: De Witt, 1874), 44. However, Alexander Saxton claims that it was not until 1831 that Rice imitated “a shuffle he had seen performed by a black man on the Cincinnati levee.” Saxton, “Blackface Minstrelsy,” in Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-­Century Blackface Minstrelsy, ed. Annemarie Bean (Hanover, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), 69. Regardless of its foundation, Rice’s blackface, highly physical routine made him a fortune. 9. The Eagle Street Theater, host to touring troupes from around the country, was burned, rebuilt, and renamed several times and in 1865 as St. James Hall. It provided a viewing space for the body of Abraham Lincoln from his funeral train. “Buffalo Area,” Marquee: The Journal of the Theatre Historical Society 31, no. 2 (1999): 15. 10. Samuel M. Welch, Home History: Recollections of Buffalo during the Decade from 1830– 1840, or Fifty Years Since (Buffalo: Peter Paul and Brothers, 1891), 371. 11. Brown, “Origins of Minstrelsy,” 8. 12. Marvin A. Rapp, Canal Water and Whiskey: Tall Tales of the Erie Canal Country (Buffalo: Heritage Press, 1992), 3. 13. “Last Survivor of the Old-­Time Christy Minstrels—William A. Porter of Wyoming County,” Commercial, January 20, 1906, “Theaters and Convention Halls in Buffalo” (scrapbook), vol. 1, Grosvenor Collection, Buffalo Public Library. 14. Meloy, “Blackface Comedy.” 15. Welch, Home History, 377. 16. This preference for black character “types” is further demonstrated by the success of a touring production of George Aiken’s dramatization of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, performed at the Eagle Street Theater in 1848. Many other productions of the play would tour through Buffalo between 1850 and 1907. See Ardis Smith and Kathryn Smith, Theater in Early Buffalo (Buffalo: Buffalo and Erie Country Historical Society, 1975), 11–12. 17. Upon her retirement from the concert circuit, Greenfield opened a voice studio in Philadelphia, where she lived out the rest of her life. See Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch, A History of African Ameri­can Theatre (New York: Cambridge University, 2003), 177–78. 18. Buffalo Niagara African Ameri­can Heritage Guide (Buffalo Niagara Visitors Bureau, n.d.). 2. 19. Lillian Serece Williams, Strangers in a Land of Paradise: The Creation of an African Ameri­can Community, Buffalo, New York, 1900–1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 15. 20. Smith and Smith, Theater in Early Buffalo. 21. Although the group originally planned to meet at a hotel in Buffalo, at the last minute they relocated to nearby Fort Erie. Some accounts state that this transfer occurred due to racial discrimination, while others point out that a simultaneous convention of Elk Clubs may have filled up the city’s hotels. See William Evitts, Buffalo and Erie County

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23. 24. 25.


27. 2 8. 29.


31. 32. 33.

3 4. 35.

3 6. 37. 38.

Historical Society: The Niagara Movement, .html. Of particular note are Mary Talbert, who became the first black woman to win the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal; her husband, William Talbert, a correspondent of W. E. B. Du Bois; and J. Edward Nash, pastor of Buffalo’s Michigan Avenue Baptist Church and founding member of both the local NAACP and the Buffalo Urban League. Kraus, Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power, 30. Ibid., 38. See Shawn Lay’s Hooded Knights on the Niagara: The Ku Klux Klan in Buffalo, NY (New York: New York University Press, 1995) for a detailed analysis of the Klan’s rise in western New York. J. Levine stage-­managed and Ed Price served as musical director. See Bernard L. Peterson, The African Ameri­can Theatre Directory, 1816–1960 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997), 225. Julius Cahn, Julius Cahn–Gus Hill Theatrical Guide, cited in Smith and Smith’s Theatre in Early Buffalo, 139. Hill and Hatch, A History of African Ameri­can Theatre, 331. Program: Federal Theatre Project, Works Progress Administration: Buffalo Historical Marionettes. Undated, though presumably 1937. Buffalo Historical Society Library and Archives. The people in the picture are Mrs. Allan, Mrs. Beu, and Mrs. [Esther] Wilhelm. Buffalo Historical Marionettes, 1936, Mrs. Esther B. Wilhelm, Photograph, ID no. 76–30, Drama and Theater File, Buffalo Historical Society. Joseph Betzer, “They Pull Strings and Puppets Do the Rest,” Work Relief Buffalo, June 26, 1937. Robert W. Zimmerman, “The Marionettes of the W.P.A.,” Doll Reader, June–July 1988, 156–60, clipping file: Federal Theatre, Buffalo Historical Society Library and Archives. Similar confusion appears to have taken place within theatre scholarship. Although the Buffalo Historical Marionettes was not an official Negro Unit, in their accounts of the Federal Theatre, Ronald Ross, John O’Connor, and Lorraine Brown incorrectly list Buffalo among cities hosting Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project. Perhaps due to this lack of designation, acclaimed histories of African Ameri­cans’ contributions to the Federal Theatre have omitted discussion of the Buffalo unit. Examples include Rena Fraden, Blueprints for a Black Federal Theatre 1935–1939 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and E. Quilta Craig, Black Drama of the Federal Theatre Era (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980). Zimmerman, “The Marionettes of the W.P.A.” Practitioners from Buffalo contributed to Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project beyond the Niagara region. Nelson Baume, the set designer for Run Little Chillun’, an acclaimed production of the Los Angeles Negro Unit, came from Buffalo. Krause, Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power, 43. Henry Louis Taylor Jr., African Ameri­cans and the Rise of Buffalo’s Post-­Industrial City, 1940–Present (Buffalo: Buffalo Urban League, 1990), 8. The first wave of the Great Migration took place following the outbreak of World War I. African Ameri­cans came to the city from all over the South, especially Virginia, Georgia,

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3 9. 40. 41.

4 2. 43. 44. 4 5. 46.


48. 49. 50.



53. 54. 55.

Mississippi, Kentucky, Maryland, the Carolinas, and the District of Columbia, seeking jobs beyond the service sector in the local steel and railroad industry. See Williams, Strangers in the Land of Paradise, 29. Taylor, African Ameri­cans and the Rise of Buffalo, 8. Bullins, Goin’ a Buffalo, 401. A 1967 civil rights suit filed against the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest manufacturing employer in the Buffalo area and the fourth-­largest steel plant in the country, received national attention. Reflecting nationwide trends, blatant discrimination was proven in hiring practices, job assignment, and promotion. The case reflected common employment trends of the period in Buffalo, especially in construction. See Kraus, Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power, 39–40. Taylor, African Ameri­cans and the Rise of Buffalo, 9. Ibid., 10. I make this claim carefully, referring to the masses of Africans from different communities forced into compartments together on slave ships bound for America. Hatch and Shine, Black Theatre USA, 392. Buffalo Niagara African Ameri­can Heritage Guide, 26. The club still operates successfully today, and its members give free jazz lessons to community youth and hold weekly jam sessions on Sunday nights. Taylor, African Ameri­cans and the Rise of Buffalo, 14. According to Taylor, the block club may have been one of the “most widespread and important organizations in the African Ameri­can community.” These groups dealt with sensitive issues and problems, launched community development projects, and frequently had contact with elected officials. Despite their presence, they did not incorporate city youth into their activities, and they actively blamed young men for creating an unsafe atmosphere in the city through activities ranging from littering and loitering to selling drugs and engaging in thievery. Adolph Dupree, “What’s Wrong with Negro Theatre,” Buffalo Challenger, October 23, 1963, 6. Ed Smith, “Both Blacks, Whites Need Black Buffalo Theater,” Buffalo Evening News, Feb­ruary 1, 1969, sec. B9. Smith, who would become an award-­w inning director, founded the now-­defunct Buffalo Black Drama Workshop in the late 1960s. In the 1980s he served as the founder and artistic director of Buffalo Black Dinner Theatre. Hill’s Ujima Company, then, was not the first African Ameri­can theatre company in Buffalo, but it remains the most enduring by far, having celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2009. In 1960, African Ameri­cans made up 13.3 percent of Buffalo’s total population. Due to the immigration of African Ameri­cans into the city and the outpouring of white middle-­ class citizens to the suburbs, by 1980 that percentage had grown to 26.6 percent, and by 1990 it was 30.7 percent. See Kraus, Race, Neighborhoods, and Community Power, 44, for additional figures. Hill began Ujima with twenty-­nine artists: twenty-­four African Ameri­cans, three Puerto Ricans, one Native Ameri­can, and one Caucasian. Lorna C. Hill, telephone interview with the author, June 16, 2009. Hill interview. Ujima Company, Inc., The African Ameri­can population density of Buffalo’s East Side increased from 55 per-

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56. 57. 58. 59. 60.

cent in 1960 to 81 percent in 1980 (where it remained in 1990). See Kraus, Race, Neigh­ borhoods, and Community Power, 44, for additional figures. Rose Ciotta, “Heart and Soul: Lorna Hill, the Guiding Light of the Ujima Company, Is a Buffalo Diva.” Buffalo Magazine of the Buffalo News, April 16, 1989, 7. Ibid., 8. Hill interview. Ibid. Ciotta, “Heart and Soul,” 8.

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\ Masculine Women, Feminist Men Assertions and Contradictions in Mawugbe’s In the Chest of a Woman — Awo M ana A siedu

In August 2007 there was a special production of Efo Kodjo Mawugbe’s play In the Chest of a Woman at the Ghana National Theatre in Accra. This production was advertised as being in honor of the newly appointed, first female chief justice in Ghana, Georgina Wood. The play was, therefore, to be a celebration of the achievements of women and their right to all that they may aspire to. As the lead female character declares, “In the chest of a woman is not only an extension of the breast and a feeble heart, but a strong desire to hold and use power.” The play, however, presents incidents and female characters that appear to contradict this sentiment. Some believed that the characters, rather than celebrating womanhood, perpetrated conventional stereotypes or presented distorted images of female achievers. This essay was inspired by a phone call from a male colleague who, on seeing the television advertisements for the production, was indignant and felt the play was not likely to advance the cause of women, and wondered what I, as a female theatre academic, was going to do about it. The advertisement, as is often the case, had picked the sensational scenes of the play to generate interest to draw people to the theatre. Although I had seen an earlier production of this play, I had not critically considered the points my colleague raised. I went to see this new production, therefore, with a much keener interest in identifying whether or not it was indeed counterproductive for women. This essay examines the production of this play to discover how it may be seen as a celebration of women. It does this through an analysis of three female

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characters in the play: the Queen Mother, who became ruler because there was no suitable male heir to become king; her daughter, Nana Yaa Kyeretwe, who displays courage “like a man”; and Owusu Agyema, her granddaughter, who is disguised from birth as a boy. These characters provide an interesting study of three generations of women from the same family who are called upon by circumstances to play “male roles.” I discuss these women in the frame of the play’s purported feminist tendencies, derived from a discussion with the playwright about this particular production of the play. Within this frame, the essay also questions the motivations of male feminists or pro-­feminist men, such as the playwright appears to be, and whether they need to be reoriented in order to fully achieve their aim of celebrating the female for all she is and can be.

Efo Kodjo Mawugbe, a Pro-­feminist Ghanaian Playwright Efo Kodjo Mawugbe is a Ghanaian playwright and theatre practitioner who has been writing and directing his own plays since the early 1980s. He is currently the artistic director of the National Theatre. He has written about twenty plays, all of which have been performed onstage, on television, or on radio. Unfortunately, however, only one of his plays has, very recently, been published, and although highly deserving, he has received hardly any scholarly attention so far. This is, I hope, set to change as there are plans to publish more of his plays, including APTS: Acquired Prison Traumatic Syndrome (2003),1 a satirical comedy examining the postcolonial condition of Ghana. His only published play, In the Chest of a Woman (2008),2 is the subject of this essay and was recently approved by the Ghana Education Service as a study text in Ghanaian high schools. In the Chest of a Woman, written in 1983, was first produced in 1984, touring the country’s university campuses. It won the Entertainment Critics Award of ­Ghana’s play and playwright of the year in 1985. His other plays include Aluta Continua (1979), which was featured on the Union of National Ration and Television Organizations of Africa; The G-­Yard People (1992); Ananse Kweku Ananse (2007); and Upstairs and Downstairs (2007). In 2006 his play Once Upon a Time in ­Lagos won third prize in the BBC’s African performance contest. This essay began with the assumption that Efo Kodjo Mawugbe was a feminist seeking to speak for women and to represent their right to leadership roles. This was especially because the August 2007 production of the play was in

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honor of the newly elected first female chief justice. As was discovered in conversation with Mawugbe, mentioning the chief justice was a strategic move to get people to go to see the play. He seized the opportunity provided by the historic moment. He reasoned: “If she moves, others, who normally will not come to the theatre, will too; her church, old school mates, judges and the judiciary would all come.”3 That was a clever move, as he was proved right; the opening night, which was graced with the presence of her lordship herself, was well attended, as reported by newspaper reviewers.4 I saw the show on the final night, and that was also well attended. Clearly, if this play had had no relevance for women and their right to leadership, it would not have been suitable for the occasion. Although he does not see himself as a feminist per se, Mawugbe is against male chauvinism. His views on gender are interesting, though not novel: “My position has always been that a man is not whole until he has discovered the feminine side of himself. The image of God is not male or female, it is both; Ataa Naa Nyomo.5 There should be a bit of both in each. The same should be true for women as well. Most men are not in touch with their feminine side. Arriving at that has made me respect women more. . . . I don’t take women for granted at all. They have their contributions to make to society.”6 Mawugbe’s views about the androgyny of every individual are not new; evidently he is drawing on ancient African cosmology. As Mercy Oduyoye puts it, “the African mind contains an image of a motherly Father or a fatherly Mother as the Source Being.”7 Some scholars also trace the roots of the concept of androgyny to ancient Greece,8 and it has long been in operation within feminist thought.9 Although his views may be regarded as feminist, Mawugbe hesitates to call himself that. He is not unique in this. His hesitations are reminiscent of Henrik Ibsen when his late-­nineteenth-­century play A Doll’s House was enthusiastically welcomed by the feminist movement as a contribution to their cause. Joan Templeton refers to Ibsen’s claim then that he had not consciously worked for the women’s rights movement, as it was then called. Although it was “desirable to solve the woman problem,” that was not his “whole purpose.” His task in the play had been “the description of humanity.”10 Templeton, however, convincingly demonstrates in her essay why Ibsen’s play should be read as contributing to the cause of women at that time. It would appear that not much has changed since then. Elizabeth Suter and Paige Toller cite several studies which show that many participants in feminist studies have favorable attitudes toward it generally, yet are reluctant to self-­ identify or label themselves as feminists. This was true for both male and female

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participants to varying degrees.11 Recent studies on gender education in Africa have had similar findings.12 Reasons for this situation are varied. In the case of Mawugbe, it could be due to a fear of what his compatriot Adu-­Poku refers to as a “betrayal of hegemonic masculinity.”13 Adu-­Poku suggests that notions of the rightness of male dominance and privilege are deeply imbedded in the psyche of men brought up in patriarchal societies such as are found in Ghana, compounded further by the legacies of colonialism with its distortions of traditional conceptions of gender relations. Such men would need to undergo a process involving deep self-­examination and a “self-­conscious struggle . . . to develop new interpretations of familiar realities . . . in order to reject patriarchal perceptions of women and to value women’s ideas and actions.”14 Mawugbe may thus be categorized as a pro-­feminist man who is on that journey of self-­ conscious struggle against male hegemony. This is revealed in his pro-­feminist assertions and the apparent contradictions of these that are evident in the play. This ambiguity, it would appear, is characteristic of pro-­feminist men and must be recognized and accepted in order to make a critical appraisal of their own theories and practice.15 In her discussion of the African women writers in the 1980s, Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo shows how they were mostly ignored by male critics, and when a few chose to give them attention, it was mostly condescending and patronizing. An example relevant here is that of Oladele Taiwo’s 1984 book, Fe­ male Novelists of Modern Africa, which purported to be “a celebration of the literary activities of female novelists of modern Africa.”16 However, as Aidoo points out, Taiwo’s analysis of the chosen novels can hardly be called a celebration of these authors. Is Mawugbe’s play another example of a supposed celebration of women, by a man, gone bad? Questioned about some of the contradictions apparent in his play, Mawugbe revealed his “larger purpose” beyond a mere projection of women and their rights to leadership: “It is not just women I wanted to project. It’s about some of our antiquated customs which do not aid our progress. We need to consider things which must change. Customs and traditions are made by men and they can decide to change them. We need people who can say ‘times have changed and we must change with the times.’ That is my message.”17 This theme of the need to change retrogressive customs does dominate the resolution of the play. However, as I will argue, the change in custom advocated in the play is liberating for the female characters and thus is ultimately a victory for women. I suggest that Mawugbe’s play may be read as a celebration of women in spite of some contradictions apparent in his representation of female characters.

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The Mother with a Chest of a Father: Impersonating Masculinity or Celebrating Femininity? The play opens in the palace of Nana Yaa Kyeretwe, where she and her daughter, Owusu, disguised as a boy, are playing a game of oware, a traditional Ghanaian game played with marbles that requires strategizing in order to “capture” as many of the opponent’s marbles as possible. The person with the most ­marbles at the end wins the game. This simple game is a lesson in warfare strategies taught by an astute warrior to her child. For example, seeing that her mother was getting the upper hand in the game, Owusu asks for a three-­minute “truce” and her mother responds: “Yes that is it. Truce! Another cardinal strategy in warfare that is often employed by an army. You need truce to take stock, re-­plan your next offensive based on fresh intelligence that might have filtered in, boost your logistics, strengthen your line of defence. . . . Should the lot fall on you in future to lead your people to battle, never give in easily to a request for truce unless you are very sure it offers you the maximum advantage.”18 Our first encounter with Nana Yaa, therefore, is in a simulated battlefield, what has been called the “quintessentially male arena.”19 She manifests other “masculine” characteristics: physical strength, assertiveness, and aggression. Her sternness with her Okyeame (or linguist), who fails to go down on his knees in addressing her, has no trace of feminine gentleness. The Okyeame had come to report the arrival of some messengers from the King, Nana Yaa’s brother, Kweku Duah II. These messengers had been sent to take Owusu to the palace to begin “his” training to become the next king. This message throws Nana Yaa into a panic because she must now tell her daughter why she had forced her to live as a boy all her life. In a dramatic flashback, she recounts the events that led to the death of her mother, the Queen Mother, ruler of the Ebusa kingdom. On her death bed, she had bequeathed the kingdom to her son, Kwaku Duah, the younger of the two, and had given Nana Yaa just a few towns to rule over. Nana Yaa had objected vehemently, rejecting her mother’s offer and declaring that she, as the older child, deserved the kingdom, and not her younger brother. She was quickly reminded by an elder not to forget that “he is a boy and you are a girl,” but she responded: Let my mother know that if I am to rule, I want a whole kingdom and not some piece of barren land with four or five cottages scattered here and there. ( General Murmur of disapproval) Q. Mother: But you are not a man. Nana : I am a woman, I agree, but am not going to indulge in the fanciful Nana :

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notion that men have a priority on leadership talent. The only sure talent men have demonstrated is the ability to cheat and suppress we [sic] the opposite sex. Who are men anyway? 1st E lder : You must know how you talk before us! Nana : I only asked a question, or does my womanhood deprive me of that right too? (Pause) I want to know whether the art of nation building is the prerogative of men alone. Isn’t that a legitimate question to ask? 2nd E lder : Nation building belongs to the energetic. Nana : (Very Sharply) And who says you men are the most energetic of the human species? Who says so? Where and when was it said? I want to know! (Dead silence. Queen Mother confers with 1st Elder) 1st E lder : Well, Princess, your mother insists that never in the history of Ebusa has a woman ruled where there is a man to do so. And as such you have to accept. . . . Nana : Tell her I say NO. I don’t want to be honoured then. Tell her that. Where is it written that a woman cannot rule when there is a man? I want someone to tell me.20 The assembled elders can only refer her to customs and history, and Nana Yaa in turn insists that if indeed their customs and history said so, it was simply because these were crafted by men. She lets out a string of invectives on men, provoking a threat to cut off her tongue. She quickly snatches a knife from an executioner and dares any man to come forward and cut off her tongue. The men are all taken aback at her extraordinary show of strength and fearlessness, and none dares come forward until Ofori, one of the elders, steps forward, expecting that she will simply stand there to have her tongue cut off. She fights back and soon has him pinned on his back with her knife ready to kill him when her dying mother shouts to her to stop and spare her the sight of blood on her death bed. Nana Yaa reluctantly stops, lamenting that her mother should have given her the opportunity “to teach these living spectators that courage is not the monopoly of men.”21 Although her show of courage impresses her dying mother, she does not change her mind. Instead, she decides that the first male child of either sibling could become king after Kwaku Duah. Kwaku Duah had a girl first, and then Nana Yaa also gave birth to a girl. To ensure that her offspring became king, she decided to disguise her as a boy. Her ambition was so deep that she poisoned her husband when he was unwilling to continue with the deception. All the midwives and nurses were killed in cold blood, and anyone who got wind of the truth was eliminated one way or another. Now her daughter is frightened and horrified at what her mother did and begs to be allowed to live her life as a girl. But Nana Yaa has come too far in her { 127 }

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scheming to take any notice of her daughter’s feelings. She insists, “You SHALL be King, I repeat KING, not queen.” Owusu has lived too long under her mother’s calculating influence and so succumbs to her persuasions. There is a remarkable ambivalence in Nana Yaa’s characterization. She appears to pride herself on being a woman, and at the same time as being “like a man.” She tells her daughter: I tell you, if there is anything men fear in this world it is a woman who is a   WOMAN! . . . A woman who accepts challenges A woman who can shout back when a man shouts A woman who is all out to give the command like a man A woman who in no uncertain terms, Rejects absolutely the definition of the word feminine to mean home oriented, passive, needing-­to be-­guided-­and protected. To men, such a woman is a real woman and a woe and a vice unto manhood. In short, what men fear most is female power in motion!22

Nana Yaa conceives of true womanhood in masculine terms and defines it as being “like a man.” It is almost as if she proclaims that to be a “real woman” or to demonstrate female power, a woman needs to match male demonstrations of power. This impression was enhanced by the casting of the play. Agatha Ofori, a tall, sturdy woman, was convincing in the role of Nana Yaa, a “muscular” woman. The newspaper reviews of the performances were full of praise for her “natural” acting skills and “brilliant showmanship.”23 Owusu was played by ­Pamela Karikari, whose much smaller frame provided a stark contrast and underscored her essentially feminized role. Nana Yaa’s pronouncements, described by Nii Laryea Korley in the Daily Graphic as “caustic, feminist (and) anti-­male,” drew wild responses from the female as well as male members of the audience, clearly pitching the play as a battle between the sexes. At the point where she pins Ofori to the ground during the duel, the women appear to have won. The actions and words of the lead female character reflect the kind of feminist rhetoric that seeks to present women as capable of doing whatever men are capable of, rejecting traditional gender stereotypes, and thus eliding the necessity and validity of these so-­called female gender roles. Nigerian novelist Buchi Emechata rejects this view. While agreeing that women can, when given the same choice and opportunities as their male counterparts, achieve the highest possible successes in any arena, she insists: “It is our work to bring the next generation into the world, nurture them until they are grown old enough. . . . It is hard. It could be boring and could sometimes in some places be a thankless { 128 }

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job. But is it a mean job? . . . What greater job is there? . . . But those who wish to control and influence the future by giving birth and nurturing the young should not be looked down upon. It is not a degrading job. If I had my way, it would be the highest paid job in the world.”24 Emechata valorizes and embraces female gender roles as absolutely essential for the survival of the human race. A woman’s success should not be measured in terms of how her achievements are like a man’s. Evidently, Nana Yaa’s characterization is an embodiment of masculinity; her superior physical prowess, her unflinching desire to rule, and her aggressiveness point to this fact. Although she accepts that she is a woman, she does not exhibit any of the stereotypical female attributes, which may not be a bad thing in itself, but, because of that lack, she causes her daughter much suffering. Within African societies, there is a proclivity for the male and condescension toward the female. Proverbs and other oral literature as well as popular songs are replete with indications of this. Adomako Ampofo notes how these traditional forms are “frequently used to explain and describe, and tend to hold in place stereotypes about women and men.”25 This is evident from the preference for male children. Emechata points out that men and boys are often ridiculed for showing signs of feminine characteristics, while women and girls who show any signs of the masculine, although chided at times, are admired and respected.26 To deny the importance of feminine attributes is to proclaim the superiority of masculine attributes, thus ironically agreeing with patriarchal notions of the inferiority of the female gender. Nana Yaa’s characterization embodies this ironic contradiction. This is powerfully reenacted in the words of the praise singer as Nana Yaa comes onstage in the final scene where all the chiefs and people gather: She who bears the lion’s heart The only woman who treads where men Fear to tread but is never harmed Of her strength not even the tiger is an equal Of her courage, only a lion can compare Hail her. . . . Hail the mother whose mind is a cistern of wisdom. From which the younger ones take gentle sips . . . Yes here comes the mother of the people The mother with a chest of a father.27

There is an indication, thus, that because of her bravery and courage and her determination to face and fight male domination, Nana Yaa has become { 129 }

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male in the eyes of her society. When she declares that “in the chest of a woman is not only an extension of the breast and a feeble heart—But a flaming desire to possess and use power,” she merely succeeds in presenting herself as a woman with a “male chest,” an anomaly. The appellation read thus may be deemed to be tongue in cheek, rather than in genuine praise. Here is not a celebration of femininity but a ridiculing of feminine imitation of masculinity. There is no doubt that her characterization is negative. Oduyoye describes how folktales “use women to illustrate negative human traits,” where those same traits might be praised if they were to be exhibited by men. She goes further to show how they are “structured to make sure all female rebels are dully contained,” appealing to “women to put community welfare above their personal desires,” and demonstrating “the futility of a woman’s efforts to change her destiny.”28 Nana Yaa fits very much into this trope. Despite her bravery in fighting Ofori and achieving that momentary victory for women, which was palpable during the performance in the wild cheers from the female members of the audience, in the end she is totally defeated and collapses in a helpless heap. The audience clearly see the fruitlessness of her desire to change her destiny and to subvert the status quo. They are also invited to see what else may be hidden in the chest of a woman so determined: “aggression, treachery, deceit” and “negative ambition,” as one newspaper review noted—characteristics not desirable in a woman.29

Disempowered Femininity, Antiquated Customs, and New Opportunities The second female character to be considered is the Queen Mother, played by versatile actor Agnes Dapaah. In contrast to her daughter, she is an embodiment of self-­denigrating femininity. She has no interest in asserting the rights of women, although fate had given her the opportunity to assume the role of a leader in her community. She had become queen of the Ebusa kingdom because there was no suitable male.30 The play does not give us extensive detail of her character, and we see her only on her death bed in the flashback recounted above. In the production, she is presented as frail and hardly able to speak. The only act that gives us an indication of how she saw herself is when she intervenes to stop her daughter from killing Ofori. She pleads, “Spare an old woman the sight of blood at her last hour.”31 She appears to be the direct opposite of her daughter and does not have any desire to project a macho image of herself. She admits her femininity, here represented as frail and squeamish. Having drawn { 130 }

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her legitimacy and authority from custom, she is eager to conform to the stipulations of that custom, the status quo, insisting that her son become king because he is male. Although she herself had been called upon to play a “male role,”32 it was within the boundaries of custom and she had played that role as a woman. Her alliance with custom in insisting that Kwaku Duah, her son and the younger of her children, should become king, even after her daughter has demonstrated her desire to rule, indicates a lack of any sense of female loyalty or empowerment. She is content to accept a custom that places her own gender at a disadvantage. She not only misses the opportunity to empower her female descendants but also contributes to perpetrating a custom that does not favor them. Mawugbe’s “larger purpose” of advocating for a change of antiquated customs, rather than projecting a feminist agenda, is brought into focus here. It is, however, worthy of note that the antiquated custom under consideration here was inimical to women, and to change it would be in their favor. By aligning this character, who may be said to represent disempowered femininity, on the side of antiquated custom, he invites us to consider the need for change not only in custom but also in women’s situation. Mawugbe’s advocacy for changing custom is indirectly an advocacy for the empowerment of women. This is much more explicit in the third character to be discussed. Owusu, the third in this generation of women in the play, is forced to impersonate masculinity and to deny her femininity. Her outward comportment, name, costume, and manners are all, to some extent, masculine. Underneath these, however, is a deep longing to be feminine. She pleads with her mother, “I want to be a girl and taste the joy of womanhood.” Her mother turns a deaf ear to her plea, having made efforts to ensure she lived as a man. In her uncle’s palace she is able to keep up the game quite successfully, going through the grueling training of a prince and heir apparent, proving beyond any doubt that she is as up to the task as any man. “His” beauty and feminine charms do not go unnoticed, however, although no one ever suspects the deception. In one of their gossip sessions, two slaves in the palace, Adwoa and Akosua (played brilliantly by Edinam and Atatsi and Agnes Pamfred), discuss the “prince”: Adwoa : You have seen him too haven’t you? Isn’t he handsome? Akosua : HANDSOME you say?. . . . He is such as beautiful boy. What

is such feminine beauty doing in a body like that? Adwoa : Are you implying that Odomankoma33 the creator made a mistake? Akosua : Mmm . . . well possibly. Perhaps after moulding a female body in clay, Odomankoma got up to attend a call and before he got back one of his assistants, an angel, had sneaked in to breathe into the clay a male breath.34 { 131 }

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These women put their finger on Owusu’s reality. Hers is indeed a female body, inhabited by a male breath, breathed into her not by an angel but by her mother. Owusu’s life is one of constant struggle to reconcile her inner, feminine self with the outward, masculine role she is forced to play. In some ways she is the opposite of her mother. While Owusu’s is a female body disguised as male, her mother’s is perceived as a male body disguised as female. Owusu has none of her mother’s ruthless ambitions and would give up the pretense but for the older woman’s insistence. Only when she is alone is she able to give in to her true feelings. After a heated argument with her cousin, the princess Ekyaa, who tries without success to win “his” love and storms away in anger, she laments amid sobs: O, how I wish I could call her back And whisper into her ears the whole secret. Yes the secret that the self within wants to let loose. But the outer self strongly rejects.35

Matters get complicated when Ekyaa refuses to take no for an answer in pursuit of her cousin’s love. When she realizes the futility of her attempts, she decides to destroy “him.” It is soon discovered that the princess is pregnant, and a public meeting is called at which Nana Yaa and all the people are present to ascertain who is responsible for the pregnancy. The princess has refused to name her lover to her father privately. Owusu, seated on the judgment seat at the request of “his” uncle, declares that the penalty for making the princess pregnant would be instant death; in addition, the culprit’s genitalia would be cut off and publicly displayed. This is just the moment Ekyaa has been waiting for, and she declares that Owusu is responsible for her pregnancy. This rapidly brings the action of the play to a crisis point, the resolution of which unravels Nana Yaa’s plot and sends her to an untimely death. She has gained nothing despite all her efforts. Owusu’s true sex is inevitably revealed in a very public way. Although Owusu is cleared of the charge leveled against her, the penalty for her act is death, since it is taboo for a woman who is not the ruler to ever sit on the judgment seat. Her mother had warned her about that before she went to her uncle’s palace to be trained, but there was nothing she could have done to avoid it. Ekyaa, sorry for her role in the whole affair, swears she will die with Owusu. The custodians of custom insist Owusu must die, although Nana Duah and some of the elders are prepared to “set custom aside” and pardon her. This is the crux of the matter for Mawugbe, and there ensues a debate into which even the audience is drawn: { 132 }

M asculine Women, F eminist M en 1st E lder : Nana Opong why must they die? Nana Opong: What says the people’s custom? Ok yeame Boateng : Nana Opong, who made the custom? Nana Opong: Answer that question for yourself. Ok yeame Boateng : The customs were made not by gods, they

were made by men and therefore can be unmade by men. Nana Opong: Only inexperienced young men intoxicated with the sweet wine of youthful exuberance speak with such undue recklessness. But take note, before we unmake the customs, we’ll first have to unmake your position as Okyeame and go on to unmake Daasebre Kwaku Duah’s position as King. Ok yeame Boateng : Nana Opong, all we are asking is that for once let us cast the custom aside and. . . . Nana Opong: Speak no more, you elder with an infantile mind what a thing to say. “Cast the custom aside”? To ask that the custom be set aside amounts to asking Daasebre to strip himself naked and walk through the streets of Ebusa. . . . he won’t commit such an abomination.36 After further discussions of the rightness of the death penalty incurred by Owusu and the two other lives likely to be lost because of it (Ekyaa and her unborn child—she had indeed gotten pregnant in order to implicate Owusu), the 2nd Elder throws it to the audience for them “to also share their thoughts.”37 The audience members at this production were very ready to air their opinions, with several people indicating the need for custom to serve the people, rather than enslaving them, as was the case in the play. They advocated for change. A few, however, agreed with Nana Opong that custom could not be set aside at will. In the play, those in favor of setting aside custom are forced to accept its dictates as the conservative views override theirs. Kwaku Duah, helpless in the face of the tyranny of custom, orders the executioner to take them away. He, however, decides he can no longer be king under the circumstances and starts to take off his royal paraphernalia. The people are taken by surprise, and the elders rush to stop him from abdicating his throne. The 1st Elder declares, “We shall not allow you to become a slave to customs and traditions of men.”38 They then stop the execution, and the play concludes with the two girls returning to the stage to the king’s relieved embrace. Owusu’s fate is inextricably linked with that of custom. If she were to die, then custom would have won the day, but since she is pardoned, custom has lost out. As noted above, Mawugbe’s advocacy for a change in antiquated customs is an advocacy for the liberation of women. Owusu is now free to throw off the mask of masculinity and to live as a woman. This freedom is accentuated by her mother’s death. When it was revealed that Owusu was after all a girl, she col{ 133 }

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lapsed and died. Nana Yaa, the principal character, the one who contended that women also had the desire to rule, is in the end destroyed by her own ambition. There is hope, however, that her daughter may now have the opportunity for a new and better life in a society that is willing to allow progressive change.

Conclusion: Androgyny and a More Productive and Positive Society This essay has examined the August 2007 production of Mawugbe’s play In the Chest of a Woman to discover how it may be read as a celebration of women and their right to leadership roles. Three key female characters—Nana Yaa Kyeretwe, the strong, aggressive woman; her mother, the Queen Mother, who embodies frail femininity and became ruler of a kingdom; and Owusu, Nana Yaa’s daughter, who is forced to impersonate masculinity—have served as the focus of this essay. Through these characters, the play makes some strong assertions in favor of women; the manner in which it does so, however, is fraught with contradictions. This, I have suggested, may be due to the fact that the playwright, hesitant to identify himself as a feminist, may be sympathetic to the cause of women but has not made a self-­conscious attempt to free himself from patriarchal assumptions that he may have unconsciously imbibed over the years. The contradictions that result are evident in the play. He defends these, however, on the basis that he was seeking to address the much larger issue of the need for the discontinuation of customs that are retrogressive and not a projection of any feminist agenda. This is clearly the case when we consider the way the play concludes. The customs he seeks to undo, however, are intrinsically tied to the rights of women. I have argued, therefore, that Mawugbe’s play is indeed about the rights of women and is in some ways a celebration of women and an advocacy for change in those customs that are inimical to the welfare and progress of women. Beyond this is the strong suggestion by Mawugbe that not only are men and women both essential in any society, but also that all human beings have a masculine as well as a feminine side, and that for individuals and societies to function effectively these must be recognized and harnessed in equal measure. While Nana Yaa may be said to represent one extreme end of the spectrum, emphasizing masculine traits to the neglect of her feminine side, her mother is at the other extreme end, emphasizing stereotypical feminine traits. Owusu appears to be the hope of a balanced combination of both traits. She emerges from her ordeal of forced impersonation of masculinity into a new freedom to be who she truly would like to be. Having lived all her life as a boy and gone { 134 }

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through the rigorous training required for an heir apparent, one may assume that Owusu’s life will not conform to feminine gender-­role stereotypes and, at the same time, she will not, unlike her mother, value masculine traits above the feminine. Therefore, although on the surface one may question the validity of the portrayal of women in Mawugbe’s play, as was the concern of my colleague mentioned at the start of this essay, a close examination of the characters exposes a positive feminist message. Mercy Oduyoye’s views on gender relations in Africa perhaps provide an apt conclusion to this essay. In her discussion of how myths and folktales have shaped the African consciousness regarding gender role stereotypes, Oduyoye suggests the need to “re-­read and retell” certain myths “to bring parity and justice to human relations.” She emphasizes the importance of the human rather than the masculine or feminine and suggests that what we should be looking for are “the human traits that are desirable for building up and maintaining personal skills (not just male or female). . . . Neither patriarchy nor matriarchy alone can transform relationships between men and women.” Rather than view masculinity and femininity as two extreme ends of a pendulum with the hope that the pendulum will eventually stand still in the middle, she advocates that “we look at the relations between men and women as a spiral” and thereby “see that life is movement and being, a continuum of dynamic creative empowering relationships moving ever upwards.”39

Notes 1. This play is the subject of a paper I presented at a New York University conference in Ghana, organized in Accra, to commemorate Ghana’s fiftieth anniversary. That paper was titled “Snapshots of Ghana @ 50 through the Lenses of Mawugbe’s APTS (Acquired Prison Immune Syndrome).” This same play, retitled The Prison Graduates, won one of the two top prizes in the 2009 BBC World Service and British Council International Radio Playwriting Competition. 2. Kodjo E. Mawugbe, In the Chest of a Woman (Accra: Sunshine Productions, 2008). 3. Kodjo E. Mawugbe, interview with the author, August 2008. 4. Afua J. Bondzi, “Ghana: In the Chest of a Woman,” The Chronicle, August 17, 2007,; Nii Laryea Korley, “In the Chest of a Woman? Good or Evil,” Daily Graphic, August 17, 2007, blogsthread2/141297/31. 5. Ataa Naa Nyomo is a Ga name for God that incorporates both the male (Ataa) and the female (Naa). This duality of gender of God is not unique to the Gas of Ghana, although, according to Mercy A. Oduyoye, “The older understanding of God as both female and male . . . has been lost in modernity.” Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (New York: Orbis Books, 1995), 157–58.

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Awo M ana A siedu 6. Mawugbe interview. 7. Oduyoye, Daughters of Anowa, 179. 8. Denise D. Guastello and Stephen J. Guastello, “Androgyny, Gender Role Behaviour and Emotional Intelligence among College Students and Their Parents,” Sex Roles 49, nos. 11–12 (2003): 663–64. 9. Rita Gross, “What Went Wrong? Feminism and Freedom from the Prison of Gender Roles,” Crosscurrents 53, no. 1 (2003): 19. 10. Joan Templeton, “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen,” PMLA 104, no. 1 (1989): 28, 11. Elizabeth A. Suter and Paige W. Toller, “Gender Role and Feminism Revisited: A Follow­up Study,” Sex Roles 55 (2006): 135–46. 12. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, et al., “Women’s and Gender Studies in English-­Speaking Sub-­Saharan Africa: A Review of Research in the Social Sciences,” Gender and Society 18, no. 6 (2004): 685–714; and Delali M. Badasu, “On Some Concerns about Gender Education in Ghana,” in Knowledge Transmission in Ghana; Special Issue of the Research Re­ view 25, no. 1, ed. Akosha Adomako Ampofo and Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu, supplement (in press). 13. Samuel Adu-­Poku, “Envisioning (Black) Male Feminism: A Cross-­Cultural Perspective,” Journal of Gender Studies 10, no. 2 (2001): 159. 14. P. H. Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Em­ powerment (New York: Routledge, 1991), 27, quoted in Adu-­Poku, “Envisioning (Black) Male Feminism,” 160. 15. P. Douglas, “ ‘New Men’ and the Tensions of Pro-­feminist Men,” Social Alternatives 12, no. 4 (1994): 32–35. 16. Oladele Taiwo, Female Novelists of Modern Africa (New York: St. Martins, 1984), quoted in Ama Ata Aidoo, “To Be an African Woman Writer: An Overview and a Detail,” in Criticism and Ideology: Second African Writers Conference in Stockholm 1986, ed. Kirsten Holst Peterson (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1988), 166. 17. Mawugbe interview. 18. Mawugbe, Chest of a Woman, 3. 19. David Glover and Cora Kaplan, Genders (London: Routledge, 2000), 56. Some historical accounts indicate that war has not been the preserve of men in traditional African society, an example being the formidable Nana Yaa Asantewaa, who led the Ashanti against the British in the late nineteenth century. 20. Mawugbe, Chest of a Woman, 19–20. 21. Ibid., 21–24. 22. Ibid., 31, my emphasis. 23. Bondzi, “Ghana”; Korley, “In the Chest of a Woman?” 24. Buchi Emecheta, “Feminism with a Small ‘f,’ ” in Peterson, Criticism and Ideology, 179– 80; see also Gross, “What Went Wrong?” 25. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and John Boateng, “Multiple Meanings of Manhood among Boys in Ghana,” in From Boys to Men: Social Constructions of Masculinity in Contem­ porary Society, ed. T. Shefer, K. Ratele, A. Strebel, N. Shabalaa, and R. Buikema (Lans­ downe: University of Cape Town Press, 2007), 55. For more on this see Odoyoy, Daugh­ ters of Anowa, where the author seeks to show how folktales and myths, what she calls

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2 6. 27. 28. 29. 30.

31. 32.

33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39.

“folktalk,” “reflects or is actually used to shape women’s lives and to answer the question, What is woman?” (20). Emecheta, “Feminism with a Small ‘f,’ ” 173–81. Mawugbe, Chest of a Woman, 76, my emphasis. Oduyoye, Daughters of Anowa, 34. Korley, “In the Chest of a Woman?” Traditionally, succession rules were quite clear on the types of people who could be king or queen: members of a ruling families or clan, with the preference first going to male heirs, but clearly not barring the participation of women. In a sense, therefore, women were not necessarily confined to the private domain as was the case in other parts of the world. The class of women, and for that matter the low numbers of women, who had this kind of opportunity must be noted. One may not generalize and say all women had rights equal to males’ in traditional African societies. Mawugbe, Chest of a Woman, 24. There is a sense in which the role of king was reserved for men. It was only open to women when there was no male suitable to rule. It is in that sense that she must be seen as having being forced to play a “male role.” Odomankoma is an Akan name for God. Mawugbe, Chest of a Woman, 43. Ibid., 57. Ibid., 94. Ibid., 95. Ibid., 102. Oduyoye, Daughters of Anowa, 34.

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\ Understanding Paul Robeson’s Soviet Experience — L auren Mc Connell

Paul Robeson—the African Ameri­can singer, actor, and political activist—was a controversial figure during his lifetime, and continues to be to this day. There are now numerous articles and books reevaluating both his accomplishments as an artist and his stand on political issues. While there is general agreement about his tremendous gifts as an actor, singer, athlete, and scholar, much of the debate about his life centers on his controversial politics. This essay adds to the existing analysis on Robeson by focusing on an understudied part of his life: the time he spent in the Soviet Union, and the impact that his performances and interaction with the Russian people had on his political beliefs and his feelings about himself. Robeson (1898–1976), after an inspirational visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1934, embraced socialist ideology and became a vocal advocate of the Soviet Union. What was unusual about this was not Robeson’s interest in the ideals of socialism and his attraction to the “great social experiment” taking place in the Soviet Union, for many people had a similar interest, but the fact that he remained a supporter of Stalin and the USSR in the face of mounting evidence that the great experiment had gone terribly wrong. Because Robeson fought for human rights and racial equality throughout the world, his support of Stalin, whose policies led to the death of over twenty million people in the Soviet Union and who specifically targeted religious and ethnic minorities for abuse, seemed contradictory. While getting accurate information about what was happening in the Soviet Union was sometimes difficult, because the United States tended to exaggerate the evils of communism and the USSR did not allow uncensored reporting, the atrocities committed there were widely { 138 }

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documented in time. In spite of this, throughout his life Robeson remained a staunch supporter of the Soviet leadership and said so in articles, speeches, and his 1958 book, Here I Stand. Explanations for Robeson’s loyalty to the Soviet Union vary. Many of his supporters do not address the issue directly, preferring to focus on his many accomplishments and contributions as an African Ameri­can activist. Those who do, however, argue that his loyalty to the USSR was understandable, considering how badly he was treated in the United States because of racial discrimination and harassment by the House Un-­Ameri­can Activities Committee during the cold war. Robeson’s critics also have varying reasons for their disappointment in him. Dissidents in the formerly Soviet-­dominated eastern Europe felt Robeson betrayed them; they viewed themselves as fighting for freedom in much the same way that Robeson professed to be, yet Robeson was on the side of the oppressors. As Czech novelist Josef Škvorecký explained: “How we hated that black apostle who sang, of his own free will, at open-­air concerts . . . at a time when they were raising the Socialist leader Milada Horakova to the gallows . . . and at a time when great Czech poets . . . were pining away in jails. Well, maybe it was wrong to hold it against Paul Robeson. No doubt he was acting in good faith, convinced that he was fighting for a good cause. . . . May God rest his—one hopes—innocent soul.”1 Ameri­can cultural critic Lee Siegel argues that Robeson was cowardly and knew the truth but “didn’t much care” because he enjoyed hobnobbing with the Soviet elite during his visits to the Soviet Union.2 African Ameri­can engineer Robert Robinson, who lived in the USSR most of his life and knew Robeson, expressed a more charitable point of view. He felt that Robeson knew very little about what was really going on in the Soviet Union because he actively avoided talking with people who, like Robinson, might disabuse him of his faith in the Soviet system.3 In other words, Robeson, as journalist Barry Gewen suggests, may have “willed his own ignorance” about the negative side of socialism so that he could remain loyal.4 This essay will argue that it is not so much what Robeson knew that is at issue, but rather how he knew; and how he knew is crucial in understanding Robeson’s behavior and motives. Cultural anthropologist Ladislav Holy makes the distinction between “experience near” knowledge and “experience distant” knowledge. He argues that when official propaganda was backed up by “lived experience,” it was believable to people, because “reality as it is understood by the people themselves can be apprehended only through concepts that are experience near.”5 Robeson was deeply affected by his “lived experiences” in the Soviet Union, especially his visits in the 1930s, so much so that the positive “ex{ 139 }

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perience near” knowledge he acquired through physically interacting with the Soviet people outweighed, in his mind, the negative “experience distant” knowledge about the Soviet Union he read about or was told about later on. His experiences with the Russian people—through his concerts, through the parties he attended, through his tours in factories and schools—all touched him at a deeply emotional level and convinced him that the Soviet Union was a place free of racial discrimination, a place where different races all “live[d] in brotherhood and equality.” To him, it truly was, as he stated in a 1952 speech celebrating the thirty-­fifth anniversary of the USSR, the “land of love and happiness.”6 Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic, makes another experience-­related argument when he stresses that “the powerful effects of even temporary experiences of exile, relocation, and displacement [must be taken] into account” in analysis of black culture and identity formation. He points out that numerous African Ameri­cans, including Richard Wright, Martin Delany, Donald Byrd, and W. E. B. Du Bois, were influenced by their transnational experiences, and the countries they visited were, in turn, influenced by them. “Whether their experience of exile is enforced or chosen, temporary or permanent,” Gilroy notes, “these intellectuals and activists, writers, speakers, poets, and artists repeatedly articulate a desire to escape the restrictive bonds of ethnicity, national identification, and sometimes even ‘race’ itself.”7 This was true for Robeson. Before his first visit to the Soviet Union, in 1934, Robeson did not believe there was a way to escape the restrictive bonds of ethnicity, national identification, and race. Although he had traveled in Europe widely, and particularly enjoyed spending time in England, he still experienced discrimination and ultimately felt that Europeans felt superior and did not respect people of other races. When he visited the Soviet Union, however, he felt that the Russians treated him as an equal. As he explained to the film director Sergei Eisenstein at the end of his first visit: “I hesitated to come. I listened to what everybody had to say, but I didn’t think this would be any different for me from any other place. But—maybe you’ll understand—I feel like a human being for the first time since I grew up. Here I am not a Negro but a human being. Before I came I could hardly believe that such a thing could be. In a few days I’ve straightened myself out. Here, for the first time in my life, I walk in full human dignity. You cannot imagine what that means to me as a Negro.”8 Robeson’s experiences during his visit were profound and life-­changing. Robeson’s “lived experiences” in the Soviet Union also confirmed the posi­t ive things he had heard about the country before his trip. A week before Robeson visited Moscow, for example, he was a guest of the dean of Canterbury. Dur{ 140 }

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ing this visit, the dean talked enthusiastically of the “Russian program,” saying that it was majestic in range and Christian in spirit.9 Although Robeson may have had his doubts before visiting, he came to believe in this vision of the Soviet experiment with all his heart. Robeson was also influenced by writings and events that took place in New York in the late 1920s and 1930s. When he was performing in the musical Show Boat, Russians had taken Manhattan by storm: the Moscow Art Theatre had had a stunning success with its rendition of Tolstoy’s play The Powers of Dark­ ness, the Russian opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin had impressed the musical world, and the Diaghilev and Stravinsky ballet The Firebird surprised and thrilled the crowds. Audiences were struck by the originality of Russian art. Some African Ameri­cans felt that Russians were different from Europeans because they resisted “westernization” and drew from their unique folk heritage.10 In 1931, Robeson, who was studying the Russian language and music, stated, “there is a kinship between the russians and the negroes [sic]. They were both serfs, and in the music there is the same note of melancholy touched with mysticism.”11 During Robeson’s 1934 visit, this feeling of kinship with the Russian people was reinforced day after day through his personal encounters with them. He was greeted warmly by many prominent Russian artists and political leaders. Robeson and film director Sergei Eisenstein, who had invited him to Russia to discuss working on a film together, were almost constant companions for two weeks. Through Eisenstein, Robeson met theatre director Alexander Tairov, who greeted him with a clasp of his arms and a kiss on both cheeks.12 After singing Negro spirituals at a party sponsored by the Soviet foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, the minister laid his hand on Robeson’s arm and told him how glad he was that he had come to their country. “All of us here know the position of the Negroes,” he said. “We are one with your people.”13 Robeson also interacted with “regular” Russian people. He went out alone and walked the streets of Moscow, took the streetcars, visited shops, and talked to the people. He was struck by the way Russians approached him without fear. They were charmed by his ability to speak Russian and showed their delight by calling him traditional Russian terms of endearment and fondly patting and hugging him. On one occasion, a group of children enthusiastically mobbed Robeson. They put their arms around his knees, grabbed his hands, tugged at his coat, and tried to climb into his arms. Touched, Robeson commented, “They have never been told to fear a black man.”14 After he sang an aria from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at a party arranged by Eisenstein at the House of Cinema Workers, the eager audience rushed the stage. As friend and biographer Marie Seton later recounted: “The listeners could not believe their ears, so true to the { 141 }

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Russian spirit was this voice. . . . As the last note died away, people rose to their feet. They rushed to the dais. They swarmed on to it to embrace Paul Robeson. They kissed him and hugged him. They wept, they laughed and called him all the loving names in the passion-­charged Russian language, including the tenderest of all—Pavelushka—which means my dearest, beloved little Paul.”15 I give the details of these encounters to make the point that Robeson was not only welcomed in the Soviet Union; he was literally welcomed with open arms. The warm, physical contact he experienced, in addition to all he was told and shown, influenced how he thought about the Soviet Union and its people and, as importantly, how he felt. Ashley Montagu, a noted researcher on human development, argues that touch is an important mode of communication between people and that the experience of touch stimulates physiological and psychological processes that lead to strong feelings.16 Robeson had experienced enthusiastic audiences before, but his visit to Russia was different because of the unrestrained affection shown him, both verbally and physically. Because he was accustomed to being discriminated against, feared, and even despised in the United States, the physical and verbal expressions of affection showered on him by the Russian people moved him deeply. This “lived experience” was so powerful that it changed how he felt about himself and cemented in his mind a fondness for the Russian people that lasted virtually his entire life. More than twenty years after his first visit, Robeson reiterated to the House Un-­Ameri­can Activities Committee what he had said to Eisenstein: “In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being, and no color prejudice like in Mississippi, and no color prejudice like in Washington.”17 In addition to these warm personal encounters with the Russian people, there were other things that impressed Robeson during this and subsequent trips, particularly in regard to how people of different races were treated and depicted. Robeson met several African Ameri­cans—including his wife’s two brothers, Frank and John Goode—who had chosen to live in the Soviet Union, all reporting to be happy with their decision. In his wanderings through the streets of Moscow he came upon a statue of the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, whose grandfather was African. Robeson was pleased that the statue’s physiognomy reflected Pushkin’s African heritage and that Russians seemed to be proud of that heritage.18 In 1936 the Soviet film Circus, which told the story of a circus starlet who fled the United States to escape racism, played to over a million Muscovites. The climax of the film showed Soviet people of different nationalities singing a lullaby to her young, Negro son, telling him how welcome he was in the Soviet Union, where he could grow up happy, loved, and

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free. Robeson learned songs from this film and sang them to enthusiastic audiences during his visits.19 Considering the ample “experience near” evidence Robeson had that people of African descent could live productive, happy lives free from discrimination in the Soviet Union, it is hardly surprising that he was impressed. He became so convinced that the country was free from racial discrimination that he enrolled his son to study in Moscow for two years, feeling that “it would protect [Paul Jr.] from being hurt” by racial discrimination in the United States.20 Robeson had also been told good things about the Soviet Union’s treatment of indigenous racial minorities before his trip. When he visited schools and saw the situation personally, he became convinced that the Soviets had solved the “minority question.” As he recounts in Here I Stand: “Well, I went to see for myself and on my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1934 I saw how the Yakuts and the Uzbeks and all the other formerly oppressed nations were leaping ahead from tribalism to modern industrial economy, from illiteracy to the heights of knowledge. Their ancient cultures blooming in new and greater richness. Their young men and women mastering the sciences and arts.”21 While his enthusiasm for modern, industrial society over tribal cultures seems questionable today, his point was that people who had been viewed as “backward” could, when given a fair chance, excel academically and eventually would be able to self-­rule. Since African Ameri­cans in the United States were also often treated as “backward” or less capable intellectually, this impressed him deeply. In 1937, Robeson attended a performance by the Uzbek National Theatre. He was moved to tears when Stalin, who was in the audience, stood and applauded the group. He described it in an article published in 1953: Here was clearly a man who seemed to embrace all. So kindly—I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good—the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance. . . . Here was a people quite comparable to some of the tribal folk of Asia—quite comparable to the proud Yoruba or Basuto of West and East Africa, but now their lives flowering anew within the socialist way of life twenty years matured under the guidance of Lenin and Stalin. And in this whole area of the development of national minorities—of their relation to the Great Russians—Stalin had played and was playing a most decisive role.22

Robeson, coming from the economically depressed United States, was also impressed by the apparent prosperity of life in the Soviet Union. He found that everywhere he went there was plenty of food. Robeson made a point of visiting

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workers’ homes and a collective farm. He reported that they all lived in healthful surroundings and that the time he spent on the farm was “idyllic.”23 I include these quotes about Robeson’s visits to minority schools, the Uzbek performance, and his impression of the prosperity of life in the Soviet Union to highlight how important Robeson’s “lived experiences” were to his understanding of the situation in the USSR. This was particularly the case when he was touched emotionally. The way he felt in Stalin’s presence, the feeling of warmth and kindness that Stalin apparently exuded, shaped Robeson’s view of reality. The joy he felt when children embraced him, even the way he felt walking the streets of Moscow without the burden of racial oppression that he routinely experienced in United States, strongly influenced his positive perception of the Soviet Union. W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk, describes the conflicting “double consciousness” African Ameri­cans must constantly negotiate in the United States. As he describes it, “One ever feels his twoness,—an Ameri­can, A Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”24 In the Soviet Union, Robeson felt “united.” The heavy veil of racism was lifted and he could walk tall, proud, and free. This feeling was so thrilling to Robeson that he decided he would one day move to the Soviet Union. As he declared in 1936, “Why, it’s the only country in the world where I feel at home.”25 In addition to the knowledge about the Soviet Union and its people that Robeson acquired through personal interaction and “walking the city,” Robeson acquired “experience near” knowledge through performance. He learned a num­ ber of Russian songs, particularly folk songs and classical arias influenced by the folk, that he performed both in the USSR and in his concerts throughout the world. Performance theorist Joseph Roach argues that songs can function as vehicles of cultural transmission.26 By engaging in the act of singing, the physical act of “giving voice” to Russian songs that were passed through the ages, Robeson was able to learn and commiserate, in a deeply internalized way, with the sufferings and joys of his “Russian brothers.” Robeson was often compared with the great Russian bass-­baritone Fyodor Chaliapin. Both “represented the greatest expressions of the human spirit through the human voice.”27 Russians were surprised that Robeson, from another country and race, was able to capture the spirit of Russian music. So profound was the cultural transmission through song that Robeson truly seemed to possess a “great Russian soul.” Robeson also felt that a special communication occurred between him and the Russian people when he performed:

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Paul Robeson ’ s Soviet E x perience When I sing . . . I feel that a tremendous bond of sympathy and mutual understanding unites us. The Russian folksongs and those of the Soviet National Republics, which were formerly Czarist colonies, bear a close relationship to folksongs of the Negro people. . . . The warmth and obvious friendliness of the Soviet people in response to the ­efforts of Mr. Lawrence Brown [his accompanist] and myself, makes me feel that it is not only we who are heard, but that it hears and sympathizes with the struggles of my people.28

Through the repeated experience of performance in the Soviet Union, Robe­ son “bonded” with the Russian people, and the experience became deeply ingrained in his memory. He felt that the Soviet people commiserated with the struggle of African Ameri­cans and that they were all united as working people. Through his interaction with the Russian people, through his experiences “walking the city,” and through performance, Robeson acquired considerable “experience near” knowledge about the Soviet Union and its people. He learned that Russians were passionate, melancholy, loving people who completely accepted him. There is no doubt that the Russian people’s enthusiasm for Robeson was completely real. He also learned—and this is perhaps the most important thing to remember when evaluating Robeson’s life—that the Soviet Union was a place where he felt good about himself—as a man, as an artist, as a citizen of the world. Over and over he said that in the Soviet Union he felt for the first time like a human being.29 Unfortunately, as moving as his experiences were, the “experience near” knowledge he acquired through his visits gave Robeson only partial insight into the situation in the Soviet Union and its leadership. In the late 1920s and 1930s, due to enforced collectivization under Stalin, as many as ten million peasants died of starvation. Those who resisted Stalin’s policies were either shot, exiled, or sent to concentration camps where they were worked to death. In spite of the widespread famine during this time, Stalin insisted on continuing to export grain. In 1934, the same year as Robeson’s first visit, Stalin implemented a campaign of political terror known as “the purges” against Communist Party members who had brought Stalin to power; his pretext was the assassination of his potential rival, Sergey Kirov. Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, revealed in 1956 that Stalin most likely arranged Kirov’s murder himself as an excuse for the promotion of mass bloodshed. Stalin used a series of show trials as a means for expanding the terror from 1936 through 1938, when a number of Communist leaders were forced to confess and killed. The terror spread almost out of control until World War II. People in every facet of Soviet life were killed, in-

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cluding many in the artistic community. Stalin’s political victims numbered tens of millions. After World War II there was widespread persecution and mur­ dering of Jews and other minority groups such as the Ukrainians, in spite of the official policy of equality. It was against this backdrop that Robeson was entertained in Moscow and was shown a utopic vision of socialist society. In this light, Robeson’s highly idealistic depiction in the 1950s of the Soviet Union as a happy land where “Man can walk the earth so proud and free” and his glowing descriptions of Stalin (“how consistently, how patiently, he labored for peace and ever-­increasing abundance, with what deep kindliness and wisdom”) seems at best naive.30 Yet Robeson did, at some level, believe in this vision of the Soviet utopia—again, because of the intensity of his “lived experiences” there and his faith in his “experience near” knowledge. What may have changed with time was that Robeson’s belief in the complete reality of the vision became less important to him than the possibility of this vision. Evidence indicates that Robeson did know of many of the atrocities that went on in the Soviet Union and that he may have had doubts about its leadership. This was particularly true after World War II when anti-­Semitism led to the deaths of some of Robeson’s Russian Jewish friends and when African Ameri­cans he knew in the USSR had become disillusioned. But this happened over time, and Robeson never made any public statements against the Soviet government. Like many faithful communists, he believed that the deaths that occurred were an inevitable price to be paid for implementing rapid social change, and that those being killed were traitors who threatened the Soviet Union. As Robeson commented in 1936, “They ought to destroy anybody who seeks to harm that great country.”31 So strong was Robeson’s conviction that the Soviet Union was on the correct moral path for the future, so impressed was he that the Soviet Union had a constitution that guaranteed racial equality, so vivid were his memories of “a place where man can breathe free” that he continued to support the Soviet leadership even if he may have had some doubts about the implementation of its policies. It is important to recognize that Robeson actually spent quite a limited amount of time in the Soviet Union. His impression of the country and its people was formed almost entirely on four visits between 1934 and 1937. Each visit reinforced the positive experiences he had on his first visit, as he explained in 1937: “My third visit . . . has given me greater opportunities for seeing this wonderful country than any former shorter visits afforded. . . . I must say that all of my earlier impressions have been confirmed, my understanding of the Soviet ideal has been broadened and many features of Soviet society not so well understood by me, made more clear.”32 Then World War II broke out, and Robeson { 146 }

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did not visit again until 1949, for the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth. After that visit, the cold war began and Robeson’s passport was confiscated because of his ties with the Communist Party, so he was not able to travel abroad. As a result, he did not visit again until 1958. His last visit occurred in 1961. During the twelve years that passed between Robeson’s visits in the 1930s and his visit in 1949, much of the sense of hope and idealism that existed (at least in certain circles in Moscow) in the 1930s had been replaced by a grim cynicism and weariness after the purges and the massive starvation that occurred during collectivization and World War II. In the 1930s, there was a time when people of African descent felt they were treated as equals (in this respect Robeson’s “experience near” knowledge was accurate), but racial discrimination and anti-­Semitism became the norm as the Soviet Union became increasingly nationalistic. Most African Ameri­cans whom Robeson met in the 1930s were eager to leave by 1949; Robert Robinson even tried to elicit Robeson’s help to get out of the Soviet Union.33 During those same twelve years, Robeson’s faith in the Soviet Union never faltered. In fact, it may have increased. Again, the role performance played in cementing Robeson’s convictions must be considered. Roach argues that through the act of performance, memories are evoked and the imagination is engaged.34 Although Roach focused more on the passing of memory through ­embodied acts from one generation to the next, the idea of an embodied act evoking memory could be applied to Robeson’s situation. When Robeson sang Russian folk songs and patriotic songs extolling the virtues of the Soviet Union, and when he spoke of his experiences in the USSR, he was able to relive the positive feelings he experienced and reinforce his beliefs about the merits of Soviet society. Although Robeson was occasionally confronted with negative information about the Soviet Union, it was always “experience distant”: he did not trust the sources, and he could counter the information by giving positive examples based on his personal experiences. When Robeson was asked, for example, about the reports of millions of people starving in the Soviet Union, Robeson confidently replied, “This stuff about starvation is the bunk. What else would you expect Hearst [the owner of capitalist newspapers] to say? Wherever I went there was plenty of food.”35 Because of his lack of “experience near” knowledge of what was really happening, his distrust of information sources, and his constant reaffirmation of his faith in Soviet society through performance, Robeson remained a true believer even as his comrades in the Soviet Union became increasingly disillusioned. Robeson’s return visit to the Soviet Union in 1949 was a joyful experience. Once again he was greeted with enthusiasm, and, as he told the crowds, he was { 147 }

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very moved to be back on Soviet soil. He enthusiastically announced that the Soviet Union was his “second motherland.”36 During this trip, however, Robe­ son was confronted with disturbing information. On the last day of his visit, after making numerous inquiries, he met with Itzik Feffer, an old Jewish friend. Through sign language Feffer communicated to Robeson that the room was bugged. The two carried on a casual conversation as Feffer communicated through gestures and written notes that another Jewish friend, actor and director Solomon Mikhoels, had been brutally murdered (on Stalin’s orders, it turned out), that other prominent Jewish figures were under arrest, and that widespread purges of Jews had taken place in Leningrad and Moscow. Feffer predicted that he would be killed as well.37 He was executed three days later. The information Feffer imparted must have dealt a serious blow to the foundation of Robeson’s beliefs, for this was the kind of “experience near” information he could not ignore. It also left him with an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, he still believed in the ideals of socialism; he still felt a deep bond with the Russian people; and, in the Soviet Union, he still felt free of the burden of racism. He had also spent the last twelve years extolling the virtues of the country abroad. To denounce the anti-­Semitic purges would undoubtedly jeopardize his relationship with the Soviet leadership and contradict his glowing reports about Soviet society. On the other hand, if he intervened somehow he might be able to help his friend and other Soviet Jews. In the end, Robeson chose to address the issue indirectly through performance. Before the final encore of his last concert in Moscow, he explained that he felt deep cultural ties with the Jewish peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States and that the present generation of Russian Jewish writers and actors were continuing a great artistic tradition. He mentioned how much he had enjoyed visiting with Feffer and talked of his friendship with Mikhoels. Then he sang the Yiddish song “Zog Nit Kaynmal,” which was the resistance song of the Warsaw Ghetto, after first reading the lyrics aloud to his audience in Russian. The audience was deeply moved by the performance. Perhaps Robeson felt that by publicly acknowledging his friendship with and admiration for Jewish people, he could move his audience to question the anti-­Semitic attitudes that were prevalent at the time. When back in the United States and faced with questions about anti-­ Semitism in the Soviet Union, however, Robeson denied having any knowledge of the problem.38 This was an unfortunate turning point in Robeson’s life, and one that surely took a tremendous toll on him emotionally. In a way he had to live with another “double consciousness,” for he knew all was not well in the Soviet Union, but he had reasons for not revealing what he knew. He cared deeply about the { 148 }

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Russian Jews, but the United States was entering into the cold war and Robeson may have felt that any criticism he made of the Soviet Union would be used by anti-­Communists to discredit the values of socialism, which were values in which Robeson still believed strongly. So, as biographer Martin Duberman put it, Robeson “clammed up.”39 Robeson recounted the story of his meeting with Feffer to his son, Paul Jr., but made him promise not to reveal the truth about it until after his death. Paul Jr. respected his father’s wishes and did not reveal the details of the meeting and what his father knew until 1981.40 The fact that Robeson told his son the story about Feffer but did not want it revealed until after his death indicates that his denial of knowledge about anti-­ Semitism may have weighed on his conscience. Outwardly, however, Robeson appeared more committed to the Soviet Union than ever; it was in the 1950s that his most glowing descriptions of Stalin and the USSR were written. In his speeches and writing, Robeson drew heavily from his positive “experience near” knowledge that he acquired during his visits in the 1930s. If he did not fully believe the reality of the socialist utopia in the present, he still had his vivid memories of what it was like in the past, as he experienced it, and he believed strongly in what it could be in the future. The McCarthy era in the 1950s was a dismal period in Robeson’s life. In 1952 he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize but was unable to attend the ceremony in Moscow because the U.S. government had confiscated his passport. This meant that he was also unable to enjoy the “moral support of England and Europe” that was so important to him emotionally and financially. As Robeson noted, “the right to travel is of special importance to the Negro artist” because there was not enough opportunity in the United States to support many African Ameri­can artists.41 As the cold war progressed, many people distanced themselves from Robeson because of his communist ties. In 1956 he was forced to testify to the House Un-­Ameri­can Activities Committee, an experience he found extremely stressful. The one good thing that came out of this period is that Robeson did quite a lot of writing and recording; some of his best recordings come from this period. Once his passport was returned to him, Robeson immediately set off to travel again. Between 1958 and 1961 he visited the Soviet Union several times, always performing to enthusiastic audiences. Although he had been absent physically, Robeson had become a cultural icon in the Soviet Union after World War II. His music was aired twice a week throughout the country, including a half-­hour broadcast every Sunday morning. Robert Robinson told a story of Robeson again using performance as a way to protest the plight of Soviet Jews, this time for workers at Robinson’s factory: { 149 }

L auren Mc Connell After singing several songs, Robeson began another one that startled me. It was a song I was familiar with, a mournful song out of the Jewish tradition that decried their persecution through the centuries. I knew this song would alienate party officials in the audience. I wondered whether Robeson, who was so determined to see only good in the Soviet system, was even aware of Soviet anti-­Semitism. I decided that he must be, and that perhaps he knew what he was doing. As he sang, there was a cry in his voice, a plea to end the beating, berating, and killing of Jews. Although he sang in ­Yiddish, I was certain that even those in the audience who did not know the song would understand the spirit of what he was conveying. Everyone was riveted to his pleading face marked with sorrow, his trembling lips and mournful voice. He created a spiritual bond of sorrow. I believe he struck a chord that lies buried deep within the Russian character—their profoundly religious nature. Robeson finished his performance with this song, leaving the workers pensive as they filed out of the shop and ­returned to their workplaces.42

Unfortunately for Robeson, his interest in and concern about the Soviet Jews may have put a strain on his relationship with the Soviet authorities, including Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev. Robinson, in his book Black on Red, recounted that after a concert in 1961, Robeson asked Khrushchev if what he had read in the Western press about Soviet anti-­Semitism was true. Khrushchev reportedly responded angrily and accused Robeson of meddling in the country’s internal affairs. According to Robinson, “Robeson was so shocked by Khrushchev’s fury that he left the next day for East Germany where, according to East German radio, he was placed under medical care.” Robinson went on to explain that after this incident he never heard Robeson’s voice over the radio again. As he put it, “He had been erased from the collective memory of a nation he had admired. Robeson was the darling of the Soviets as long as he blindly toed their ideological line, but was made a non-­person when he questioned Soviet domestic policies.”43 While Robinson’s insider’s report is not easily verified, the outcome of Robeson’s last visit in 1961 is: Robeson attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. While some researchers, including Robeson’s son, believe that Robeson’s suicide attempt was a reaction to CIA-­administered drugs, most believe that his suicide attempt was prompted by feelings of despair and disillusionment after Khrushchev’s harsh rejection and having to face the reality of a corrupt Soviet Union. This explanation is completely plausible, as there are many accounts of committed socialists who traveled a similar, depressing journey of discovery. Robeson never returned to the Soviet Union, and he suffered from mental instability during his final years. He died in 1976. The vivid “experience near” knowledge Robeson acquired through interacting with the Russian people, which included warm and positive physical { 150 }

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contact, impressions of life made by “walking the city,” and the process of performance, all contributed to his positive impression of life in the Soviet Union and its leadership. Keeping in mind Robeson’s “experience near” knowledge versus his “experience distant” knowledge helps us understand how Robeson, when confronted with conflicting information, chose to believe what he actually experienced, even though his impressions of the Soviet Union turned out to be inaccurate according to most contemporary historians. The role performance played in Robeson’s life must be seriously considered. Through his sensitive studying and rendering of Russian songs passed down through generations, Robeson gained a profound, if ineffable, “experience near” knowledge about the Russian spirit and humanity in general. Performance was also an important form of communication for Robeson. By performing Negro spirituals and Russian folk songs and pointing out the connections between them, he was able to create an environment of commiseration and understand­ ing between two cultures that he felt had much in common. Through the repeated act of performance he also evoked and relived past memories of the time he spent in the Soviet Union, which helped reaffirm his convictions about the place. Finally, Robeson used performance as a form of resistance and protest. He has been criticized for never speaking out against the Soviet leadership, but this essay demonstrates that Robeson did “speak out” through performance. It is impossible to measure the impact of his courageous performances protesting anti-­Semitism in the Soviet Union, but there is no doubt that he touched the hearts of his audience and caused them to reflect, at least momentarily. If we believe that performance can make a difference in people’s lives, then we must also grant that Robeson may have believed that his performances in the Soviet realm could bring about positive change, whether or not he had doubts about the leadership. As Robeson once commented in a radio interview, “To me, my art is always a weapon.”44 America profited from Robeson’s positive engagement with socialist ideals; those ideals gave him hope and a vision of a better future. His idealism was part of what made him an effective artist and activist. But it also may have made him blind for most of his life to the faults of Soviet socialism and the suffering of many people under that system. So is it fair to criticize Robeson when looking at the larger picture of his life? His contributions as an artist and activist are unquestionable. Although some negativity toward Robeson is reasonable, especially from those who were oppressed by the Soviet regime and felt betrayed by Robeson’s apparent collusion with the Communist authorities, it is hard to throw stones when evaluating Robeson’s record. Ultimately, when one carefully considers Robeson’s experiences and background, his loyalty to a So{ 151 }

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viet socialist society where he felt free from the burden of racism was, as the title of this essay suggests, understandable.

Notes 1. Josef Škvorecký, The Bass Saxophone, trans. Káca Polácková-­Henley (New York: Knopf, 1979), 19. 2. Lee Siegel, “The Real Meaning of Paul Robeson’s Centennial: The Red and the Black,” New Republic, December 14, 1998, 18. 3. Robert Robinson, interview by Martin B. Duberman, May 18, 1988, discussed in Duberman, Paul Robeson: A Biography (New York: Ballantine, 1989), 641, n. 17. 4. Barry Gewen, “The Robeson Record,” New Leader, February 20, 1989, 18. 5. Ladislav Holy, The Little Czech and the Great Czech Nation (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1996), 141. 6. This and the preceding quote are from Robeson’s speech “Land of Love and Happiness,” given at a meeting of the National Council of Ameri­can-­Soviet Friendship, New York, November 13, 1952, and published in Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews (1918–1974), ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1978), 329, 328. 7. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 18, 19. 8. Marie Seton, Paul Robeson (London: Dobson Books, 1958), 94–95. 9. Charles E. Payne, “Paul Robeson: A Psychobiographical Study of the Emotional Development of a Controversial Protest Leader” (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1991), 154. 10. George Hutchinson, The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 163. 11. “The Negro on the Stage; Interview with Mr. Paul Robeson ‘The Hairy Ape,’ ” London Observer, May 10, 1931; see also Duberman, Paul Robeson, 149. 12. Payne, “Paul Robeson,” 160. 13. Seton, Paul Robeson, 91–92. 14. Ibid., 89. 15. Ibid., 93. 16. Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971). 17. Robeson, testimony for the House Un-­Ameri­can Activities Committee, July 23, 1956, Robeson Speaks, 427. 18. Seton, Paul Robeson, 88. 19. Milena Michalski, “Tractor Drivers and Trapeze Artists: Soviet Cinema of the 1930s,” lecture with three-­page handout, University of Chicago, February 22, 1999. 20. Seton, Paul Robeson, 89. 21. Paul Robeson, Here I Stand (New York: Othello Associates, 1958), 44. 22. Robeson, “To You Beloved Comrade,” Robeson Speaks, 347. 23. Robeson, “U.S.S.R.—the Land for Me,” Robeson Speaks, 106. 24. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: New Ameri­can Library, 1969), 45.

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Paul Robeson ’ s Soviet E x perience 25. Robeson, “U.S.S.R.,” Robeson Speaks, 105. 26. Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 13. 27. Albert Innaurato, “The Great Basses: Chaliapin and Robeson,” program notes, Songs of Free Men: A Paul Robeson Recital (Holland: Sony Music Entertainment, 1997), 12. 28. Robeson, “When I Sing,” Robeson Speaks, 115–16. 29. See, for example, “ ‘I Am at Home,’ Says Robeson at Reception in Soviet Union,” Daily Worker, January 15, 1935; and “I Breathe Freely,” New Theatre, July 1935. 30. Robeson, “U.S.S.R.,” Robeson Speaks, 329; Robeson, “Comrade,” Robeson Speaks, 349. 31. Quoted in Duberman, Paul Robeson, 221. 32. Robeson, “When I Sing,” Robeson Speaks, 116, 115. 33. Robert Robinson and Jonathan Slevin, Black in Red: My 44 Years inside the Soviet Union: An Autobiography (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, 1988), 317. 34. Roach, Cities of the Dead, 14–31. 35. Robeson, “U.S.S.R.,” Robeson Speaks, 106. 36. “Robeson Calls Russia ‘Second Motherland,’ ” New York Times, June 15, 1949. 37. Paul Robeson Jr., “How My Father Last Met Itzik Feffer, 1949,” Jewish Currents, Novem­ ber 1981. 38. Duberman, Paul Robeson, 354. 39. Ibid., 353. 40. See Robeson Jr., “How My Father Last Met Itzik Feffer.” 41. Robeson, Here I Stand, 78, 79. 42. Robinson and Slevin, Black on Red, 318. 43. Robinson and Slevin, Black on Red, 319. 44. Pacifica Radio interview in 1958, quoted in “Brian DeShazor Discusses Pacifica Radio’s Efforts to Raise Funds to Preserve Their Audio Archives,” National Public Radio Interview, Morning Edition, February 28, 2003.

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\ Ota the Other An African on Display in America — Jocelyn L . Buc k ner

One man’s life is another man’s spectacle.

Barbara K irshenblatt-­G imblett,

Destination Culture

From his native land of darkness To the country of the free, In the interest of science And of broad humanity, Brought wee little Ota Benga, Dwarfed, benighted, without guile, Scarcely more than ape or monkey, Yet a man the while! So to tutor and enlighten— Fit him for a nobler sphere— Show him ways of truth and knowledge, Teach the freedom we have here In this land of foremost progress— In this Wisdom’s ripest age— We have placed him, in high honor, In a monkey’s cage! ’Mid companions we provide him, Apes, gorillas, chimpanzees, He’s Content! Wherefore decry them When he seems at ease? So he chatters and he jabbers In his jargon, asking naught

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Ota the Other But for “Money—money—money!” Just as we have taught

M. E. Buehler ,

“Ota Benga”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States was alive and bustling with the sights and sounds of a young, growing, multicultural nation. Im­migration from abroad was high, as individuals journeyed to the United States in search of freedom, opportunity, and a better life for their families. As the country expanded it also sought to articulate its collective identity. What was the United States of America, and who lived here? How were its inhabitants different from the rest of the world’s? How much more advanced—or evolved—was this new nation? These questions provoked curiosity about other cultures, manifested themselves in cultural displays such as World’s Fairs, and fed on modern advances in burgeoning scientific fields such as evolution and anthropology. Popular curiosity regarding the development of mankind inspired would-­be anthropologists to travel to foreign locations and return with cultural artifacts—and people—worthy of scientific study and public display. While such expeditions could bring fame and fortune to the white male West­ ern explorer, they often did so at the expense of the darker-­skinned southern and eastern communities they “discovered.” Sometimes, these individuals traveled to Western countries as captives or willing participants and were displayed before thousands of paying spectators. These audiences simultaneously desired to witness an alternate version of their shared common humanity. Desperate to understand themselves, Ameri­cans flocked to these displays, colonial microcosms disguised as educational, family-­friendly entertainment, in which, Homi Bhabha argues, “cultures recognize[d] themselves through their projections of ‘otherness.’”1 By naming difference within ethnographic displays of non-­Western cultures and identifying them as other than themselves, the heterogeneous mix of early-­t wentieth-­century Ameri­cans were able to codify and congeal their own collective identity.2 Such is the historic, contextual backdrop for the dramatic story of Ota Benga, a pygmy from what was, at the turn of the last century, the Belgian Congo. After surviving the slaughter of his family and nearly his entire community by the Belgian Force Publique, which raided his village in search of elephant ivory, Benga was captured and sold into slavery to a rival tribe, the Baschileles. In 1904, Ameri­can anthropologist Samuel Phillips Verner, a former mission worker to Africa and the grandson of South Carolina slave owners, was commissioned by the Anthropology Exhibition of the St. Louis World’s Fair to travel to Af{ 155 }

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rica to “collect” the most unusual specimens of Africans to be placed on display with the other non-­European races of the world. Verner purchased Benga from his captors for a few bags of salt and brought him to the United States with other African pygmies. Benga was first displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair, then in the monkey house of the Bronx Zoo in 1906. The poem that serves as this essay’s epigraph, a parody of the Hiawatha verse form popular at the time,3 was published in the New York Times on September 19, 1906, and artistically problematizes Ota Benga’s position as a victim of Belgium’s colonial expansion into the African Congo at the turn of the century; global fervor surrounding Darwinism, racism, and evolution; and the rise of the United States as a world power on the international stage. This article represents the start of a formal response to and expansion of Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo (1992), written by Verner’s grandson Phillips Verner Bradford and scholar Harvey Blume, currently the only book-­length project dedicated to Ota Benga’s story. While Bradford and Blume dedicate their book “to the memory of Ota Benga” and provide illuminating access to Verner’s family history on the subject, as well as a helpful narrative of the events leading up to and during Verner’s association with Benga, it often reads as a valorizing account of Bradford’s namesake, with Benga taking a backseat to Verner’s own story. The authors profess to deliver the “long-­delayed story of Ota Benga” yet continuously fail to fully proclaim his status as man, victim, and tragic figure, instead often treating him and his story as another interesting anthropological artifact and consistently heralding Samuel Phillips Verner as an anthropological savoir and real-­life Robinson Crusoe, quoting the adventure story in chapter epigraphs such as “It came now very warmly upon my thoughts . . . that I was called plainly by Providence to save this poor creature’s life.”4 While the lives of Verner and Benga were indeed inextricably linked and are both in need of (re)examination, the kind of colonialist, paternalistic attitude pervading the tone of Bradford and Blume’s text makes revisionist responses necessary for a clearer understanding of Benga’s life in the context of early-­t wentieth-­century America, the effects of colonialism on the global community, and how the tragic and performative play a role in our historical and contemporary attempts at an understanding of a universal, rather than hierarchical, humanity. This examination of Ota Benga’s displays at the St. Louis World’s Fair and the Bronx Zoo seeks to expand and challenge the history and readings given by Bradford and Blume, as well as Blume’s more recent “Ota Benga and the Barnum Perplex” in Africans on Stage (1999), which uses Benga as a prop through which historians can trace the legacy of Barnum’s mix of science and entertainment. I { 156 }

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focus more directly on Benga’s depictions in the media than on the biography of his Western “guardian” or Barnum’s showmanship, reading Benga as part of the fin de siècle lust for human performative displays. I will provide new readings of archival sources, critique the existing scholarship, and offer new analysis of depictions of Benga’s displays as both public performances of racial difference as well as of his attempts at protest against the hegemonic forces manipulating his captivity in front of thousands of paying spectators. Reading Benga’s performative displays via postcolonial theories of race and Arthur Miller’s theories on tragedy and its impact on the common man, I will unpack the displays’ historical context and performative elements, such as the “freak show” qualities of his exhibition, how Benga’s image was manipulated to fit the roles of both primitive Other and civilized savage to suit arguments for and against his display, and how such tragic displays ultimately reveal common humanities across cultural boundaries. As part of the United States’ undervalued (until recently) history of popular culture and performance, stories such as Benga’s are valuable to us as historians, scholars, and pedagogues for the rich ways they transmit knowledge about the zeitgeist of their era. Benga’s various performances, stagings, portraits, and exhibitions paint a vivid picture of the fascination with racial and cultural difference alive at the turn of the last century. His draw among a cross-­section of viewers regardless of age, race, or ethnicity speaks to America’s ongoing appropriation of difference in order to assert its cultural authority and define its own identity. This analysis is significant in its attempts to develop an understanding (albeit inevitably limited) of Ota Benga’s efforts at agency during his display, as well as a continued awareness that “those who construct the display also constitute the subject, even when they seem to do nothing.”5 Ota Benga’s story is a micro-­history through which we can read a chapter of our collective cultural history—an African and Ameri­can performance history told through an African body on the Ameri­can stage.

Benga on Display in St. Louis The inherently performative nature of live specimens veers exhibits of them strongly in the direction of spectacle, blurring still further the line between morbid curiosity and scientific interest, chamber of horrors and medical ­exhibition, circus and zoological garden, theater and living ethnographic display, scholarly lecture and dramatic monologue, cultural performance and staged re-­creation. Barbara Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett, Destination Culture

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Ota Benga was first displayed in the United States as part of the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. Here he was one of as many as “10,000 strange people,” or international “visitors,” on exhibit as part of an ethnographical showcase created to demonstrate the various levels of the “Great Chain of Being” and to highlight Darwin’s theory of evolution.6 Like European and, more recently, Ameri­can missionaries who were exploring the African continent, the World’s Fair organizers allowed their curiosity about nonwhite communities to take the form “often influenced by the current interpretations of Darwinism, so it was not simply who was human, but who was more human, and finally, who was most human, that concerned them.”7 These displays represented a highly realistic and naturalistic staging of “primitive” peoples operating in their “natural surroundings.” To create a thoroughly accurate representation of the Congo, the anthropologist assigned to re-­create this African environment, Benga’s “guardian,” Samuel Phillips Verner, was instructed to acquire twelve pygmies, including “‘One Pygmy Patriarch or chief, One adult woman, preferably his wife. . . . Two infants, of women in the expedition,’ and ‘Four more Pygmies, preferably adult but young, but including a priestess and a priest, or medicine doctors, preferably old.’ Verner was authorized to bring back ‘one fine type’ of what were referred to as ‘Red Africans.’ . . . There were to be three more ‘Red people’ and two more natives left to Verner’s choosing but ‘of a distinct ethnic type from any of the above.’ ”8 He was instructed to return with as much of the Congo as needed to re-­create an authentic setting for the assorted Africans. The settings to be collected included “ ‘one most primitive house,’ and ‘one least primitive house,’ a ‘full set of religious emblems and ceremonial objects,’ and ‘a Blacksmith shop.’ ” Verner became an anthropological documentarian, taking photographs of fires, religious sites, funerals, and graves, and “ ‘full and accurate anthropometric measurements.’ ” He became an expert on “variations in color, albinos, rites, relations to apes and monkeys, folklore, chastity, and concubinage, and would be amply equipped with salt, cloth, brass wire, cowrie shells, matches, and hats for use in barter and the propagation of good will.”9 These distinct, specific instructions for Verner’s collection and construction of the African exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair are indicative of what Harvey Blume identifies as Victorian culture’s “twin fixations—authenticity and showmanship, realism and display—­elements that when joined together take on paradoxical potency.”10 This dangerous combination of inquiry and fetishism was primed and exacerbated by the sensationalistic reports published in the St. Louis press and beyond prior to the exhibit. In press releases leading up to and during the fair, the pygmies were framed for audiences within a colonialist, racist lens working

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to construct Otherness, which disability scholar Rosemarie Garland Thompson describes as how “enfreakment emerges from cultural rituals that stylize, silence, differentiate, and distance the persons whose bodies the freak-­hunters or showmen colonize and commercialize.”11 For example, on June 26, 1904, the St. Louis Post-­Dispatch ran a full-­page article titled “African Pygmies for the World’s Fair,” which included a list of ninety-­three “queer facts about the African pygmies”: No member of their tribe has ever before visited the Western Hemisphere. They eat the flesh of wild animals killed with poisoned arrows. The average height of the men is that of a 12 year-­old white boy. Their hair is wooly and very short. They have a snout-­like projection of the jaw, and a deep indentation at the base of the nose. They are very agile, leaping about like grasshoppers. Their legs are short and curved inward. Their hair forms little sooty black balls on their heads. They wear loin-­cloths of bark and caps adorned with parrot feathers. Members of the Akka tribe are so hairy that they seem to be covered with a sort of felt, or fur, which is nearly half an inch long. It is grayish in color and gives them an elfish appearance. They are reported to practice cannibalism. Their women are described as “nut-­brown little maids,” pretty and pleasing, with very lustrous eyes. If caught young they are said to make excellent servants. They are nomadic, following the migrations of game. They have long heads, long narrow faces and little red eyes, set close together, like those of ferrets. The Wambuttu tribe, neighbors of the Batwa, have round faces, gazelle-­like eyes and rich yellow-­ivory complexions. The red pygmies are less hairy than the black. They are fond of playing and their antics are childish. They were at one time thought to be more nearly related to the ape than to the human race. They are pigeontoed.12 This “top twenty” list is indicative of the balance of the list. What is important to observe in these “facts” is the manner in which language is used to manipu-

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late the reader’s mental picture of this ethnic group. Nearly every statement equates pygmies with animals, serving to dehumanize them and thereby “racing” them as not only not white, but also not (quite) human. The remainder of the “truths” serve to instill in the presumed white reader paternalistic, dominant, or sexually permissive attitudes toward the pygmies. They are described as “childlike,” potential “servants,” and the women as “pretty and pleasing” and “lustrous.” Clearly, this “educational” report, circulated upon the impending arrival of the African pygmies to St. Louis, was intended to reassure Ameri­cans of their role as cultural colonizers through displaying “primitives” in the context of “progress and civilization [which] were the key concepts behind these large-­scale representations of middle-­class Selves and savage Others.”13 By locating difference in Benga’s body, audiences, regardless of their own position in U.S. culture, were encouraged to see themselves as superior to the small brown bodies onstage. The distance between Benga’s “primitive” existence and their “cultured” Ameri­can lifestyle was articulated as evolution. Indeed, the “character description” excerpted above encourages “Self ” and “Other” comparisons from the audience. For every animalistic or foreign characteristic identified or imagined upon the corpus of the pygmies, Ameri­cans could happily identify their own lack of such a savage feature. Viewers were thus encouraged to leave the performance with a sense of the triumph of the westernized human over those still struggling in a subhuman existence. The Post-­Dispatch went on to sensationalize Benga’s corporeal differences by not only highlighting them for readers but also naming the price for which they could be seen, thereby commodifying the Other body for the paying public’s consumption. Have you seen Otabenga’s [sic] teeth! They’re worth the 5 cents he charges for showing them to visitors on anthropology hill out at the World’s Fair. Otabenga is a cannibal, the only genuine African cannibal in America today. He’s also the only human chattel. He belongs to the Exposition company. Step right up. There’s no charge except to see his teeth. He has the reputation of being a man eater and has [on] exhibition the identical molars and incisors with which it was done. His teeth are as sharp as those of any wild animal. They are pointed like the teeth of a saw. They have been filed that way. Otabenga himself looks playful and harmless enough. He is gentle and graceful, and the first impulse of the visitor is to pet him and exclaim: “Poor little fellow; he looks so sad and lonely.” But look at his teeth! Perhaps he’s lonesome because he is deprived of his native food. Otabenga is pitiable, though he is to be feared and shuddered at.14

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This release articulates the fact that “in-­between the black body and the white body, there is a tension of meaning and being or some would say demand and desire, which is the psychic counterpart to that muscular tension that inhabits the native body.”15 It also begins to mark Benga as a tragic character, one from whom much can be learned and from whom we can glean what Arthur Miller terms “a certain modest hope regarding the human animal.”16 In the Poetics, Aristotle describes tragedy as those actions that “excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation.”17 Viewed through this lens, Benga is, we could say, not imitating himself, and not being represented in the press or by the World’s Fair as himself, but rather as the “savage character” the public has been primed to see. But perhaps an even more insightful perspective on Benga’s ordeal is that of Arthur Miller, who identifies the “quality” in tragedy that shakes us as that which “derives from the underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world.” In a modern world, “this fear is as strong, and perhaps stronger, than it ever was. In fact, it is the common man who knows this fear best.”18 In the excerpt above, Ota Benga, the common (African) man, is displaced from his true identity and is suddenly made to exist within the confines of an alien characterization based on assumption and stereotype. The reader and potential audience member—the common (Ameri­ can) (wo)man, clinging to his or her own precarious position in the swiftly shifting hierarchy of Ameri­can culture—is coached to see the man-­as-­savage and to elicit the proper response to Benga’s presentation: “Otabenga is pitiable, though he is to be feared and shuddered at.” The spectacle of Ota Benga elicits a catharsis of emotions, highlighting Miller’s perception that tragedy “brings us not only sadness, sympathy, identification and even fear; it also, unlike pathos, brings us knowledge or enlightenment.”19 Audiences’ anticipated initial reactions—­“the first impulse of the visitor is to pet him and exclaim: ‘Poor little fellow; he looks so sad and lonely’ ”—are reflective of the crowd’s enlightened self-­recognition and realization of their “underlying fear of being displaced” within the hierarchy of evolution and the social strata. The primary, instinctive urge to regard Benga as individual and human despite sensational press coverage to the contrary, reflects the inescapable fact that Benga is indeed a man, and this knowledge is what creates the compelling nature of his display. But through subverting these feelings via the fabricated alienation created by fair officials and the press, viewers distanced themselves from their fellow man, watched the display, and experienced a “safe” emotional response to the tragedy being represented. Despite an attempt at a large-­scale staging of African everyday life, Verner { 161 }

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Figure 1. Pygmy performance, St. Louis, 1904. Ota Benga is the last performer on the right with his back to the camera. Neg./Transparency no. 336070, courtesy the Ameri­can Museum of Natural History Research Library.

was only successful at delivering a handful of male African pygmies, including Ota Benga; however, this smaller exhibit did not fail to draw crowds interested in seeing real, live “savages.” There are numerous examples and anecdotes of the pygmies’ displays at the World’s Fair, such as the following example reported in the St. Louis Post-­Dispatch in July 1904: “The scream of a woman frightened at the realism of a dance by eight unclad African pygmies at the end of the anthropological performance on the Plaza St. Louis at the Fair last night, started a panic that brought the chief feature of midsummer carnival day at the Fair to a tumultuous end” (emphasis added).20 This report goes on to say that 75,000 people were in the crowd that panicked during this performance by Benga and his comrades and that the estimated crowd for that day and evening alone was 125,000. Newspaper records indicate that tens of thousands of mostly white visitors crowded the fair daily to see, among other exhibits, Ota Benga and his fellow pygmies. The popularity of the African performers is a testament to the curiosity of the Ameri­can audiences and their desire to gain knowledge of them­ selves and a justification of their understanding of a “right way of living in the world” through “knowing” these foreign visitors.21 World’s Fair spectators exemplified Bhabha’s assertion that “The ambivalent identification of the racist { 162 }

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world—moving on two planes without being in the least bit embarrassed by it . . . turns on the idea of man as his alienated image; not Self and Other but the otherness of the Self inscribed in the perverse palimpsest of colonial identity.”22 Ameri­can audiences shamelessly flocked to these performance exhibits not only for entertainment but also in search of, and to better understand, their own identities. Interestingly, Phillips Verner Bradford and Harvey Blume cite the chaotic performance on July 28 as an instance in which the pygmies may have been actively resisting the format of their display, exaggerating the savage role into which they had been cast by drawing their weapons on the attending crowd. Unfortunately, they theorize this possibility with so much editorializing that it is difficult to determine if this was truly the group’s attempt or a convenient means by which to demonstrate an aggressive nature in these captive human displays.23 Regardless of the group’s intentions, by “realistically” “performing” savagery, so-­called primitive behavior, and ultimately stereotypes, the pygmies’ participation in their display worked to subvert the goals of World’s Fair organizers in at least two ways: first, by creating a physical and cultural distance between themselves and the crowd; and second, by subverting any possibly well-­ intentioned efforts on the part of organizers and visitors to “understand” these Africans through a parodic performance of expected savagery. Ota ­Benga’s and his cohorts’ aggression during this performance corporally manifests their understanding and visceral experience of negative stereotyping, articulated by Bhabha as cross-­cultural stereotyping: “Stereotyping is not the setting up of a false image which becomes the scapegoat of discriminatory practices. It is a much more ambivalent text of projection and introjections, metaphoric and metonymic strategies, displacement, over determination, guilt, aggressivity; the masking and splitting of ‘official’ and phantasmatic knowledges to construct the positionalities and oppositionalities of racist discourse.”24 While the argument can be made that performing stereotypes in place of authenticity was a damaging decision resulting in a perpetuation of misunderstanding, fear, and prejudice at the same time by using the stereotypes in which they were already being framed, Benga and the other pygmies’ actions can be seen as self-­preservation, an ironic resistance to the westernized concept of Otherness through which they were being tragically objectified and an effort to reclaim their agency as individuals, and free men. In his struggle to survive, Benga once again fits Miller’s notion of the tragic in the common man through his “inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status.”25 Figure 1 depicts the pygmies performing in Plaza St. Louis, the same loca{ 163 }

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Figure 2. Ota Benga playing the molimo, St. Louis, 1904. Neg./Transparency no. 336071, courtesy the Ameri­can Museum of Natural History Research Library.

tion as that of the performance described above, although whether it is from the same performance is unknown. What is remarkable from an iconographi­cal perspective, however, is the massive crowd whose interest Benga and the other pygmies attracted. Additionally, it is important to note the contrast between the “primitive” clothing worn by the African men and the heavily clothed white audience. The Africans were forced to wear next to nothing throughout their time at the fair, regardless of the elements and their reactions to the contrast between North Ameri­can and African climates. Here the racialized body is exposed, reinforcing the distinction between the white, paying audience and the Othered object of display. Writer and interdisciplinary artist Coco Fusco describes such presentations as “the origins of intercultural performance in the West. The displays were living expressions of colonial fantasies and helped to forge a special place in the European and Euro-­Ameri­can imagination for nonwhite peoples and their culture.”26 Another display from the St. Louis World’s Fair demonstrates how the performance was constructed to distinguish between the “white male protagonist-­ subject and the same brown, found ‘object.’ ”27 Figure 2 depicts Ota Benga performing on a molimo, an instrument sacred to pygmy culture, which, for the { 164 }

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Figure 3. Ota Benga bust, New York, 1906. Neg./Transparency no. 2A18787, courtesy the Ameri­can ­Museum of Natural History ­Research Library.

sake of comparison, best resembles the Western trumpet. Implicit in the reading of this archival photograph is the construction of the African as outside of civilization. Benga is performing, surrounded once again by clothed, white men, in what appears to be a field. The trappings of “culture” can be seen in the background, the architectural feats of the World’s Fair edifice. Inscribed in this display for both its participants and us as viewers is the message that Benga exists beyond notions of evolution. He is, in effect, stuck in time, unable to evolve. These carefully constructed displays of Benga in St. Louis reinforce the sensationalistic press messages that Benga was a tragic, corporeal curiosity to be feared, pitied, and above all, looked at.

Benga in the Big Apple When the World’s Fair concluded, Ota Benga left St. Louis with the other pygmies and Verner to return to Africa via a brief stop in New Orleans, where they { 165 }

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boarded a ship. Bradford and Blume argue that once Benga was back in the Congo, he realized the magnitude of his lot as a homeless victim of the tribal war that destroyed his village, his tribe, and his family. In his “total examination of the ‘unchangeable’ environment”28 facing him, and in an effort to salvage or create a new sense of himself and a semblance of happiness, he reportedly asked Verner to allow him to travel back to the United States, this time to New York, to be educated. Verner allegedly agreed to maintain his responsibility for Benga. After gathering additional anthropological artifacts, plants, and animals that he would attempt to sell to the Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., thereby hoping to cement his reputation as a preeminent expert on African cultures, Verner returned to the United States with Benga. Upon arriving in New York in early August 1906, Verner was running out of funding and anxious to visit his family, now living in North Carolina. He made a brief acquaintance with the director of the Museum of Natural History, Hermon C. Bumpus, who agreed to keep his collection, and Ota Benga, at the museum while Verner left New York alone. After a few restless weeks, it was clear that Benga could not be made to stay inside the museum and that other arrangements must be made for his lodging. Prior to his departure, a life mask was made of Ota Benga that remains at the Ameri­can Museum of Natural History. It is significant to note that the bust is titled “Pygmy” rather than “Ota Benga,” once again erasing Benga’s identity and constructing (an) other as a scientific specimen, guaranteeing his display beyond the limits of his natural life. Bumpus suggested Verner make inquiries at the Bronx Zoo for both Benga and the live animals currently in “storage” at the museum. Verner returned to New York in late August, and on August 27, still unemployed and in need of cash, he transferred Benga’s residency, as well as that of a cobra and a monkey, to the care of William Temple Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoological Gardens.29 The transfer was made with the understanding that “no one would be able to claim him [Benga] without Verner’s consent. Verner however, could have him back at any time, either permanently or on a temporary basis, for use on the lecture circuit.”30 Bradford and Blume insist throughout their book that Verner “saw himself as saving Ota. With salt and cloth he [bought] him for freedom, Darwinism and the West.”31 Yet at this point in Benga’s story, it becomes painfully obvious that Benga was, for Verner, much more (or, perhaps, much less) than a “friend,” as Verner liked to term their relationship, but rather a commodity, his “golden ticket”—which he purchased—to anthropological fame. Throughout his display Benga is anything but free from the racist overtones { 166 }

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of Darwinian logic and Western ideals of culture and humanity. While Verner very well may have liked Benga and enjoyed his company, their relationship is codified as one of racial and cultural binaries, one in which, as Frantz Fanon notes, “the Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation.”32 Benga is trapped, unable, despite his attempts, to assert agency or control over his destiny as an Other in a foreign culture, and Verner essentially abandons Benga to the zoo, unable or unwilling to meet his obligations to Benga as his guardian and guide in the United States.

“Ist das ein Mensch?” The moment live people are included in such displays the issue arises: what will they do? In considering the options for presenting people in ­“living style,” it is useful to distinguish staged re-­creations of cultural performances . . . and the drama of the quotidian. Barbara Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett, Destination Culture

For the first few weeks he lived at the Bronx Zoo, Ota Benga did so relatively anonymously. He dressed in Western-­style clothing, was free to move about as he pleased, and generally went unnoticed. But in early September, Hornaday, looking for a way to keep crowds from waning in the early autumn, slowly coaxed Benga into spending more and more time in the monkey house at the zoo, and on Saturday, September 8, announced the presentation of “something new under the sun.”33 The New York Times immediately picked up on the story, citing mixed reactions to the display. There was an exhibition at the Zoological Park, in the Bronx, yesterday which had for many of the visitors something more than a provocation to laughter. There were laughs enough in it too, but there was something about it which made the serious minded grave. Even those who laughed the most turned away with an expression on their faces such as one sees after a play with a sad ending or a book in which the hero or heroine is poorly rewarded. . . . The exhibition was that of a human being in a monkey cage. The human being happened to be a Bushman, one of a race that scientists do not rate high in the human scale, but to the average non-­scientific person in the crowd of sightseers there was something about the display that was unpleasant. . . . It is probably a good thing that Benga doesn’t think very deeply. If he did it isn’t likely that he was very proud of himself when he woke in the morning and found himself under the same roof with the orangoutangs [sic] and monkeys, for that is where he really is. (emphasis added)34

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The concern of the crowd that first witnessed Benga’s display is a response appropriate to tragedy, and these sentiments about his display resurface in the sub­ sequent press coverage that ran nearly every day for three weeks. The exhibition was formally protested by African Ameri­can clergymen, polarizing the vast majority of the white visitors against a small, brown body of dissenters. Just forty-­eight hours after Benga’s debut in the monkey house, the Times corroborates the masses-­versus-­dissenters view: “Several thousand persons took the Subway, the elevated and the surface cars to the New York Zoological Park, in the Bronx, yesterday, and there watched Ota Benga, the Bushman, who has been put by the management on exhibition there in the monkey cage. The Bushman didn’t seem to mind it, and the sight plainly pleased the crowd. Few expressed audible objection to it, the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions, and there could be no doubt that to the majority the joint man-­and-­monkey exhibition was the most interesting sight in Bronx Park.”35 The article points to the fact that Benga was placed on display “by the management,” and it seems to assume, along with the crowd, that Benga has no complaints about his situation. One advocate for Benga in the crowd, Rev. Dr. R. S. MacArthur of Calvary Baptist Church, admonishes, “We send our missionaries to Africa to Christianize the people, and then we bring one here to brutalize him,” eloquently articulating the irony and antithetical nature of anthropology and ethnography and the mission work being attempted in Africa at this time and the inhumane treatment Ota Benga received in the United States.36 This observation is even more ironic when one remembers that Verner, Benga’s absent “guardian,” took his first trip to Africa as a missionary before turning to full-­t ime anthropological pursuits. Later in the article, the Times unpacks the theatrical elements of the display while at the same time qualifying the report, and the slippage of identity inherent in the performance, with the statement “the performance of man and monkey is not easy to describe.”37 The following description of Benga’s display tellingly falls under the heading “Properties Ready for the Show.” The exhibition of man and monkey was scheduled by the park management for the afternoon. Even before that time there were inquiries from the curious, but according to the sign put up the exhibition is to be a matinee. Some time before 2 o’clock little Benga was allowed to go into the arenalike cage, where already the appurtenances for his exhibition, such as his bow and arrow, his parrot, a new target made of malle­ able clay in a box, and his net had been placed. Dohong [the orangutan] was let out later, and then the show began. The crowd before the cage yesterday fluctuated in size from hour to hour, but

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Ota the Other there was hardly a time when there were not from 300 to 500 persons standing there. The throng was greatest in the later afternoon. (emphasis added)38

Placed side-­by-­side, unable to separate themselves (and perhaps unwilling because, by all accounts, it seems Benga and Dohong really did like one another), the man and the monkey were unavoidably and, thanks to management’s staging, intentionally viewed in comparison to one another. The construction of the performance craftily capitalizes on the power of visual contrast. As Bhabha notes, “in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference.”39 Indeed, the Times reports that “many in the crowd who watched Benga’s antics doubted if he was a human being, and one heard questions in various languages. ‘Ist das ein Mensch?’ ” a German woman asked.40 Of course, the comparison and proximity of Benga and the monkey with Benga the foreigner and his Ameri­can audience are precisely what make this question of slippage possible, or even necessary, in the first place. Seen in isolation, their identities as human and monkey are distinct. But when staged as interchangeable entities, the otherwise understood definition of boundaries between related species is called into question. The constructed not-­quite-­ness of ­Benga’s identity is what is so troubling—and fascinating—to his audience. Is that a man? Is that a monkey? His relative difference from both civilized man and savage primate reads as the cultural excess Bhabha problematizes in postcolonial cultures. For audiences at the Bronx Zoo, Benga is both too human and not quite human enough: “Scarcely more than ape or monkey, / Yet a man the while.”41 Here lies the tragic perception of our protagonist, Ota Benga. This frenzy of reporting on Ota Benga notes the construction of his display and the performative nature of the event, and it is the imagery of tragic circumstances such as Benga’s that so often haunts the mind’s eye long after the performance has finished. Thus the spectacle of a man in a cage performing difference through his attempt at quotidian existence does indeed become a sight to pity and fear. Benga is feared and pitied not only because he is Othered but because there is recognition by this audience, which either turns away from his display in dismay or watches it in rapt horror, that, under slightly different circumstances, they too could experience such a peripeteia, a reversal of fortunes. Zoo director Hornaday, when first questioned about the exhibit, is never quoted referencing Benga by name and hardly grants him the status of a human. Instead he refers to Benga as “the little African savage,” “little black man,” (twice), and “little savage.” His belittling insistence on Benga’s difference re-

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inforces the message of the display. Benga is “called into being in relation to an otherness, its look or locus.”42 Ota Benga is thus inscribed with Otherness in triple: first as a little person experiencing distinction due to his size, second as a foreigner, and third as a black man. The sign that was placed on the cage in which Ota Benga was displayed read: The African Pigmy, “Ota Benga.” Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State; South Central Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Exhibited each afternoon during September.

Categorized, labeled, and put on display, Ota Benga was bracketed as Other and framed by a cage symbolizing that “Ota Benga at the zoo corresponds with a terrible if well-­disguised exactitude to a prototype harbored by the Middle Ages and passed on to modernity—the wild man.”43 These reports go on and on, and are impossible to examine in toto here. I will, however, provide an example of Verner’s “take” on Benga’s display and his attempt to justify it as a benign, educational presentation to its protesters. On Tuesday, September 11, 1906, Verner is quoted by the Times as defending the display, saying, “If Ota Benga is in a cage, he is only there to look after the animals. If there is a notice on the cage, it is only put there to avoid answering the many questions that are asked about him. He is absolutely free. The only restriction that is put upon him is to prevent him from getting away from the keepers. That is done for his own safety.”44 Verner contradicts himself in his message when he attempts to convince the press and public that Benga is a “free” man but instead concludes that he is caged so that he does not escape the very captivity in which he is supposedly not kept. Yet, there may be truth in the argument that the cage protected Benga, for after he was released from the cage to wander the grounds he became a sort of interactive exhibit, one with which audiences were much too eager to engage. Ten days after his public debut, Benga continued to draw thousands to the Bronx Zoo. “There were 40,000 visitors to the park on Sunday,” the Times announced on September 18. “Nearly every man, woman, and child of this crowd made for the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park—the wild man from Africa. They chased him about the grounds all day, howling, jeering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him. Then, when the keepers had caught him once again, they asked him how he liked America. Benga has answered this question often lately, and like this: ‘Me no like America; me like St. Louis.’ ”45 { 170 }

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Benga’s response, delivered in broken English and exhibiting a lack of the very education he had returned to the States with Verner to receive (he misidentifies New York as America), summarizes his despair over the tragic circumstances of his existence. Sadly, Benga was harassed to the extent that he would rather have returned to the St. Louis World’s Fair than continue in his present state in the zoo. Relief seems possible in the announcement by Rev. James H. Gordon, director of the Colored Orphan Asylum of Brooklyn, New York, that he would like to assume custody of Benga and provide him with an education. This arrangement did eventually come to pass, but even then Benga was in the spotlight. Gordon, when asked about his efforts to acquire Ota Benga, exclaimed: “ ‘Take him? To be sure we’ll take him, and be glad to get him. We will show the public what can be done with an African pigmy. We’ll show them how much can be done for him that is better than putting him in a cage with monkeys.’ ”46 While it is probable, as this quote suggests, that Gordon and his fellow ministers had the very best of intentions in mind in acquiring Benga, they too wanted to prove, if on the other end of the scientific spectrum, the abilities or disabilities of the African pygmy as a representative of the “dark continent.” As a result, rather than leaving Benga alone when he left the Bronx Zoo, the press followed him to Brooklyn, where he was housed for some time at the Colored Orphan Asylum. Unfortunately, this arrangement too became difficult, for Benga was a grown man, although he appeared to be as young as the other wards of the orphanage. Unable to remain in New York, Benga was transported to Lynchburg, Virginia, to attend the Virginia Theological Seminary and College and live with African Ameri­can poet Anne Spencer, but he found greater pleasure and solace in the woods outside town. Benga resurfaced in the New York Times in 1916, ten years after his display at the Bronx Zoo, when he committed suicide. Miller notes that “tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing—his sense of personal dignity.”47 Benga sacrificed his own life—which can be read as the ultimate performance of resistance—rather than continue an existence in the modern Western world in which his dignity is destroyed and he is shunned, Othered, and outcast. “If it is true that tragedy is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly, his destruction in the attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment. And this is precisely the morality of tragedy and its lesson.”48 Ota Benga’s tragic ending points to the ongoing wrong, or evil, of racism in Ameri­ can culture, which made his Otherness possible and profitable for those who exploited him and ultimately drove Benga to his demise. Benga was buried in { 171 }

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an unmarked grave in an African Ameri­can cemetery in Virginia. In death as in his stateside life, Ota Benga was anonymous and Othered, silenced and segregated within a culture in which he did not choose to live.

Conclusion Live displays make the status of the performer problematic, for people ­become signs of themselves. Barbara Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett, Destination Culture

Tragedy is the most accurately balanced portrayal of the human being in his struggle for happiness. Arthur Miller, “Tragedy and the Common Man”

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folk, in which he tried to “show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century.” Of course, the black Ameri­can experience Du Bois articulates is vastly different from the African/Ameri­can experience Ota Benga lived through in the various iterations of his exhibition beginning just one year later. Yet ­Benga’s display dramatically underscores Du Bois’s famous thesis: “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.”49 It is this distinction that highlights the layers of cultural identity and meaning-­making evident in ­Benga’s performance. In the process of building national identity, “the ‘middle passage’ of contemporary culture, as with slavery itself, is a process of displacement and disjunction that does not totalize experience. Increasingly, ‘national’ cultures are being produced from the perspective of disenfranchised minorities.”50 As a war refugee/anthropological discovery/freakish fetish/human chattel, Ota defined not only Africa and non-­Western blackness but also whiteness and the United States’ collective civilized achievements for the thousands who flocked to his exhibitions. Paradoxically, his tragic circumstances also taught that “to be different from those that are different makes you the same—that the Unconscious speaks of the form of otherness, the tethered shadow of deferral and displacement.”51 Ota Benga’s life and performative exhibition is tragic because, for of all of his difference, he was ultimately human, and his fate was something no observer would wish to experience. Indeed, to be Ota Benga was to be tortured by the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”52 Ota Benga has been largely forgotten today, his memory stifled through de{ 172 }

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cades of embarrassment over our former (and current) cultural insensitivities, yet issues of evolution and race continue to make headlines, spark debate, and provoke curiosity in popular entertainment. In a highly controversial February 2009 political cartoon by Sean Delonas published by the New York Post, President Barack Obama was depicted as a chimpanzee being shot to death by security guards (this after a recent brutal attack on a woman by a primate) with the caption, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”53 Here race, evolution, and another African Ameri­can man’s claim to place and dignity in contemporary U.S. culture came under fire by the press. In a different vein, the Hollywood movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) tells the story of a man born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1918 with a medical condition that causes his body to age in reverse. The title character (Brad Pitt) meets another “curious” man, a pygmy named Ngunda Oti (Rampai Mohadi). This pygmy is clearly modeled after Ota Benga, although some liberties have been taken with the facts of Benga’s biography. Nevertheless, Oti is the first per­ son to show Benjamin the pleasures of his own fair city. He recounts his performances of savagery in the monkey house of the Philadelphia Zoo and relates this engagement as agency rather than victimization. Yet when asked by Benjamin, “What’s it like, livin’ in a cage?” he ruefully and tellingly responds, “It stinks.” He manages to successfully maneuver society despite his size and the restrictions of Jim Crow segregation (Oti and Benjamin enjoy a trolley ride in the “blacks only” section of the cable car), demonstrating humanity through his struggle to survive. Oti, despite the severing of five marriages due to his sale as a captive slave to a “very strange Ameri­can man,” is able to define and articulate the universal truths that were present in Benga’s tragedy and display of difference: “I’ll tell you a little secret: Fat people, skinny people, tall people, white people—they’re just as alone as we are. But they’re scared shitless.” Reflecting later on meeting another common man struggling and surviving despite tragic circumstances, Benjamin remarks, “It was the best day of my life.”54 Unlike Ota Benga’s staged displays, Ngunda Oti is honorably depicted and humanely portrayed, a performative delivery and small offering of dignity and respect to the memory of his real-­life, historical counterpart.

Notes Many thanks to Henry Bial, Iris Smith Fischer, and Mechele Leon for helpful feedback on early drafts of this article. Special thanks to Rhona Justice-­Malloy and the anonymous The­ atre History Studies peer reviewers for their insightful suggestions on subsequent drafts of this piece.

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Jocelyn L . Buck ner The first epigraph is from Barbara Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett’s Destination Culture: Tourism, Mu­ seums, and Heritage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 47; the second epigraph is M. E. Buehler’s “Ota Benga,” New York Times, September 19, 1906. 1. Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 12. 2. For more on racial distinctions at the turn of the twentieth century and ethnographic and anthropological displays, see Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998); and Robert W. Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at Ameri­can Inter­ national Expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). 3. Thanks to Marvin Carlson for drawing my attention to the history of this verse form. Popularized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha (1855), the Hiawatha verse form was used frequently in the second half of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries. 4. Phillips Verner Bradford and Harvey Blume, Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), xxi, 5. 5. Kirshenblatt-­Gimblett, Destination Culture, 20. 6. “10,000 Strange People for Fair,” St. Louis Post-­Dispatch, April 1, 1904, 8. 7. Bradford and Blume, Ota Benga, 29. 8. Ibid., 97. 9. Ibid., 97–98. 10. Harvey Blume, “Ota Benga and the Barnum Perplex,” in Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business, ed. Bernth Lindfors (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 189. 11. Rosemarie Garland Thompson, Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 10. 12. “African Pygmies for the World’s Fair,” St. Louis Post-­Dispatch, June 26, 1904, 5. 13. Raymond Corbey, “Ethnographic Showcases, 1870–1930,” Cultural Anthropology 8, no. 3 (1993): 338–69. 14. Samuel P. Verner, “An Untold Chapter of My Adventures While Hunting Pygmies in Africa,” St. Louis Post-­Dispatch, September 4, 1904, 3. 15. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 62. 16. Arthur Miller, “The Nature of Tragedy,” The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller, ed. Robert A. Martin (New York: Viking, 1978), 10. 17. Aristotle, Poetics, trans. S. H. Butcher, Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art, 4th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1911), 45. 18. Arthur Miller, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” in The Theater Essays of Arthur Miller, ed. Robert A. Martin (New York: Viking, 1978), 5. 19. Miller, “The Nature of Tragedy,” 9. 20. “Pygmy Dance Starts Panic in Fair Plaza,” St. Louis Post-­Dispatch, July 1904. 21. Miller, “The Nature of Tragedy,” 9. 22. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 44. 23. Bradford and Blume, Ota Benga, 119. 24. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 82. 25. Miller, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” 4. 26. Coco Fusco, “The Other History of Intercultural Performance,” Drama Review 38, no. 1 (1994): 143–67.

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Ota the Other 2 7. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54.

Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire (Durham, N.C. Duke University Press, 2003), 13. Miller, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” 4. Bradford and Blume, Ota Benga, 168. Ibid., 177. Ibid., 106. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove, 1967), 60. Ibid., 177. “Bushman Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes,” New York Times, September 9, 1906. “Man and Monkey Show Disapproved by Clergy,” New York Times, September 10, 1906. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 86. “Man and Monkey Show Disapproved by Clergy.” This archival evidence points to the irony that while Benga’s character is constructed as Other, an alien in America, he is being viewed by a diverse mix of immigrant Ameri­cans who themselves are attempting to slough off their own Otherness in exchange for a sense of belonging in the United States. Buehler, “Ota Benga.” Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 44. Blume, “Ota Benga and the Barnum Perplex,” 197. “Negro Ministers Act to Free the Pygmy,” New York Times, September 11, 1906. “African Pygmy’s Fate Is Still Undecided,” New York Times, September 18, 1906. Ibid. Miller, “Tragedy and the Common Man,” 4. Ibid., 5. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Pocket Books, 2005), 3. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 5–6. Ibid., 45. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 7. Sean Delonas, untitled cartoon, New York Post, February 18, 2009. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher (Warner Brothers, 2008).

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\ Oteller and Desdemonum Defining Nineteenth-­Century Blackness — A ndre w C arlson

In the September 1921 issue of Theatre Arts Monthly, Earl Barroy rewrites a scene from Shakespeare’s Othello in an article titled “Shakespeare up to Date.” The Desdemona of his adaptation viciously scolds her husband: “You had better look at your own complexion. Just like a fresh shined boot . . . you’re a low-­ down, deceitful nigger.”1 The powerless Othello responds, “Mme. Othello, you forget yourself! I am not a nigger, I am a Moor.”2 Reminiscent of nineteenth-­ century minstrel adaptations of Othello, Barroy’s revision is a reminder that be­ing “up to date” about race is specific to its social and historical context. Bar­roy’s characters were not really articulating a new vision of the play but ­engaging with a century-­old question about Othello’s race: Was Othello the same kind of black person as those living in America, or was he a noble Moor with a distinct racial identity? In the nineteenth century, Othello presented a challenge to a Shakespeare-­ adoring white public. While the dominant society understood African Ameri­ cans to be a biologically and culturally inferior race, Shakespeare’s play offered a noble black man engaged in a sexual relationship with a white woman. Despite this challenge, Othello enjoyed great popularity during the mid-­to late century. It lived in various cultural representations, including the professional productions of Edwin Forrest, Edwin Booth, and Tommaso Salvini and the minstrel burlesques of T. D. Rice and George Griffin. Literary critics also agonized over the issue of Othello’s true race throughout the nineteenth century. While the racism of minstrelsy in works such as Desdemonum was blatant, professional performers and literary critics engaged in a subtler form of minstrelsy that also attempted to rob Ameri­can blacks of their humanity. Each claimed an owner{ 176 }

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ship of racial definitions and used different strategies to achieve a similar goal: the separation of Othello’s nobility from his blackness. Shakespeare’s Othello was a popular source for the minstrel stage because it allowed white Ameri­cans to combine a love and knowledge of the bard’s works with their racial obsessions. David Roediger writes in Wages of Whiteness that Othello’s content provided “particular opportunities to place sexuality, violence and high art within the nonthreatening confines of sentiment and of a hyper-­ emphasized blackface mask.”3 Numerous minstrel productions of Othello appeared in the nineteenth century, including the anonymously written Desdemo­ num (1854), George Griffin’s Othello; a Burlesque (1866), and Maurice Dowling’s Othello Travestie (1834, later adapted for the Ameri­can stage by T. D. Rice).4 While each show differed in its focus and language, all insisted that blackness was their property. The traits of the Ameri­can black man were also seen to be antithetical to those possessed by a noble Shakespearean character. Griffin’s Othello; a Burlesque creates a vision of blackness as subhuman, intellectually inferior, and violent. Published and performed in post–Civil War New York, the play reflects a society negotiating complex racial constructions. Each of the characters is in blackface, but only Othello is referred to as “dark.” Iago is a blackface Irishman in love with Desdemona, whose ethnic slurs about Othello are written in brogue. Throughout the play, he calls Othello a ­“n-­a-­g-­u-­r.” Brabantio is a heavy-­drinking blackface German eager to fatten his daughter Desdemona so that he can sell her to P. T. Barnum. The characters break out into songs set to popular Irish and Ameri­can tunes; Desdemona and Othello first appear dancing to the theme from “Dixie.” Desdemona sings “With you I’ll sport my figure, away, away— / I’ll love you dearly all my life, / Although you are a nigger.—Away, away, & c.”5 Thus the play in performance would have a white man in blackface playing a woman of German descent who differentiates her race from her black husband. Race is the thematic centerpiece of the play. While Shakespeare’s Iago expresses racist thoughts in scheming plots and monologues, the Iago of Griffin’s burlesque proclaims them loudly in song: When first I Desdemona saw, I thought her very fine, And by the way she treated me, I thought she’d soon be mine: But she’s cleared out and left me now, with a nasty dirty fellar, As black as mud—a white washer—a nagur called Othello. But I’ll kick up the devil’s own spree with her for the way she served me, And the way I’ll plague her for marrying that nagur, Will be something to see.6

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Iago takes us into a world that sees blackness as “nasty” and “dirty.” His jealousy and anger come from Desdemona’s rejection of him and her choice to taint herself with the black Othello. It is the interracial relationship that incites Iago to his evil acts. While Iago’s Irish identity may be connected to his status as a legendary Shakespearean villain, his ethnicity, unlike Othello’s blackness, is not the ultimate source of ridicule in the play. With his introductory song, Iago defines an insider community of whiteness. In Griffin’s Othello, race and gender are mutually constitutive categories. As Iago’s opening lines indicate, it is the white woman’s choice to marry the black man that is so offensive.7 Desdemona is a chastised woman, responsible for dirtying the purity of whiteness with the mud of blackness. Later in the play, Desdemona is beaten by Othello and appears onstage with a black eye. The image of the black eye plays on stereotypes of black violence while simultaneously minimizing the seriousness of violence inflicted on her as a woman. The abused Desdemona is mocked for her lack of femininity, but she distinguishes herself from Othello, stating: I really think Othello must be mad; That was the hardest thump I ever had. Just one day married, and to cut this figure— But I’ll have satisfaction on that nigger As sure as my name’s Desde. Oh, my head It aches like fury, so I’ll go to bed. (business, lies down and snores)8

Desdemona’s reference to her figure was probably humorous to an audience watching a man. Yet while her body is mocked, her whiteness is confirmed. Her marriage has not dissolved her self-­definition as a white person able to see the justice of revenge against “that nigger.” At the end of the play, she emasculates Othello by challenging him: “I won’t die . . . I say I won’t; and you can’t kill me.”9 The stage directions do not indicate that anyone does die, just that there is some “business with the pillow.”10 Desdemona is a woman on the margins, ridiculed for her snoring and shrewishness, but she also belongs to a community of whiteness apart from her abusive black husband. Griffin’s adaptation also robs Othello of his intelligence. When Iago successfully fools Othello into believing that Cassio has gained access to ­Desdemona’s bed, his celebration is based on an understanding of Othello’s blackness. Iago tells the audience, “I’ve given that nigger a fine nut to crack.”11 Othello’s lamenting song that follows this line marks the first time he uses a stereotypical dialect: “I wish I hadn’t know a bit about it— / For a man dat’s rob’d, dey sey, and { 178 }

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don’t miss what’s took away, / Can very easy get along without it.” He later states, “I’se done everything I could day and naight to do her good.”12 These lines connect Othello’s naïveté to his blackness; this is not the noble Moor deceived by an evil Iago, but a black person whose stupidity is inherent. Griffin’s Othello is simple and naturally violent. He threatens “to tear [Desdemona] all to pieces” and “let her rip.”13 Later he states, “That Desde is no good. / I feel like tearin’ things; Oh, blood! Iago, blood!”14 The violence is racialized. When discussing the murder, he employs a dialect for the second time in the play, stating he will “not shed her blood—but choke her wid dis pillow.”15 While the violence is in Shakespeare’s script, it becomes the defining characteristic of Griffin’s Othello. The short burlesque Desdemonum, published in 1874, similarly reinforces an idea of blackness as violent, stupid, and inferior.16 Unlike Griffin’s adaptation, all of the characters speak in a minstrel dialect, justified by Desdemonum at the beginning of the play: “Since burnt-­cork am de fashion, I’ll not be behind— / I’ll see Oteller’s wisage in his highfalutin’ mind.”17 Despite this, Oteller is still othered in the script because of his race, referred to as “nigger” by Iagum and “darky” by Brabantium.18 In one verse line he summarizes both his stupidity and tendencies to violence: “I ain’t much on de talk, but when fightin’s round I’m dere.”19 Although the script is only a little over four pages long, there are three stage directions describing Oteller’s violent behavior. Oteller “stabs himself,” draws Desdemonum “kicking, to sofa,” and “smothers her with cushions.”20 The one moment of connection between Oteller and Brabantium, as in Griffin’s parody, comes at the expense of the Desdemona character. ­Brabantium warns Oteller to “keep your eye peeled, Moor, nor cuckold be, / She’s humbugged her old daddy, and may thee.”21 The play thus simultaneously outlines the dangers of femininity and blackness to reinforce a community of white masculinity. Yet Desdemonum and Othello; a Burlesque are parodies, and even if certain audience members saw the Othello blackface character as a true depiction of the African Ameri­can, the comedic spirit of the play, and the fact that ­Desdemona was played by a man, tempered its realism. Titillating elements of Othello could be explored on the minstrel stage while the true threat of his violence and sexuality could be softened. In Desdemonum, the death of ­Desdemonum is followed by stage directions indicating that Oteller “stabs himself and falls on ­Desdemonum’s body. The characters join hands and dance around them. Oteller and Desdemonum get up and join in. Tableu.”22 The potentially threatening rage of Shakespeare’s play dissolves into racial farce and comical violence. In minstrelsy, Othello was seen as black, but only because { 179 }

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white performers could undermine his nobility by indicting his character and intelligence. He was engaged in an interracial relationship, but it was not real, because Desdemona was played by a man also in blackface. Although they communicated through a different medium, literary critics contributed to the larger cultural reception of the Othello character as white and noble or black and flawed. Some put the blame on Shakespeare. In 1835, John Quincy Adams famously agonized over the play in New England Maga­ zine, writing, “Who can sympathise with the love of Desdemona?—the daughter of a Venetian nobleman, born and educated to a splendid and lofty situation in the community. She falls in love and makes a runaway match with a blackamoor.”23 Adams later adds that “upon the stage, her fondling with Othello is disgusting” and that “the great moral lesson of the tragedy of ‘Othello’ is, that black and white blood cannot be intermingled in marriage without a gross outrage upon the law of Nature.”24 For Adams, the play is a cautionary tale that should not be performed. Other critics simply denied that Othello was black. As the romantic poet and Shakespeare critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge opined, “can we imagine [Shake­ speare] so ignorant as to make a barbarous negro claim royal birth,—at a time, too, when negroes were not known except as slaves?”25 According to Coleridge, Shakespeare was too great to make a noble black man; he must have meant Othello to be a white man or at least a tan Arab quite distinct from the Negro. A writer in the Nassau Literary Magazine in 1874 wrote an essay titled “Was Othello a Negro?” In bombastic prose, this author concludes emphatically that Othello “was not a negro.” He states: “Long and doubtful has the controversy been with reference to this differentia of the noble and good Othello the first. This controversy is the luminary around which all lesser luminaries have resolved. Was Othello a descendant of the radiant Ham? To assert this is almost enough to cause Othello’s spirit to spring . . . phoenix-­like from his ashes to know whence came this bold assertion. . . . No negro has ‘a round unvarnished tale.’ Othello had a ‘round unvarnished tale,’ therefore he was not a negro.”26 His conclusions reinforce the trends of the larger culture: the noble Othello is not like the Ameri­can black person. In the white popular press there was a concerted effort to disassociate Othello as Shakespeare saw him from the African Ameri­cans that they saw before them. Horace Howard Furness’s appendix “Othello’s Colour” from his 1886 Vari­ orum edition also identifies several scholars who insist that the noble Othello is unlike the African Ameri­can. Henry Hudson writes: “Othello was not meant to be a Negro, as has been represented, both on the stage and off, but a veritable Moor . . . the difference of Moors and Negroes was as well known in Shake{ 180 }

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speare’s time as it is now.”27 Grant White writes in Shakespeare’s Scholar in 1854: “Indeed, I could never see the least reason for supposing that Shakespeare intended Othello to be represented as a negro . . . the Moors were a warlike, civilized and enterprising race, which could furnish an Othello; whereas, the contrary has always been the condition of the Negroes.”28 For White, Othello’s civilized character makes it impossible for him to be like the Ameri­can black person. Blackness, as defined by these scholars, is antithetical to nobility. In 1868, two years after Griffin’s Othello was written, an Ameri­can woman named Mary Preston wrote a series of essays of Shakespearean criticism. She introduces her book by stating that she is not going “to say anything very new to the reader. My aim has been to direct his attention to very old truths, which, amid the multifarious productions of our day, are often overlooked.”29 Preston’s book describes the tragic flaw of Othello as one of “jealousy,” but she argues with conviction that “bravery in Othello was a principle, not a mere impulse. Othello was a just man.”30 She celebrates the relationship of Desdemona and Othello, stating “how natural is the origin of this love-­match . . . two hearts, impelled by different motives, unite together in love. Othello is brave; ­Desdemona is timid. Othello is a plain, artless soldier; Desdemona is a beautiful, accomplished lady.”31 Preston’s Othello and Desdemona are a loving couple with righteous souls unfortunately afflicted by an outside evil. If readers stop here, they may get the idea that Preston had a progressive idea of interracial marriage and the potential for blacks to be “just” and noble. Her conclusion, however, reveals a more limited worldview that enables her interpretation: “In conclusion, let me add a word of explanation to my reader. In studying the play of Othello, I have always imagined its hero a white man. It is true the dramatist paints him black, but this shade does not suit the man. . . . Shakespeare was too correct a delineator of human nature to have colored Othello black, if he had personally acquainted himself with the idiosyncrasies of the African race.”32 The last sentence of the essay puts an exclamation point on this argument as Preston reiterates: “Othello was a white man!”33 The minstrel show depended on ­Othello’s blackness and denied his nobility. Preston’s analysis depended on Othello’s nobility and denied his blackness. On the stage, owing largely to the influence of Edmund Kean, many Ameri­ can actors turned away from a dark blackface Othello by the mid-­nineteenth century to a tan or tawny Arab-­like Moor. Edwin Booth’s Othello of the 1860s followed in this tradition. According to the New York Times in 1867, Booth’s “Othello is a supple Oriental, with a barbaric nature overlaid by a lacquer of Venetian refinement. . . . Othello calls for intensity, and Mr. Booth has that. It calls for a certain dignity and poise.” The reviewer is able to mention and largely { 181 }

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disregard the issue of race, because Booth’s Othello has been whitened enough not to resemble an African Ameri­can. By whitening Othello, Booth could give the Moor dignity and poise. In contrast to the refined Booth was the more racially ambiguous Italian Othello of Tommaso Salvini that toured the United States in the 1870s. In Lip­ pincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science in December 1873, one critic wrote that Salvini perfectly captured nobility and savagery that he saw in Othello: “The performance may safely be said to defy criticism . . . Othello is ‘of a free and open nature,’ he is ‘great of heart,’ he is above wrong without provocation, real or supposed. But his nature admits no possibility of self-­control, of reason in the midst of doubts, of patience under injury. His temperament betrays itself in physical exhibitions wild and portentous.”34 Salvini could embody the Moor’s nobility in the first part of the play and realistically “swoon” and “foam” like an animal at the end.35 The author writes that “Othello’s race is the hinge on which the tragedy turns” but never indicates that that race is African Ameri­can. In an essay in Shakespeariana; A Critical and Contemporary Review of Shakespearian Literature, the author criticizes the racial implications of the performance, writing that he “would rather [Salvini] were less oriental and more Shakespearian in his death. The picturesque curved knife hacking terribly at his neck instead of the sudden stab at his breast of the concealed dagger adds an unnecessary emphasis.”36 These reviews engage with ideas of race but never entertain the possibility that Othello’s largely noble otherness shares qualities with African Ameri­cans. While employing racist language and stereotypes, they are nonetheless able to accommodate his performance with their ideas of black Ameri­cans. These strategies did not successfully suppress the subversive potential of Othello’s racial resonances. The attempts to define blackness clarify an underlying threat that the character Othello posed: the ideology of whiteness was not challenged by minstrel parody or by an abstract idea of a black Othello, but by the realistic embodiment of a noble black man and his marriage to a white woman. Othello could threaten when he escaped parody, imagination, and a vaguely defined otherness and began to resemble an African Ameri­can. In 1873 a critic in the New York Times responded less casually to race in Salvini’s Othello: “[Salvini] makes him a negro. The peculiar features of that race are not thrust violently upon us, it is true: but still, there they are; ­Desdemona’s love is an un­deniable wooly-­headed negro. This, we may be sure, was not Shakespeare’s conception of Othello.”37 This negative reaction not only demonstrates the racial ambiguity of Salvini’s performance but also the threat posed by the em-

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bodiment of a perceived Ameri­can blackness. The review goes on to justify the criticism by differentiating the Moor from the blackamoor, arguing that Shakespeare’s noble Othello is necessarily unlike the African Ameri­can. This racial threat is also seen in distinctions literary critics made between imaginative reading and theatrical embodiment. For John Quincy Adams, reading Othello and seeing it are two different issues, which Adams makes clear when describing the embodiment of Desdemona: “upon the stage, her ­fondling with Othello is disgusting.” The act of watching an interracial couple is a revolting experience that, to him, magnifies the play’s offensiveness. Critic Charles Lamb said people may cry in the theatre performance of Othello, but only because they are disgusted with his race.38 Tears are shed because “a blackamoor in a fit of jealousy kills his innocent white wife.”39 The distinction he makes between theatre and imagination is quite clear: “I appeal to everyone that has seen Othello played whether he did not sink . . . Othello’s mind in his colour; whether he did not find something extremely revolting in the courtship and wedded caresses of Othello and Desdemona; and whether the actual sight of the thing did not over-­weigh all that beautiful compromise which we make in reading.”40 The influential Shakespearean critic A. C. Bradley agrees, writing, “as Lamb observes, to imagine is one thing and to see is another.”41 Imaginative escape is challenged by the reality of theatre, complicating their understandings of race. Furness echoes this sentiment, concluding at the end of his appendix on Othello’s color that “Shakespeare meant Othello to be black, I cannot but think,” yet later distinguishing between the literary and the theatrical: “its offencelessness, when I read the play, I learn from Lamb, and since actors now present the tawny hue, I am not offended when sitting at the play.”42 Furness implies that a black Othello would offend him in the theatre, even though his imagination does not encounter the same threat. Onstage, Othello cannot be black. As ideas of Othello changed in the twentieth century, definitions of Desdemona’s femininity continued to interact with the definitions of Othello’s race. When it was rumored that Paul Robeson was to play Othello in the United States, several newspapers wondered where they would find a white woman willing to act with him. A headline in the Pittsburg Courier on June 13, 1930, read, “White Actress Doesn’t Mind Kissing Robeson”; one from September 6, 1930, declared, “Lillian Gish Would Accept Robeson’s ‘Love-­Making’ in ‘Othello.’ ” White society denigrated black Othellos and made their Desdemonas guilty of tainting whiteness. It is important, however, not to get lost in the racial definitions of white

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men. Nancy Shoemaker writes that “the emphasis on European image-­making consigns Ameri­can Indians and other non-­white peoples to a passive role in the construction of knowledge. They exist only as the objects of white observation, and the power to label or name resides with Europeans.”43 While white minstrel shows and criticism had real power, they did not prevent African Ameri­ cans from defining Othello and claiming him as their own. In 1942, W. E. B. Du Bois discussed Robeson’s performance in Phylon magazine: “This was the first time since the great Ira Aldridge that the character of Othello was played by a Negro, which, despite critics, was undoubtedly the type that Shakespeare had in mind.”44 The following year, in an essay titled “As the Crow Flies,” Du Bois historicized Robeson’s Othello performance in the New York Amsterdam News: “I began my theatre-­going in the day when Othello was indubitably white: slightly—oh, very slightly—brunette, but unquestionably a white European of the masterful, world-­shaking type. Shakespeare’s allusions to ‘thick lips’ and ‘black ram:’ to ‘sooty bosom’ and differences of race, fell on deaf ears, mine as well as others. But in Margaret Webster’s Othello, how naturally all these allusions fall in place and make the greatness of the play. I doubt if ever again an actor will dare portray Othello as white.”45 In the twentieth century, Othello became a battleground for race relations as white and black artists and scholars fought for Shakespeare’s authority. Du Bois, Robeson, and others claimed Shakespeare for black Ameri­cans, asserting the right to embody an Ameri­can black Othello with nobility.46

Notes 1. 2. 3. 4.

Early Barroy, “Shakespeare up to Date,” Theatre Arts Monthly, September 1921, 28. Ibid. David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2007), 127. For an excellent discussion of several British minstrel Othellos and their impact on racial constructions in the age of Ira Aldridge, see Joyce Green MacDonald, “Acting Black: ‘Othello,’ ‘Othello’ Burlesques, and the Performance of Blackness,” Theatre Journal 46, no. 2 (1994): 231–49. 5. George Griffin, Othello; a Burlesque in This Grotesque Essence: Plays from the Ameri­can Minstrel Stage, ed. Gary D. Engle (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), 71. 6. Ibid., 70. 7. For an extended discussion of how Desdemona functions in this plot and an excellent discussion of the larger contextual history of Ethiopian burlesque, see William J. Mahar, “Ethiopian Skits and Sketches: Contents and Contexts of Blackface Minstrelsy, 1840– 1890,” in Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-­Century Blackface Minstrelsy,

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8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.

17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 2 4. 25. 2 6. 27. 2 8. 29. 3 0. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 3 9. 40. 41.

ed. Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara (Hanover, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), esp. 189–94. Griffin, Othello, 76. Ibid., 77. Ibid. Ibid., 74. Ibid. Ibid., 76. Ibid., 75. Ibid., 77. Desdemonum, from This Grotesque Essence: Plays from the Ameri­can Minstrel Stage, ed. Gary D. Engle (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978). The play was published in 1874, but the author is unknown. Ibid., 63. Ibid., 64, 65. Ibid., 63. Ibid., 66. Ibid., 65, 66. Ibid., 67. John Quincy Adams, New England Magazine 9 (December 1835), in Ameri­cans on Shake­ speare, 1776–1914, ed. Peter Rawlings (Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1999), 65. Ibid. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, quoted by W. J. Rolfe, in “Some Shakespearean Questions: Was Othello a Negro?” Poet Lore 10 (1898): 251. “Was Othello a Negro?” Nassau Literary Magazine 29, no. 3 (1874): 22. William Shakespeare, Othello: A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, ed. Horace Howard Furness (New York: Dover, 1963), 395. Ibid., 393. Mary Preston, Studies in Shakespeare: A Book of Essays (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, and Haffelfinger, 1868), ix. Ibid., 65. Ibid., 66. Ibid., 71. Ibid. “Salvini’s Othello,” Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, December 1873, 742. Ibid. Shakespeariana; A Critical and Contemporary Review of Shakespearian Literature, May 1, 1886, 232. New York Times, September 17, 1873. Julie Hankey, introduction to William Shakespeare, Othello: Second Edition, ed. Julie Han­key (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 41. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., 69.

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Andre w C arlson 4 2. Furness, ed., Othello, 396. 43. Nancy Shoemaker, “How Indians Got to Be Red,” Ameri­can Historical Review 102, no. 3 (1997): 625. 44. W. E. B. Du Bois, Phylon 3, no. 4 (1942): 433. 45. W. E. B. Du Bois, “As the Crow Flies,” New York Amsterdam News, December 11, 1943, 10A. 46. Othello continues to trouble scholars because of its perceived racist content. For an excellent discussion of this topic, see Othello: New Essays by Black Writers, ed. Mythili Kaul (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1996).

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\ “Looking at One’s Self through the Eyes of Others” Representations of the Progressive Era Middle Class in W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Star of Ethiopia — R ebecca H e w ett

Eleanor Curtis, an African Ameri­can actress, walked onto an outdoor stage arranged on a baseball field before a crowd of fourteen thousand spectators in Washington, D.C. Her floor-­length dress was adorned with a single necklace and sleeves so wide and long they trailed the ground as she walked across the stage. A tiara sat atop her head. On her back she wore wings that stretched out on either side of her body. The wings were rounded and, from the front, gave the impression that this young woman was perhaps wearing a heart on her back. Curtis gripped a paper star in her hand; once onstage, she stood facing the crowd and slowly raised the star above her head. As the title character in W. E. B. Du Bois’s pageant The Star of Ethiopia, she embodied the symbolic protector for Africans and African Ameri­cans through hundreds of years of world history. Du Bois wrote the first draft of what would later become The Star of Ethiopia in 1911 and presented it to the officers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a suggestion for a fund-­raiser. Du Bois’s colleagues at the NAACP were not convinced of the pageant’s efficacy, however, and the project was temporarily abandoned. Du Bois found a way to resurrect it two years later. The year 1913 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation; the event was remembered publicly in the United States through special issues of journals, public speeches, commemorative figurines of civil rights leaders, and public expositions modeled on world’s fairs. The state legislatures of New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York { 187 }

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each appropriated funds for large expositions devoted to “black progress.”1 The New York Emancipation Exposition was a ten-­day celebration from October 22 to 31 in Manhattan at the Twelfth Regiment Armory near Sixty-­second Street and Broadway. With a budget of twenty-­five thousand dollars, the New York Emancipation Exposition was the largest of all the state expositions.2 New York governor William Sulzer appointed Du Bois as one of nine members of the exposition’s organizing committee; Du Bois found in it an opportunity to revisit his pageant. To commemorate the occasion, his pageant sought to re-­create thousands of years in African and African Ameri­can history. His project, was, in part, meant to change the historical narrative assigned to African Ameri­cans in the United States during the Progressive Era and, by extension, to create a new cultural memory of African Ameri­can history. In attempting this, both the original production in 1913 and its revival two years later embodied Du Bois’s desire for African Ameri­cans to enter the middle class in the United States as a part of his vision of a “talented tenth.” Although meant to inspire and educate, the pageant also functioned as a disciplinary tool, able to instruct and encourage its audience in re-­creating middle-­class values. This article argues that through The Star of Ethiopia Du Bois sought to instruct his audience in the trappings of Progressive Era middle-­ class behavior; as the pageant went through major revisions, its focus sharpened on the role of African Ameri­can women in pushing African Ameri­cans into the middle class. This article explores how, through an attempt to create this alternative historical record through The Star of Ethiopia, Du Bois simultaneously created and promoted an image of black women that attempted to mirror the public image of the virtuous and chaste middle-­class white woman during the Progressive Era. I examine The Star of Ethiopia to understand how, over its first two incarnations, Du Bois advocated for African Ameri­cans to work toward middle-­ class status. In the 1913 production Du Bois struggled to portray African Ameri­ cans as both having descended from ancient civilizations and having worked diligently to attain a place in the Ameri­can workforce. Later, in the 1915 production, the depiction of African Ameri­can women in the pageant was especially fraught as Du Bois aimed to portray black women as possessing middle-­ class values through the creation of the Star of Ethiopia, a “superwoman” who could protect, teach, and sacrifice in the struggle for equality. To illuminate the choices Du Bois made in his productions, I look at the work Du Bois edited for The Crisis and published in The Philadelphia Negro as evidence of his dramaturgical choices. { 188 }

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After the pageant’s debut in 1913, Du Bois produced the pageant three more times over the following twelve years: in Washington, D.C., in 1915; in Philadelphia in 1916; and in Los Angeles in 1925. Although Du Bois himself noted 1913 as the year The Star of Ethiopia debuted at the National Emancipation Exposition,3 the version he premiered there was slightly, but importantly, different from the subsequent productions. Other writings on Star imply that the four productions incorporated only minor changes, and thus comparatively little attention has been paid to the script’s evolution.4 Because The Star of Ethiopia did, however, employ significant revisions and additions from its first performance in New York to its next major public performance in Washington, D.C., two years later, it is worth examining those changes in more detail. From 1908 to 1914, the United States entered a period of Progressive Era urban reform. Motivated by a belief in the connection between middle-­class status and a moral superiority, reformers sought reform legislation with the presumption that citizens could be trained to be “Ameri­can.” What it meant to be Ameri­can, however, was under revision. The ideal Progressive Era citizen was of the white middle class, but because of the spike in European immigration to the United States in the early twentieth century, what it meant to be “white” was under revision as well. Recent immigrants encountered widespread assumptions about their moral and intellectual shortcomings, which contributed to what Matthew Frye Jacobson terms a “variegated” notion of whiteness in the Progressive Era.5 Being of the white middle class was now understood to mean of the “best” degree of whiteness, or native born. By 1903, Du Bois had developed his idea of the “talented tenth,” whereby the best-­educated African Ameri­cans would become the leaders who structured political policy. He later rejected this idea, but at the time he was adamant that education should remain a key feature in civil rights. Although Du Bois’s contemporary—and sometimes rival—Booker T. Washington preached against violent behavior and advocated acquiescence, Du Bois felt strongly that keeping silent about serious grievances would be disastrous. For Du Bois to suggest that African Ameri­cans aspire to the middle class was to aim for the moral and native-­born superiority attached to the Progressive Era white middle class, which stood in stark opposition to the recent immigrant population. The Star of Ethiopia has been analyzed in terms of how it sought to represent the black diaspora. In “ ‘The Pageant Is the Thing’: Black Nationalism and The Star of Ethiopia,” David Krasner argues that in creating the pageant, Du Bois “sought a cultural representation of black diaspora, the collective consciousness among black people centered upon a common history and ancestry.”6 The history represented in the pageant was heatedly debated during the Pro{ 189 }

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gressive Era. Du Bois first produced The Star of Ethiopia in 1913 in an effort to challenge the racist historiographies of African Ameri­can history written during Reconstruction, which portrayed freed blacks as poverty stricken and unwilling to work, while singling out African Ameri­can women as sexually promiscuous and incapable of raising a family. At a time when white America was obsessed with the classical cultures of Greece and Rome, Du Bois’s pageant, steeped in Egyptian and African mythology, challenged Reconstruction histories by connecting African Ameri­cans to ancient cultures and demonstrating classical lineage. Du Bois’s goal in writing and staging The Star of Ethiopia was, in part, to create a performance that would serve as an alternative to the Reconstruction histories of African Ameri­cans being written and promoted by “pro-­South” groups, an alternative that reclaimed the historical narrative written during Reconstruction. Once the Civil War ended in 1865, another fight began over how to characterize the events of that conflict. Both “pro-­Union” and “pro-­South” histories were being written and published at a rapid pace. Pro-­Union histories claimed that “southerners were semi-­barbarous people who had conspired to destroy the Union in order to perpetuate slavery,”7 while pro-­South histories insisted that “fanatics and fools” such as John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Abraham Lincoln had “inspired the North to participate in an immoral and imperialistic conspiracy” motivated by jealousy of “the planters’ ‘superior refinement of scholarship and manners.’ ”8 Their rhetoric dominated the postwar generations. The pro-­slavery sentiment structured not only the myriad Civil War histories published in the decades immediately after the war but, in turn, structured political and cultural policies in regard to newly emancipated African Ameri­cans. The racisms attached to African Ameri­can histories extended to African histories as well: “Europeans judged the signs of the African past—customs, traditions, social hierarchies—by official or racist attitudes, and often quickly dismissed them. The Negro, more than any other race, had no history, for he had no writing and he had taken no major steps forward.”9 Part of the ease with which historians dismissed African Ameri­can culture issued from the belief that the continent from which they came was of little cultural significance. Much historical significance was being placed on ancient civilizations at the time, and without a claim to an ancient civilization, African Ameri­can history was presented as inferior. These historical narratives lent themselves to the development and perpetuation of stereotypes of African Ameri­cans as individuals. Visual representations of African Ameri­cans in the early twentieth century in everything from { 190 }

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literature and film to children’s toys and the illustrations on food items in grocery stores reflected racial stereotypes of African Ameri­cans as unintelligent, economically disadvantaged, and uninterested in work: “These grotesque, garishly dressed beings, with black skins, protruding red lips and bulging eyeballs, were usually shown in impoverished settings with yard fowl, watermelons, and so on.”10 The inundation of U.S. culture with images of the stereotypy of African Ameri­cans became crucial to what white Ameri­cans thought they knew about people of color: “Visual culture was fundamental not only to racial classification but also to racial reinscription and the reconstruction of racial knowledge in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”11 The racist visual culture of stereotypy went hand-­in-­hand with racist historiographies to craft a belittling image of African Ameri­cans, while simultaneously denigrating the lineage of an entire race. The Star of Ethiopia would become a part of Du Bois’s ongoing effort to change the narratives of African Ameri­can history circa 1913, in addition to the visual images associated with their histories, through written historical narratives of Africa and African Ameri­cans. The 1913 New York Emancipation Exposition sought to redress these insinuations by reclaiming African and African Ameri­can histories. The organiz­ ing committee, or commissioners, intended “to make this exposition a complete picture of Negro progress and attainment in America.”12 The topic of “progress” made by African Ameri­cans was heavily discussed in 1913: the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation sparked much public debate about the state of the civil rights movement in the United States. Although the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1870, stipulating that voting could not be restricted by a citizen’s race, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 guaranteed equality in “public accommodations,” individual southern states began stripping these rights away fewer than twenty years later. By 1888 the Mississippi state legislature had passed a series of statutes meant to legalize segregation and in 1890 ratified a new constitution disenfranchising African Ameri­cans. Between 1898 and 1918, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma followed suit.13 In 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and 1896 brought Plessy v. Ferguson and its endorsement of “separate but equal.” These rulings essentially granted protection for public segregation and mob violence.14 At least 3,224 individuals were murdered by lynch mobs between 1889 and 1918.15 Lynching violence was justified in popular culture through novels like The Clansman (1905), the book on which the film Birth of a Nation would eventually be based. The novel demonstrated the deep roots of racism through its sympathetic depiction of the Ku Klux Klan. Du Bois became increasingly con{ 191 }

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vinced that the narratives of Reconstruction, with their emphasis on stereotype, were being written in ways that encouraged the stripping away of African Ameri­cans’ rights and contributed to the popularity of works like The Clansman.16 As David W. Blight argues in “W. E. B. Du Bois and the Struggle for Afri­can Ameri­can Memory,” “Traditional historians’ treatment of the black experience, the civil rights leader argued, ‘was a conscious and deliberate manipulation of history and the stakes were high.’ ”17 The 1913 exposition was an opportunity to intervene at a crucial moment. The New York Emancipation Exposition was crafted to tell a “continuous and complete story of fifty years unusual progress among colored Ameri­cans.”18 To accomplish this goal, the exposition availed itself of Du Bois’s sociological training by including “detailed charts, models, moving pictures, maps and a few typical exhibits.”19 The organizing committee constructed exhibits that em­ phasized the importance of religion, education, and work through an exposition divided into fifteen sections; each of these was devoted to specific professions and industries, education, church, and “women and social uplift.” The exposition also crafted a longer historical lineage for African Ameri­cans through the inclusion of an exhibit on “the industries of Africa”: the exposition celebrated African history as an early precursor to African Ameri­can history.20 Du Bois’s pageant, titled “The People of Peoples and Their Gifts to Men” in this first iteration, fit easily into the overall goals for the exposition. The pageant, too, emphasized the connections between African and African Ameri­can histories. Publicity for the exposition boasted Du Bois’s pageant as its central event. The inaugural pageant employed 350 performers in six chronological episodes, each telling the story of how a different “gift” was given by Africans and African Ameri­cans to the world. “The People of Peoples” premiered with four performances between October 22 and 31, 1913.21 An estimated fourteen thousand patrons witnessed the pageant over its four performances.22 Du Bois wrote the script; his former student Charles Burroughs served as director; Dora Cole Norman, sister of famous composer Bob Cole, was the choreographer; and Colo­ nel Charles Young, a former colleague of Du Bois’s at Wilberforce University, composed original music for the event.23 While writing and rehearsing his first pageant, Du Bois claimed there was “an avalanche of altogether unmerited and absurd attacks it had never been my fortune to experience.”24 Although it was an onerous task, once the performances began Du Bois was pleased with the outcome: “And then it came—four exhibitions, singular in their striking beauty, and above all in the grip they took upon men. Literally, thousands besieged our doors and the sight of the thing continually made the tears arise. After these audiences aggregating 14,000, I { 192 }

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said: the Pageant is the thing. This is what the people want and long for. This is the gown and paraphernalia in which the message of education and reasonable race pride can deck itself.”25 Du Bois was hereafter convinced of the pageant’s affective possibilities. The first version of the pageant, “The People of Peoples,” followed a basic narrative structure of six chronological episodes, each telling the story of how a different “gift” was given by Africans and African Ameri­cans to the world. The pageant opened with heralds playing trumpets to gain the audience’s attention, then proclaiming: “Hear ye, hear ye! Men of all the Americas, and listen to the tale of the eldest and strongest of the races of mankind, whose faces be black. Hear ye, hear ye, of the gifts of black men to this world, the Iron Gift and Gift of Faith, the Pain of Humility and the Sorrow Song of Pain, the Gift of Freedom and of Laughter, and the undying Gift of Hope. Men of the world, keep silence and hear ye this!”26 This proclamation sums up the action of the entire pageant with a brief synopsis of the gifts the audience will see offered to the world by Africans and African Ameri­cans. Each subsequent section began with a herald calling the audience to attention, followed by an announcement of the individual gift offered in the following. The first scene depicted the “Gift of Iron”: a group of African “savages” is visited by a Veiled Woman; she brings Iron and Fire to the people of Africa, who then rejoice and dance in celebration. In the second scene the “Gift of Civilization” is given to the valley of the Nile. According to Du Bois, “This picture tells how the meeting of Negro and Semite in ancient days made the civilization of Egypt the first in the world.” The “Gift of Faith” is offered in the third scene, meant to show “how the Negro race spread the faith of Mohammed over half the world and built a new culture thereon.” The fourth scene shows the “Gift of Humiliation” and how “this race did suffer of Pain, of Death and Slavery and yet of this Humiliation did not die.” The scene shows men being sold into slavery who begin to sing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” In the fifth scene, the audience sees the “Gift of Struggle Toward Freedom.” Several groups are shown—Native Ameri­cans, French, Spanish, Africans, and Haitians struggling for power in North America. The scene ends with King Cotton arriving, followed by Greed, Vice, Luxury, and Cruelty. The slaveholders assert their power over the slaves, who are shown working in silent despair. The sixth and final scene shows the “Gift of Freedom,” as historical figures such as John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth enter and pronounce their hopes for the end of slavery.27 “The People of Peoples and Their Gifts to Men” claimed a space in the Progressive Era middle class through the links it created to ancient cultures. By { 193 }

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demonstrating industry and religious conviction through thousands of years of history, Du Bois produced a vision of his “talented tenth” to rival the Progressive Era notion of the white middle class relying on their western European ancestry to legitimate claims of superiority. The next production of the pageant focused more closely on Du Bois’s belief in the significant role African Ameri­ can women could play in the creation of a “talented tenth.” Although Du Bois claimed that The Star of Ethiopia did not resurface until its 1915 production in Washington, D.C.,28 archival documents provide a draft, dated and signed by Du Bois in 1914, titled The Star of Ethiopia, written for “the Women’s Club of Xenia, Ohio, in honor of the biennial meeting of the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs at Wilberforce.”29 “The People of Peoples and Their Gifts to Men,” as presented in New York in 1913, made no mention of the star itself or of Ethiopia as a character in the drama; she did not appear until the 1914 version, the first titled The Star of Ethiopia. In the 1915 production of The Star of Ethiopia, first performed in Washington, D.C., on October 11, 13, and 15, Du Bois merged the 1913 and 1914 versions into a hybrid of the two.30 In this version, which would remain the basic script for the rest of Star’s performances, the story of the star of Ethiopia is told in six scenes. In this final draft, which was used as a template for the later performances in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the imagery is steeped in the various religious and historical mythologies that characterized the first two drafts, ranging from the African Yoruba faith to biblical history and Egyptian myth. The Star of Ethiopia ultimately incorporated the mythology of the 1913 pageant with the presence of a central female character, this time, by 1915, called the Star of Ethiopia: a protective and guiding presence for Africans and Afri­ can Ameri­cans throughout the various episodes of world history shown in the ­pageant. The three October 1915 performances were held at the Ameri­can League Baseball Park in Washington, D.C.31 Du Bois produced this iteration in collaboration with the National Pageant and Dramatic Association in Washington, D.C., and with the help of E. L. Thurston, the superintendent of colored education in Washington.32 The 1915 production used more performers than the 1913 performance in New York: this one boasted a cast of over a thousand in addition to a chorus of two hundred. The Colored District Militia was included for use in the battle episodes.33 Du Bois’s primary collaborators were the same: Charles Young’s music was kept in the pageant; Dora Cole Norman resumed her work as choreographer; Charles Burroughs stepped in again to direct.34 Once the imagery of the Star of Ethiopia was introduced in the 1915 version of the pageant, she was the focus of the pageant’s visual imagery, largely evi{ 194 }

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denced through publicity posters and other photographs. The December 1915 issue of The Crisis featured an article about the 1915 production of The Star of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. On its cover was the publicity image used on programs and publicity fliers for the 1915, 1916, and 1923 productions: A woman, shown from the chest up, looks up to the sky, arms reaching overhead. In her right hand she holds a banner with the words “ ‘The Star of Ethiopia’: A Pageant.” The banner is waving in the breeze, opened fully behind the woman to show its letters. In her left hand she holds aloft a horseshoe-­shaped wreath. She is bedecked in jewelry: on her left wrist are several bangle bracelets, and on her right is a single coil wrapped several times around her forearm; long, thin jewels suspended from a choker-­length necklace adorn her chest. The woman’s face is nearly expressionless, lips together, eyes looking up past her unfurled flag. A cap is fitted tightly to the top of her head, sitting just above her ears; her hair is cut in a chic chin-­length bob. She is wearing what looks to be a kind of armor: a fitted garment with circular plates affixed over her breasts. Because she is only visible from the chest up, the overall effect is one of great opulence. Her facial expression gives little indication of her mood, but with her head leaning back to look up, her arms stretched out into the air above her, and her focus on the sky above the flag, she appears at once reverential and exultant, but also grave and somber in her physical gestures. In the first scene of The Star of Ethiopia, dated 50,000 b.c.e., African “savages” enter to make a human sacrifice to Shango, the Yoruba god of thunder.35 Once appeased, Shango appears, summons Ethiopia, and bestows upon her the Star of Freedom, charging her to guard it forever because “the time has now come for her people to advance.”36 In this first scene, her presence then inspires Africans to forge the first iron weapons, and under her direction men and women peacefully perform their duties: men go out to hunt while women and children weave and mold clay.37 In this opening vignette, the Star of Ethiopia is responsible for teaching and overseeing early African civilization. She offers tools for survival in both the physical world and the social. She teaches gender roles as a survival strategy, to help this early civilization find its structure. Du Bois also used his historical and sociological work throughout the early twentieth century as a platform to articulate his concerns about black women and to eventually create a venue, through his editorial control of The Crisis, to offer advice to women on how they, too, could endeavor to more closely resemble the middle-­class white women of the Progressive Era. These suggestions also appeared throughout The Star of Ethiopia. In The Philadelphia Negro, his 1899 sociological study of the African Ameri­can community in that city, Du Bois cited prostitution and working mothers as two dire problems adversely shaping { 195 }

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the African Ameri­can family. Low wages for men and high rent prices led women to work outside the home, with severe consequences: “This leaves the children without guidance or restraint for the better part of the day—a thing disastrous to manners and morals.”38 Furthermore, women who engaged in prostitution or common-­law partnerships outside marriage were “ignorant and loose” and “absolutely without social standing.” Du Bois compared these women to the “lowest class of recent immigrants and other unfortunates,” with their “sexual promiscuity and the absence of a real home life.”39 He also expressed concern about issues of hygiene as they related to the health of Afri­can Ameri­cans: “In habits of personal cleanliness and taking proper food and exercise, the colored people are woefully deficient.”40 For Du Bois, these issues of sexuality, morality, and cleanliness all converged in the home. Much like the pageant’s first scene, Du Bois often charged women with the task of correcting these evils as the overseer of the domestic space. The Star of Ethiopia’s first charge was to teach gendered labor to Africans for the betterment of their civilization. Through the second, third, and fourth scenes, the Star of Ethiopia must protect the civilization she has helped create. The second scene, “The Culture of Egypt,” set circa 5000 b.c.e., opens on ancient Egypt; the Egyptians are attacked by the savages of the previous scene. The episode concludes with a dance by one hundred Egyptian women.41 The Star presides over the two cultures as they learn to coexist and mingle peacefully.42 In the third scene, “The Black Man Rules the World,” set in 1000 b.c.e., the Star appears again to resolve a conflict, this time between groups of Muslims and Christians on the brink of fighting. She quells the angry spirit of the place, and all leave in peace.43 Throughout this middle section of the pageant, the Star is responsible for protecting and overseeing the people in her charge. Du Bois promoted similar ideals through his editorial work in The Crisis, the NAACP’s monthly magazine. In its early years especially, Du Bois frequently used the publication to create a space for white women to offer advice to African Ameri­can women on domestic matters. Patricia Morton argues in her book Disfigured Images: The His­ torical Assault on Afro-­Ameri­can Women that through The Crisis, Du Bois “exposed and condemned America’s abuse of black women—economic and sexual, psychological and physical—revealing that not only black men but also black women were victims of the horror of the lynch mob.”44 While it is true that Du Bois worked to include articles about discrimination specific to African Ameri­can women, these articles were often written by white women in the publication’s early years. Additionally, several of the articles were constructed as advice-­giving columns, and created a situation whereby The Crisis was used as a place for white women to offer African Ameri­can women advice, in some { 196 }

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cases instruction and in other cases outright chastisement on everything from hygiene to child care to black women’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement. In its early years under Du Bois’s editorship, the magazine devoted monthly columns to news about lynching; “men of the month,” with news items about individual achievements; further reading to recommend other publications to the readership; and in the first year, “Talks about Women” by Jean Torrey Milholland, a middle-­class white woman and mother of suffragist Inez Milholland. Milholland used her column in a variety of ways: she offered advice to African Ameri­can women on a range of topics, including hygiene, proper exercise, and their involvement in the women’s suffrage movement. In December 1910, she chastised African Ameri­can women for letting their suffrage efforts become insulated from those of the white suffragists: “The colored women have done their share in this march for progress and the betterment of their sex, but, as yet, their efforts seem to have been made principally within their own circle and among their own race. It is time, now, however, that they come forward and help share with their white sisters their responsibilities, and seek to obtain for both recognition as citizens possessed of political rights.”45 Although women such as Ida B. Wells-­Barnett and Mary Church Terrell had already begun to publicly express dissatisfaction with the ways African Ameri­can women were intentionally excluded from the women’s suffrage movement led by the white middle class, that dissatisfaction was not expressed in the early years of The Crisis. I do not mean to ignore the importance of Du Bois’s inclusion of articles on suffrage— he was using a major monthly publication to focus on the struggle in a way that demonstrated its importance to him at a time when the women’s suffrage movement was assailed (and literally assaulted) on many fronts. That Du Bois created a space in his publication for this conversation indicates his commitment to the cause. I simply point out that, in creating a space for this conversation, he continued to encourage African Ameri­can women to more closely resemble white middle-­class women not merely in appearance and homemaking but in political activity as well. The dramaturgical choices made throughout The Star of Ethiopia reflected these themes and concerns. The fourth scene of The Star of Ethiopia, “The Land of the Blacks,” was dated 1500 c.e. and later. The Star of Ethiopia, now moving slowly from exhaustion, enters. She is no longer able to keep peace among the several groups fighting over Africa’s future, and a group of slave traders rips the star from her hands and burns her alive while two Christian monks look on.46 The next two scenes depict the Star’s resurrection and ultimate triumph. The fifth scene, “The Search for the Star of Freedom,” is set in 1750 and later. In North America, Af{ 197 }

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rican Ameri­can slaves work under the lash of slave owners. Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth enter to warn the slave drivers to stop what they are doing, but they are ignored.47 John Brown, who advocated aggression for the abolitionist cause through several violent raids, enters with the “torch of war” but falls dead. As slaves congregate around the body and the chorus sings “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” Shango, the Yoruba deity who summoned the Star in the first scene, reappears. Shango then resurrects the Star of Ethiopia from the dead; she is reborn holding her star in her left hand, and a sword in her right. Once reborn, she uses her sword to instruct African Ameri­ can men to fight in the Civil War for the Union army.48 The sixth and final scene, “The Tower of Light,” was set in 1915. The Star of Ethiopia appears sitting on a throne and watching as African Ameri­cans dressed as “ministers, lawyers, physicians, teachers, students,” and a host of other professions enter. They all perform their various crafts but then fall under siege from the allegorical figure of Prejudice, who enters with “Hooded Hounds” that “rush forward and begin lashing and lynching.” In supplication the workers turn to the Star, who once again protects those in need and dispels Prejudice. She then summons the rivers of the world to aid her in constructing the “Tower of Light”: she would rest her star there, where it would be forever safe and out of reach from anyone seeking its destruction.49 The Star of Ethiopia closed the pageant by raising her hands in benediction and peace. During Reconstruction and continuing into the Progressive Era, specific stereotypes evolved around black women at the nexus of their gender, race, and class. Throughout slavery, black female sexuality was used by white, male slave owners in a complex web of domination and submission. Their compliance was expected, and it led to a systematic raping of black women that white America perceived as a threat to their sense of white female sexuality and propriety of the Progressive Era. In Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South, Deborah Gray White notes that “Ameri­can white women were expected to be passive because they were female. But black women had to be submissive because they were black and slaves. This made a difference in the sex roles of black and white women, as well as in the expectations that their respective societies had of them.”50 Long after slavery ended, the stereotype of the sexually available and therefore promiscuous black woman lived on in the form of the Jezebel or Sapphire character, a black woman ruled by her lust for men.51 In contrast to the promiscuous Jezebel stood the chaste, helpful, capable martyr: the Mammy.52 Another stereotype with origins in slavery, this image of black femininity evolved from the black slave women put to work in the plan-

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tation house. They were charged with looking after home life, which involved a number of tasks, from raising white children while their own children worked in the fields to overseeing the other house slaves. From this role came the image of black womanhood as strong and endlessly able: a woman who could not only handle everything asked of her, but a woman happy to always be doing for others. Recuperating these contrasting images and expectations for black women resulted in additional stereotypes. In Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, Michele Wallace sums up the expectations for black women: From the intricate web of mythology which surrounds the black woman, a fundamental image emerges. It is of a woman of inordinate strength, with an ability for tolerating an unusual amount of misery and heavy, distasteful work. This woman does not have the same fears, weaknesses, and insecurities as other women, but believes herself to be and is, in fact, stronger emotionally than most men. Less of a woman in that she is less “feminine” and helpless, she is really more of a woman in that she is the embodiment of Mother Earth, the quintessential mother with infinite sexual, life-­giving, and nurturing reserves. In other words, she is superwoman.53

This image of the black superwoman was promoted during Reconstruction by those seeking to redress the stereotype of the Jezebel. In doing so, it created another expectation for black women to struggle against. Throughout Du Bois’s pageant, the Star of Ethiopia is the epitome, and more, of the capable matriarch Du Bois recommended to his readers in The Philadelphia Negro and The Crisis. In this last scene, the Star presides over and aids in the creation of Du Bois’s notion of the “talented tenth.” Once the assembled African Ameri­cans in the final scene demonstrate their claim to the middle class through performing roles as lawyers, doctors, and teachers, the Star can rest. Her sacrifice has brought African Ameri­cans to this place, where the allegorical figure of Prejudice can no longer touch them. The Star of Ethiopia teaches, guides, protects, dies, and returns to life; she is truly superhuman. Once she appeared, the Star of Ethiopia embodied a sacrifice framed through the pageant as necessary to ensure the protection and survival of African Ameri­ cans. Du Bois’s “talented tenth” could thrive through her, the woman who would shepherd African Ameri­cans successfully into the Progressive Era middle class. Other analyses of The Star of Ethiopia note the pageant’s attempt to discipline its audience. As Krasner writes, “For Du Bois, the invocation of black collective history could be seen in a positive light; it should inspire the black community, in Darwinian terms, to higher stages of development.”54 The pageant was also, however, specifically attempting to hail African Ameri­can women through its

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performance, to foster onto their bodies the need to protect and sacrifice in an effort to make Du Bois’s vision possible.

Notes 1. David W. Blight, “Fifty Years of Freedom: The Memory of Emancipation at the Civil War Semicentennial, 1911–15,” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-­Slave Studies 21, no. 2 (2000): 129–30. 2. “A National Emancipation Exposition,” The Crisis 6, no. 4 (1913): 181. 3. W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Star of Ethiopia,” The Crisis 11, no. 2 (1915): 91. 4. David Krasner, “ ‘The Pageant Is the Thing’: Black Nationalism and The Star of Ethiopia,” in Performing America: Cultural Nationalism in Ameri­can Theater, ed. Jeffrey D. Mason and J. Ellen Gainor (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 109. 5. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 40. 6. Krasner, “ ‘The Pageant Is the Thing,’ ” 108. 7. William L. Van Deburg, Slavery and Race in Ameri­can Popular Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 71. 8. Ibid., 72. 9. John Barker, The Superhistorians: Makers of Our Past (New York: Scribner, 1982), 241. 10. Richard Powell, Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century (New York: Thames and Hud­ son, 1997), 25. 11. Shawn Michelle Smith, Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004), 3. 12. “A National Emancipation Exposition,” 181. 13. Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race, and Class (New York: Random House, 1981), 112. 14. Ibid., 116. 15. Michele Wallace, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (New York: Dial, 1979), 26. 16. Herbert Aptheker, introduction to Black Reconstruction, by W. E. B. Du Bois (Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-­T homson Organization, 1976), 7–8. 17. David W. Blight, “W. E. B. Du Bois and the Struggle for Ameri­can Historical Memory,” in History and Memory in African Ameri­can Culture, ed. Geneviève Fabre and Robert O’Meally (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 45. 18. “The Exposition,” The Crisis 7, no. 2 (1913): 84. 19. “A National Emancipation Exposition,” 181. 20. “Three Expositions,” The Crisis 6, no. 6 (1913): 297. 21. Ibid. The pageant was performed on October 23, 25, 28, and 30. 22. Du Bois, “The Star of Ethiopia,” 91. 23. “The National Emancipation Exposition,” The Crisis 7, no. 1 (1913): 339. 24. Du Bois, “The Star of Ethiopia,” 91. 25. Ibid. 26. “National Emancipation Exposition,” 339. 27. Ibid., 339–41.

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W. E . B . Du B ois’ s T h e S ta r of Et hiopi a 2 8. Du Bois, “The Star of Ethiopia,” 91. 29. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Star of Ethiopia, draft, W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 395), Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst. 30. “The Great Pageant,” Washington Bee, October 23, 1915, 1. 31. Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch, A History of African Ameri­can Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 201. 32. Ibid., 202. 33. Ibid. 34. “The Great Pageant,” 1. 35. Du Bois, The Star of Ethiopia. 36. “The Great Pageant,” 1. 37. Du Bois, The Star of Ethiopia. 38. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 115. 39. Ibid., 134–35. 40. Ibid., 115. 41. Du Bois, The Star of Ethiopia. 42. “The Great Pageant,” 1. 43. There is a discrepancy between the Washington Bee review and the copy of the pageant script in the Du Bois archive about how many scenes were included in The Star of Ethiopia. The Bee describes scenes three and four as one continuous episode, while Du Bois’s script notes they were two separate scenes. In defer to the scene divisions as they appear in Du Bois’s script. 44. Patricia Morton, Disfigured Images: The Historical Assault on Afro-­Ameri­can Women (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), 56. 45. Jean Torrey Milholland, “Talks about Women,” The Crisis 1, no. 2 (1910): 28. 46. Du Bois, The Star of Ethiopia. 47. Ibid. 48. “The Great Pageant,” 6. 49. Ibid. 50. Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York: Norton, 1985), 17. 51. Ibid., 28–29; Wallace, Black Macho, 106. 52. White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? 47; Wallace, Black Macho, 106. 53. Wallace, Black Macho, 107. 54. Krasner, “ ‘The Pageant Is the Thing,’ ” 108.

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\ Knowing Their Place The Ulster Lyric Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, and the Northern Irish Theatre Scene — Roy Connolly

Despite its recent centenary (1904–2004), the Ulster Literary Theatre (ULT)— and Northern Irish theatre more generally—remains relatively neglected by theatre criticism. This article seeks to go some way toward redressing this neglect by examining the points of contact and conflict between the project of the ULT and its latter-­day counterparts the Ulster Group Theatre (1939–72), the Arts Theatre (1947–), and the Lyric Theatre (1951–). At the center of this inquiry is the issue of how ideology and material circumstance compete with or elaborate one another to produce each theatre’s sense of “place” and the implications of this for each theatre’s developing cultural identity. In addressing this issue, I argue that while the idea of place (and the tension between material and imagined versions of this idea) has been central to the public declarations of Irish theatre institutions, their activities, the positions they occupy in the public imagination and, ultimately, their economic fates, the type of theatre this has generated has nevertheless had very little to do with social reality. Instead, for the main part, the theatre has been cast as a forum for the production of exemplary versions of locality and imagined public interests, an innate cultural conservatism, among Irish nationalist, Ulster unionist (those who wish for continued union with the British state), and middle-­ground political organizations alike conspiring to produce limited enthusiasm for the exploration of community concerns, or the meaning of “place” in human terms. While such an attitude toward the theatre might appear understandable, and even valid, given the politically contested nature of the Northern Irish state, this use of the { 202 }

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theatre has, nevertheless, had the effect of reinforcing rather than ameliorating local divisions. Furthermore, this attitude, and the regard it has produced for measuring local cultural activity against external standards, has been at the root of the lack of critical regard for the Northern Irish theatre tradition. Addressing these tendencies, this article seeks to align with recent rereadings of Ireland that seek to interrogate traditional “adoring eye” representations of the country.1 Furthermore, I hope to indicate that in the histories of theatres such as the ULT, the Ulster Group Theatre, the Arts Theatre, and the Lyric there exist fascinating micro-­narratives that, among other things, usefully inform our understanding of how “ideal” representations are legitimized and achieve dominance over more socially anchored, or “down to earth,” representations of the world.

The Ulster Literary Theatre The first recorded instance of professional theatre in Northern Ireland was in 1736 when the Dublin-­based Smock Alley Troupe presented a summer season in Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast.2 Companies continued to visit Belfast throughout the eighteenth century, and in 1793 the region’s first theatre—the Royal on Arthur Street—was built to house these touring productions.3 During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, nothing emerges that might be described as a Northern Irish theatre tradition (i.e., a theatre created for Northern Irish audiences about local concerns). Northern Ireland’s theatre, instead, like that of the rest of Irish theatre, generally toured out of London,4 and this remained the case until 1899, when W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Edward Martyn formed the Irish Literary Theatre (ILT—the forerunner of Abbey Theatre) in Dublin. Three years later, a Belfast group led by Bulmer Hobson and W. B. Reynolds inaugurated an Ulster branch of the ILT, the first of two initiatives they established in 1902 to promote Irish nationalism.5 The ILT’s interest in drama was based on a confluence of political and artistic ambitions, and similarly the group in Belfast saw the theatre as a forum where its political concerns could be expressed. Indeed, the direct forerunner of what came to be referred to as the Ulster Literary Theatre was the Protestant National Association, a “group committed to spreading the ideas and principles of Wolfe Tone and his political party the United Irishmen,”6 which, having met with only moderate success in its political incarnation, now turned to “drama as a vehicle for propaganda.”7 The ULT’s early presentations borrowed directly from the ILT, with its early output dominated by plays first performed in Dublin, such as Yeats’s Kathleen { 203 }

Figure 1. Ulster Literary Theatre playbill from 1909. Image courtesy of the Linenhall Library Theatre Ar­ chive, Belfast.

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Ni Houlihan, George Moore’s Deirdre, Joseph Campbell’s The Little Cowherd of Slainge, and Bulmer Hobson’s Brian of Banba. These plays, written in verse and preoccupied with the heroes of Irish mythology, were slanted toward presenting an idyllic reflection of Ireland. The attempt to transfer a Dublin aesthetic to Belfast was, however, transitory, as local audiences did not respond to this material. Furthermore, the ULT’s activities met with disapproval from its sister organization. A few months after its inauguration, Yeats instructed George Roberts, secretary of the National Theatre, to write to the ULT requesting that it change its name so that it would not be identified with its Dublin counterpart. Under pressure from both local audiences and the wider Irish theatrical community, the ULT entered into a thorough reimagining of the local landscape and audience. The basis for this reimagining entailed an attempt to engage with and define “the Ulster way of things.”8 In this regard, the ULT began to speak, not of the Irish nation, but of a desire to interpret, guide, and stimulate the mental activity indigenous to Northern Ireland: “to afford it an outlet in literary expression” and discover a pathway where local “aims and hopes and hatreds and loves” might find expression.9 The basis of the theatre’s new mission was a commitment to the works of local playwrights, with these playwrights in turn urged to direct themselves at a popular rather than a specialist audience and produce work that would address issues of local interest and promote community dialogue. Although, to date, they have not been recognized as such (with critics preferring to concentrate on the ULT’s apparent lack of concern for literary and artistic standards), the ULT’s aims were particularly progressive. With its new policy, the ULT defined a space for itself that defied the bourgeois expectations of both the Irish and the British theatrical contexts: their policy, on the one hand, rejecting approved representations of Ireland that offered an image of the perceived ideal and,10 on the other, rejecting British theatre tradition and its desire—according to John McGrath—to “scare off the great unwashed.”11 On these terms, the ULT’s ambitions first came to fruition in 1905 with the presentation of Lewis Purcell’s The Enthusiast. Purcell rejected any lyrical notion of Ireland and presented a much more hard-­edged and materialist view. The Enthusiast—­reflecting the ideals of the ULT and indeed offering something approximating a metaphor for the organization—tells of the attempts of a young idealist, James McKinstry, to bring the spirit of cooperation to his village so that Catholics and Protestants might work together for the common good. He calls a meeting to make his case, but his idealism is swiftly crushed as the ensuing debate breaks down into sectarian conflict and physical violence. His plan is thus shown to be untenable under political conditions in early-­t wentieth-­ { 205 }

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century Ulster. The play, part kitchen comedy and part social satire, and its depiction of provincial eccentricity and character types connected with audiences in an unprecedented manner. With The Enthusiast, a formula for dramatic writing was thus established, notable for its focus on character, story, and local humor, but also with definite social intent. Other local writers soon picked up this approach, and by 1907 the ULT had sufficient confidence in this approach to present its new plays from the stage of the Abbey Theatre with Yeats and Lady Gregory in the audience. And, doing so, they prompted Yeats to offer the volte-­face commendation that “the Ulster Players are the only dramatic society, apart from our own, which is doing serious artistic work.”12 The ULT’s works provided a clear sign that the theatre could be a forum for presenting material that allowed a reappraisal of received literary and dramatic images of Ireland. This direction was confirmed by the plays that followed by writers such as Rutherford Mayne, Gerald MacNamara, Shan F. Bullock, and George Shiels (all of whom would go on to achieve fame beyond the local context). Mayne, who began his association with the ULT as an actor (and indeed who appeared in one of the leading roles in The Enthusiast), wrote nine plays for the ULT and was the first of the theatre’s playwrights to achieve publication. His first play, The Turn of the Road (1906), was a rural comedy that dramatized the turmoil of a local worker, Robbie John Granahan, as he is forced to choose between following in his father’s footsteps as a farmer or pursuing a career as a musician. Mayne’s follow-­up, The Drone (1908), which premiered at the Abbey with the author among the cast, related the story of a local layabout and the subterfuges he employs to avoid hard work, chief among which is a pretense that he is on the verge of miraculous scientific invention. These plays would become established as among the ULT’s most celebrated. The explicit concern to promote political dialogue, however, continued to complement these comic reflections on local predicaments. The Drone thus shared billing with the political satire The Leaders of the People (1908), by Robert Harding, which documented the events surrounding a local election and the uncompromising and intractable emotions that the election stirs up. The play reminded audiences that, while celebrating the local character, a degree of self-­examination might also be in order. The ULT’s rejection of romantic versions of Ireland was, though, most explicit in Gerald MacNamara’s Thompson in Tir-­na-­n’Og (1912). The play, MacNamara’s most famous, satirized both the unionist image of Ulster and its predilection for English culture and nationalist romanticism with its atavistic reverence for an Ireland that has never existed. In the play, MacNamara brings romantic image and modern-­day reality into sharp conflict to reveal the absurdities of local identity politics and the foundations on which these were { 206 }

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built when an Ulster unionist (Thompson) involved in reenacting the battle of the Boyne (the victory of Prince William of Orange over Catholic King James II in 1690) is transported to the land of Irish mythology. Once there, Thompson finds himself entangled in conversation with a variety of mythical heroes, including Cuchulain, King of Ulster, and the Celtic heroine Grania: Grania: And whom were you fighting in Portadown? Thompson : The Hibernians. Grania: The Hibernians! But are not all the people in Eirinn Hibernians? Thompson : Talk sense, dear woman. Grania: Many changes must have come over Eirinn since the days of

Cuchu­lain and Oisin. Then we were all Hibernians. I wish, dearest Thompson, that you were a Hibernian, too. Thompson : You’ll never see the day. And what’s more I’ll have nothing more to do with you, for I am no believer in mixed marriages.13 The Ulster Literary Theatre’s shift in ideological momentum toward local community interests and away from associations with the ILT was made overt in 1915 when it dropped its literary pretensions and renamed itself simply the Ulster Theatre. In the following years it toured throughout England, Ireland, and America and presented shows from the stage of the Grand Opera House (built in Belfast in 1895), a venue with twenty-­five hundred seats that was usually reserved for large-­scale touring companies.14 By the second decade of its existence, with this expansion, the Ulster Theatre, however, also began to lose some of its vitality. This was confirmed when several of its most energetic personalities left the organization (Bulmer Hobson entered politics, Lewis Purcell emigrated, Rutherford Mayne moved to Dublin). The Ulster Theatre continued to generate new plays that dealt with local themes, including George Shiel’s Felix Reid and Bob (1919), Leslie Lynd’s The Turncoats (1922), and St. John Ervine’s The Ship (1924), and to provide a platform for new local writers, but increasingly its mode of operation relied on presenting revivals of past hits. Unlike the Abbey Theatre, the Ulster Theatre failed to acquire either a benefactor or a funding partner, and with the increasing popularity of cinema in Belfast in the 1920s it began to experience financial losses. The Ulster Theatre failed to mount productions in Belfast in 1925, 1926, and 1927, and although it revived briefly afterward, notably with George Shiel’s Cartney and Kevney (1930), it did not attract the substantial audiences it once had. Its chances of building upon its early achievements were hampered as it failed to settle into a venue of its own. As a result, actors and writers tended to move on to work with other theatres (most notably the Abbey in Dublin). In 1934, the ULT resumed production { 207 }

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at the Grand Opera House with a short season of plays by non-­U lster authors, but after experiencing losses on two successive productions it was refused the use of the stage. The Ulster Theatre continued to produce shows until the early 1940s, in total premiering forty-­eight plays in styles ranging across documentary realism, melodrama, comedy, peasant plays, musical drama, verse drama, parody, and satire.15 Despite this output, throughout its career the theatre continually suffered from negative press, with critics praising the immediacy of its plays but ultimately dismissing them for their lack of literary worth. The ULT’s determined focus on local subject matter was incommensurate with the ambition—or the pressure—to build a reputation that would transcend the local context. Furthermore—although having a fundamentally different mission from that of its closest competitor, the Abbey—as the fame of the Abbey grew, the ULT found itself under pressure to compete in the international arena and to attempt to test itself against the standards of “high” culture. The reviews of a production of The Drone at Daly’s New York Theatre in 1912, however, make clear the difficulties that arise when the “local” is measured against the standards of “legitimate” theatre: “New Yorkers seem not to be able to rouse a smile at (The Drone). Its humour leaves them cold. It has bewildered and puzzled the critics as to what to call it, but they have all agreed that it is not a good play.”16 And further: “The New Yorker criticises the Drone with a pickaxe. It says that charity restrains it from saying all it thinks, but after reading what charity does permit it to say, we conclude that what charity held it back from saying was unprintable. The only thing about it the New York Press considers good is the name which it says well describes it.”17 The ULT’s interpretation of the local community and environment also had its detractors amid the political establishment. Here it received criticism for its provinciality. In early-­t wentieth-­century Ulster, both local government and the private sector held a preference for imported culture that toured from the British mainland18 or out of Dublin, and for events with elite rather than popular or local appeal. Its unromantic depiction of Ulster also brought it into conflict with the very organizations with which it originally sought to align itself. Thus the Gaelic League would attack its endeavors for ridiculing Irish heroism,19 and when premiering a play such as Thompson in Tir-­na-­n’Og there was such great fear that the play would provoke civil disturbance that the cover of The Drone was deemed necessary to assure good humor in the auditorium. Perhaps for these reasons, the ULT presents one of Irish theatre history’s least-­regarded narratives. The ULT’s output is, nevertheless, significant, as it gives us an important insight into the actuality of the Irish past. Correspond{ 208 }

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ingly, reflecting upon the reasons underpinning it, the ULT’s omission from Irish theatre history reminds us of the privileged status that romantic narratives have acquired and how they have elided the historical reality of Irish identity. The ULT’s representations of the local community and the records of its dialogue with the local community provide an insight into Ireland’s history that is not available in traditional nationalist or unionist accounts. Reclaiming the ULT may be uncomfortable for some, as doing so disrupts the received wisdom among much of the Irish political and theatrical establishment about what constitutes Ireland in the early twentieth century. Furthermore, the ULT’s considerable output offers a significant dramatic portrait of local imaginative concerns. The theatre capitalized on the physical interactions of writer, performers, and community, and the power of place consciousness, physical impression, and what Yeats would identify as “delight in the details of life.”20 In this, the ULT recognized that irrespective of literary pretensions and accepted notions of what constituted Ireland, it could play a meaningful role in the community, and on these terms it might now be recognized as a particularly vital theatre, a theatre founded upon recognition of immediate social conditions and the utility of drama. Also, implicit in its activity can be seen a desire to foster a cultural environment that questions and provides an alternative to received cultural traditions. Plays such as Harding’s The Leaders of the People and ­MacNamara’s Thompson in Tir-­na-­n’Og explicitly forced home the point by satirizing the shibboleths of local politics.

The Lyric Theatre, Belfast The Lyric shared an almost identical founding mission with the ULT. Its early aspirations were also bound up with a desire to transfer the mission of the Irish Literary Theatre to Belfast, and its founders were, similarly, involved with local politics—with the Irish Labour Party—and well aware of the potential of theatre as a proselytizing cultural force. This awareness filters into the Lyric Theatre’s public declarations in varying degrees at varying times and is particularly evident at its inauguration when it noted the theatre’s potential to allow one to “plant a discreet message now and then.”21 At a pragmatic level the Lyric also sought to secure its artistic identity and literary respectability on the same grounds as the ULT by associating itself with the works of Yeats and productions that had had their first outing at the ILT. In pursuing its mission, the Lyric was, however, to privilege ideology over material circumstance. In effect, it sought to establish itself as the custodian of the community’s civilized { 209 }

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values, attaching itself to the version of Yeats and the ILT that sought to impart the style of the aristocracy to the Irish public. Its self-­designation as “the Lyric theatre” was a tribute to Austin Clarke’s (playwright and poet) Dublin Lyric Theatre of the 1940s. In this, rather than reflect the dispositions and tastes of the local context, the Lyric clearly sought to stress its aesthetic credentials, its imperative tying in the Yeatsian ideal of defining a “system of culture which [would] represent the whole country”22 with the notion that “drama [might] play a key role in constructing the national consciousness.”23 The Lyric did this by casting itself as a “literary minded organisation” committed to producing “poetic drama” and to excluding “bad and trivial plays” from its repertoire.24 It was to sustain this stance for seventeen years as a private enterprise catering to an audience in the suburbs of Belfast. Its early career as a conservatoire was explicit in its program and also in its media designation as both “The Yeats Education Centre of the North”25 and the “Yeats Memorial Theatre.”26 Rather than rebut such tags or seek to extend its constituency, the Lyric was happy to invest its fortune here. In broadcast and in print, the theatre’s founders, Mary and Pearse O’Malley, would refer to the Lyric as a “Poet’s Theatre,” and the phrase and the theatre would become synoptically linked. In 1968, when the Lyric made the transition from private to public theatre, it continued to work from the assumption that high artistic standards took precedence over popularity. The O’Malleys viewed this as giving the people what they thought good until it became popular. The Lyric’s longest-­serving secretary (1977–93), Ciaran McKeown, offered a similar analysis: “We have to be conscious of our tradition—our artistic tradition. If we simply wanted to fill houses we could put on farces, light comedies and even stripteases.”27 The strategic artistic policy rested in an attempt to sustain an aesthetic governed by a regard for “tradition” while dismissing alternative missions. The idealism of the project thus always outstripped any desire to connect with the theatre’s physical context. For those running the Lyric, this policy was bound up with their overarching sense of place, which was in turn bound up with their personal politics. Mary and Pearse O’Malley were members of the minority nationalist community in Northern Ireland and carried with them a developed sense of their Irishness, having spent their formative years living on the southern side of the border that had partitioned the country in 1921. Indeed, they only moved to Belfast in the late 1940s. The O’Malleys’ relationship with the local environment was also complicated by the opposing political moods in the North and South.

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In the North, state apparatus was controlled entirely by Ulster unionists, who wished to preserve British sovereignty in Ireland and, in order to do so, kept a tight grip on social policy. In the South, meanwhile, the government tended to think of unionists simply as misguided Irishmen and did not recognize the legitimacy of their traditions or culture. Furthermore, rather than attempt to win unionists over, the southern government set out what unionists saw as an imperialist claim on their territory in articles 2 and 3 of its 1937 Constitution. This was a source of resentment in the North, as was republican rhetoric about unification from successive Irish governments. In this context, the North’s attitude toward the South was not dissimilar to the South’s attitude toward Britain. Unionists considered the South’s claim not national but colonial, which entailed domination by an alien state. As John Osmond notes in The Divided Kingdom, this was exacerbated by the fact that unionists and nationalists also held radically contrasting perspectives on Irish history.28 Whereas significant events in the nationalist calendar are based on grievances against the British (who had been responsible for invasion of Ireland, mistreatment of the native population, misappropriation of land, and subjugation of the culture and language), the unionist view is based on a celebration of famous occasions on which unionists successfully defended their land from invasion by “uncivilized” Catholics. Throughout the twentieth century, the unionists’ attitude toward their neighbors was thus one of suspicion and mistrust, underpinned by the fear that absorption into the South would infringe upon their civil liberties. In the first years after the partition of Ireland, unionists thus set up structures that ensured their domination of the government, the security forces, and the educational system in the North, and discrimination became an institutionalized part of the political system. Thereafter, the unionists’ tight grip on social policy ensured that the nationalist population was marginalized. From the outset the Lyric thus provided a forum where the O’Malleys might foster an alternative to local political and cultural institutions. As ­Neville Douglas notes, prior to the late 1960s this was a commonplace strategy for nationalists. In this period, nationalist identity tended to be expressed through abstention from the unionist regime and engagement with alternative cultural practices, not through confrontation.29 For the Lyric’s manager, Mary O’Malley, this was a familiar strategy. She had first encountered such tactics as a councillor with the northern wing of the Irish Labour Party from 1952 to 1955, a party that had split from the Northern Ireland Labour Party when the Republic was declared because of disagreement over partition,30 and the members of which

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had soon become well known at City Hall for refusing to wear the gowns of office, attend public functions, stand during the playing of the national anthem, or take part in toasts to the monarch.31 The Lyric’s project can thus at once be seen as synonymous with that of the ULT—which, according to Chris Morash, was to foster a nonsectarian revolution through rejection of existing cultural practices—and as bound up with the practical politics of the era and the activities of an increasingly vocal and visible minority community. On these latter terms, the Lyric stage provided an important counter-­hegemonic space where the iconography associated with nationalism could be expressed. This was evident in the Lyric’s early days in its celebration of events from the Irish nationalist rather than Ulster unionist calendar, and in its occasional adoption of programming that challenged the unionist regime’s cultural politics. Thus, although professing to be apolitical in 1963, the Lyric presented The Risen People by James Plunkett to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the General Strike in Dublin (Ireland’s most bitter labor dispute and the prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916). In 1966 it presented The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising itself, and, shortly afterward, when the film of Lady Gregory’s The Rising of the Moon was banned from local cinemas for its negative portrayal of the forces of law and order, the Lyric staged the play, citing doing so as a “tilt at authority.”32 However, in pursuing its policy the Lyric was progressively to divorce itself from the existing theatre culture, audience taste, and the general spirit of the tradition of drama pioneered by the ULT. This brought with it charges of elitism from press and public and resentment from some local actors, but, perhaps most unfortunately, it prevented the Lyric from developing a relationship with local writers. The statistics here are striking. In its years as an amateur theatre between 1951 and 1968, only 4 out of the 180 plays produced at the Lyric were by Northern Irish writers.33 In the 1970s—with the exception of the works of John Boyd (the originator of the modern “troubles play”), who had a formal relationship with the theatre as its literary adviser—the Lyric failed to respond to the submissions of Ulster-­based writers, including Stewart Parker, Graham Reid, Stewart Love, David Rudkin, and Robin Glendinning. Rather than draw on such material, it chose to champion the work of a succession of dramatists from Southern Ireland. The tension this produced between the theatre and local writers resulted in many well-­publicized disputes, including a famous one with Graham Reid, who would declaim in the press that the Lyric had a prejudice against Protestant writers and that in light of this, rather ironically, they had all had to go to Dublin to get their work done. { 212 }

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The Lyric’s policy here might be imagined to be doomed to failure, for how might a theatre that refuses to engage with its immediate context and audience prosper? The evidence that allows us to answer this question highlights a contradiction in narratives about Ireland founded on an oppositional reading of Irish and British interests, for the Lyric’s mission and the role it came to occupy via this mission was made possible, and sustained, by its relationship with the British-­funded Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The Lyric was the beneficiary of a level of state funding unprecedented among comparable theatre organizations, and through the intervention of the Arts Council it became the principal source of theatre in Belfast for several decades. As intimated above, this is something of a paradox. Given conventional wisdom, the Lyric should have been anything but attractive to the unionist establishment. Indeed, it is commonly held that the theatre was an important cultural asset of the state in the 1960s and that the unionist government’s control of power was predicated on encouraging organizations that might speak with a distinctive Ulster accent. It is understandable how commentators might come to this apparently self-­ evident stance. Doing so provides a convenient narrative to underpin the logic of state power and institutional development in Northern Ireland. The reality is much more complex.34 The engaging paradox as to why the Arts Council might offer healthy subventions to an organization whose purposes might seem at best to be dysfunctional, however, can be resolved by drawing a comparison between the Lyric and Belfast’s other theatres. These theatres—the Ulster Group Theatre and the Arts Theatre—could claim careers surpassing that of the Lyric, but because of a fundamental lack of interest from the Arts Council in their cultural product at key junctures in their development, they were unable to secure their status.

The Ulster Group Theatre and the Arts Theatre In the 1950s, when originally constituted, the Lyric was one of many local amateur companies scattered around the suburbs of Belfast and a minor player as far as the local provision for theatre went. The Arts Theatre and the Ulster Group Theatre were older, more established venues, catering to a wide range of interest groups, and could broadly claim to satisfy the local demand for theatrical entertainment. The Group Theatre, based at the Ulster Hall, had been set up in 1939 as an heir of the Ulster Literary Theatre and championed a program aimed squarely at the tastes of local audiences. Seeking to portray the local character and local concerns, as Maurice O’Callaghan termed it, the Group’s { 213 }

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contributors wrote of “themselves, their people, and the soil.”35 Following this course, the Group bolstered the celebrity of existing Ulster writers, premiered plays by new playwrights (including Brian Friel), and launched the careers of some of Northern Ireland’s most famous actors; however, despite its regard for the locale and its popularity, the Group could not sustain itself. Most narratives attribute its demise to the controversy surrounding Sam Thompson’s Over the Bridge in 1959.36 In fact, its career ran on for a decade after this cause célèbre, and its eventual demise was related to its failure to make a sufficiently positive impression on the establishment in the late 1960s to ensure its continuity. Shortly after the outbreak of the civil disturbances that came to be known as The Troubles, the Group Theatre closed and, after seven years dark, served only to house amateur dramatics groups. The Arts Theatre’s career followed a similar trajectory. It was founded in 1947 with a repertoire of classical and experimental work. By 1961 it appeared to have established itself beyond question when it moved to a five-­hundred-­seat venue on Botanic Avenue. Here it was well positioned to dominate the local theatrical landscape. Once installed in this venue, the Arts Theatre’s career was, though, also hampered by a lack of state interest. At the very least, the evolving policies of the Arts Council and the Arts Theatre were out of temper with one another, and, arguably, the organizations were entirely at cross-­purposes. Thus in the early 1960s, when the Arts Theatre’s program might have been regarded as avant-­garde and specialist, the policy of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (later the Arts Council) was to provide subsidies only if “the public demonstrated a desire for . . . theatres by attendance at their performances.”37 And later, when the Arts Theatre pursued a commercial program in an effort to attract more substantial audiences, it was to find its efforts met with the volte-­face policy that the council was unable to extend a subsidy because the Arts Theatre’s commercial activities did not hold “any cultural or aesthetic significance.”38 Similarly, in the early 1970s when, like the Group Theatre, the Arts Theatre’s livelihood was jeopardized by civil unrest, the council argued that it had “no mandate to make good trading losses” (although heavily subsidizing the Lyric).39 The council was even known to renege on offers of financial assistance when it found itself under pressure from other commitments.40 The Arts Theatre’s inability to generate state enthusiasm for its program was a significant deficit, and, again, this was in spite of the fact that its program sought to provide opportunities to local directors and actors and to premiere plays by local writers (notably by Martin Lynch and Graham Reid). The Arts Theatre and the Group Theatre were both in varying degrees con-

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cerned with the local, with the utility of theatre and the pragmatics of attracting audiences. As such, these theatres were ideal candidates for succeeding the Ulster Literary Theatre. They were, however, precisely not the kind of venues that appealed to the Arts Council. For the council, there was a lack of confidence in local “taste” and a seeming fear of creating a provincial Belfast aesthetic. This can be in part related to a local tendency toward self-­consciousness and self-­reduction that continually finds expression in the formulations of writers from the Protestant/unionist community across the twentieth century. In the 1970s this can be seen with John Boyd writing of his disaffection with local taste and its relish for “the ready laugh, the unthinking, ‘unfeeling’ immediate response”;41 in the 1960s, with Sam Thompson similarly dismissing Belfast as “a cultural Sahara”;42 and lest this be considered a post-­partition phenomenon, at the beginning of the century with W. B. Reynolds capturing an inherent sense of cultural insecurity in the Ulster Literary Theatre’s journal by identifying a local tendency toward “crudeness and repression.”43 Consistent with such attitudes, the Arts Council displayed limited enthusiasm for locally generated theatre. In part this is attributable to the common post-­Victorian attitude widespread throughout Britain and Ireland—what David Lloyd and Paul Thomas have characterized as the idea that culture should represent the ideal, a reality yet to be forged, and thus act as an “exemplary object of pedagogy.”44 In this analysis, the preference for the “ideal” over the material is deemed to occur because the “ideal” allows for an ordered world and sense of purpose, and this contains the commonsense appeal of allowing reality to be defined in terms of its potential and capacity rather than random actuality.45 The goal of culture in this sense is made clear. It is to define and moralize the public and aid progression toward a clearly understood future. In this respect, the Arts Theatre and the Group Theatre never came close to offering a clear agenda. They failed not in their programs but in their public discourse. Beyond this, their potential was dissipated as they contended with the practical considerations of seeking to make a living in the theatre profession, maintaining the material attractiveness of premises whose costs invariably outstripped their perceived social value, and projecting a view of theatre as functional as it was escapist. The Lyric, however, less preoccupied with material considerations, could foreclose some of these matters. The Lyric’s mission to cultivate the people46 and epitomize community and civilized values allowed it to share a conservative cultural space with the unionist regime, become identified as a representative institution, and, ultimately, be the object of state ­f unding.

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Cultivating the People This shared aesthetic politics based on the idea of “cultivating the people” was, as might be expected, a unity of purpose drawn from conflicting motives and directed at different strategic ends. For the state, cultivating the people had the commonsense function of forming citizens. Returning to Lloyd and Thomas, in the minds of the establishment, it was a means of creating stability—a goal that might be imagined to be particularly urgent in Northern Ireland given the contested landscape.47 The Lyric’s aims were underpinned by another agenda entirely. Indeed, according to several of its earliest members, it provided a space where the founders’ deepest feelings about nationality might be expressed.48 Given the prevailing social environment, the cultural revolution the theatre sought to engineer—its attempt to present a challenge to the dominant political mood—could not materialize, and the theatre was thus unable to construct a formal identity with which to appeal to local audiences. The logic of the programming was often strained, and it rarely succeeded in offering more than an oblique comment on local conditions. And thus, ironically, it would fall to those moments when faced with a lack of audience response to its formal policy, and accepting the necessity of increased commercialism because of financial crisis, that the Lyric’s most vital moments emerged. In retrospect, this is, of course, as might be anticipated: as Brian Graham diagnoses, cultural iconography only achieves meaning when it is integrated with a sense of place.49 Consequently, it is in those periods when—like the ULT and the Arts and Group theatres—the Lyric abandoned the ideal and engaged with functionality and practical strategies for survival that it came closest to meeting public expectations and realizing a social and communal purpose. The most notable example of this was in the early 1980s when, under the artistic direction of first Sam McCready and then Leon Rubin, the Lyric moved away from its traditional preoccupations toward actively encouraging local drama. The theatre’s long-­ standing deference to southern Irish culture was redressed during this period with productions of plays from the Northern Irish Protestant/­unionist perspective. St. John Ervine’s plays Boyd’s Shop and Friends and Relations were pro­duced for the first time; Graham Reid’s The Hidden Curriculum had its North­ern premiere (four years after being written); and Stewart Parker and Christina Reid received writing commissions. This engagement with new perspectives was sup­ plemented by an attempt to facilitate the output of working-­class North­ern Irish writers, most notably the community activist Martin Lynch, who was appointed on tenure as writer in residence at the theatre. The Lyric was for the first

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time to tap into writers from both sides of the community. Encouragement of new writing thus replaced its commitment to drama for an imagined public. In setting the “poetic” aside, the Lyric was able to create a context that facilitated the “voice” of Northern Ireland’s indigenous talent. With the Lyric modeling its program more closely on the prevailing political and social agenda, there was the articulation of a clear policy concerned with what the theatre might contribute to community education. The shift in policy was complete by 1991, when the Lyric’s incoming artistic director, Charles No­wosiel­ski, announced a desire to take the Lyric down a more populist road50 and even apply it with the new designation “The Lyric People’s Theatre.”51

Conclusion In the history of Northern Irish theatre there is, then, some circuitousness. Ideology has often been in conflict with the popular, and the popular has always been in conflict with the establishment’s critical values. The Lyric’s conservative mode of operation, and concern with an imagined public interest, gave it a degree of permanence—it indeed sustained its career in dialogue with the Arts Council on this basis. There was, though, also inherent foreclosure in the Lyric project, a premature commitment to a vision, values, and a role derived from the standards of turn-­of-­the-­century Dublin. This allowed the theatre to circumvent the struggle for identity experienced by the ULT, the Arts Theatre, and the Group Theatre, whose task of seeking to address local audiences was much more complex, but it also meant an inability to incorporate alternatives founded on local human potential. In this light, it is important to remain aware of the contribution a theatre may make to the community it serves, and, returning to Brian Graham, how ideas of place, or ideology, might be negotiated to accommodate this contribution. That this is critical is clear: it is when Northern Irish theatres have put aside their affectations that their potentials have been most realized. And this seems to indicate that, although ideal representations of locality may be a recurrent focus of attention for the public theatre, it is material considerations that present the key to theatrical vitality. For when operations are socially anchored, a collage encapsulating a people’s image of itself might be formed52 and an active part in defining or transforming communal identity played. And, in reflecting upon this, it is striking to note that this is the very thing so evident in the expressions and output of the Ulster Literary Theatre more than a century ago.

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Notes 1. Shaun Richards, “Plays of Ever Changing Ireland,” in The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth Century Irish Drama (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 5. 2. Ophelia Byrne, The Stage in Ulster (Belfast: Linenhall Library, 1997), 11. 3. David Kennedy, “The Drama in Ulster,” in The Arts in Ulster, ed. Sam Hanna Bell (Lon­ don: Harrap, 1951), 47. 4. Jacqueline Genet and Richard Allen Cave, eds., Perspectives of Irish Drama and Theatre (Buckinghamshire: Colin Smythe, 1991), 50. 5. Mark Tiernay describes the other, Na Fianna Eireann (the Irish Boy Scouts, IRB), and its purpose: “Bulmer Hobson . . . intended using the Fianna as a means of recruiting suitable members into the I.R.B. According to the Fianna Handbook of 1914, the ‘objects of the organisation were to re-­establish the independence of Ireland: the means to be adopted were the training of the Youth of Ireland, mentally and physically, by teaching, scouting, military exercises, Irish history and the Irish language.’ Several of the future leaders in the struggle for Irish independence, such as Con Colbert and Liam Mellows, had been members of the Fianna. The organisation took part in the landing of arms at Howth in July 1914.” Tiernay, Modern Ireland since 1850 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1978), 111. Na Fianna Eireann was set up in Belfast in 1902. In 1909, Hobson cofounded the southern counterpart of the organization with the Countess Markievicz. 6. Sam Hanna Bell, The Theatre in Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1972), 2. 7. Ibid., 3. 8. Bulmer Hobson, “Editorial,” Ulad no. 1 (November 1904): 1. 9. Ibid. 10. See Richards, “Plays of Ever Changing Ireland,” 4. 11. John McGrath, A Good Night Out (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981), 15. 12. W. B. Yeats, Samhaim, November 1908, 9. 13. Linen Hall Theatre Archive, The Linen Hall Library, Belfast. 14. See Theatre Ireland, issue 1. 15. Margaret McHenry, The Ulster Theatre in Ireland (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1931), 64. 16. Ibid., 64. 17. Ibid., 65. 18. See Lionel Pilkington, Theatre and the State in Twentieth Century Ireland (London: Rout­ledge, 2001), chapter 7. 19. Hanna Bell, The Theatre in Ulster, 44. 20. Ibid. 21. Mary O’Malley, Never Shake Hands with the Devil (Dublin: Elo Press, 1990), 316 22. David Cairns and Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Cul­ ture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 153. 23. Christopher Murray, Mirror Up to a Nation: Twentieth Century Irish Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 5. 24. O’Malley, Never Shake Hands, 60. 25. “Season of Yeats,” Belfast Telegraph, June 5, 1965, 5. 26. “Belfast to Have Yeats Theatre,” Belfast Telegraph, June 25, 1964, 6.

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the Northern Irish T heatre Scene 2 7. Helen Shaw, “Hard Times at the Lyric,” Irish Times, March 19, 1987, 10. 28. John Osmond, The Divided Kingdom (London: Constable, 1988), 104. 29. Neville Douglas, “Political Structures, Social Interaction and Identity Change in North­ ern Ireland,” in In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography, ed. Brian Graham (London: Routledge, 1997), 160. 30. O’Malley, Never Shake Hands, 60. 31. Ibid., 63. 32. Ibid., 155. 33. The Bloody Brae by John Hewitt, The Enemy Within (1963) and The Blind Mice (1964) by Brian Friel, and That Woman at Rathard (1967) by Sam Hanna Bell. 34. Pilkington, Theatre and the State, 169. 35. Hanna Bell, The Theatre in Ulster, 73. 36. Irish Independent, November 16, 1990, 12. 37. Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 15th Annual Report, 1958, 10. 38. Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 28th Annual Report, 1971, 13. 39. Ibid., 15. 40. “Arts Council’s Grant Decision Is Criticised by Theatre,” Belfast Telegraph, October 2, 1964. 41. John Boyd, “Postscript,” Threshold 24 (Spring 1973): 85. 42. Stewart Parker, introduction to Over the Bridge by Sam Thompson (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1970), 10. Thompson’s comments, in part, reflect the frustration he experienced when staging his first and most famous play, Over the Bridge. See pages 20–21. 43. William Donn [W. B. Reynolds], Ulad no. 1 (November 1904): 3. 44. David Lloyd and Paul Thomas, Culture and the State (London: Routledge, 1998), 6. 45. Ibid. 46. “Interview with Mary O’Malley,” Sunday Independent, May 25, 1976, in Lyric Players Theatre, Press Cuttings, vol. 18, p. 30, Lyric Theatre Archive. 47. Lloyd and Thomas, Culture and the State, 2. 48. Murray, Mirror Up to a Nation, 5. 49. James Anderson, “Territorial Sovereignty and Political Identity,” in In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography, ed. Brian Graham (London: Routledge, 1997), 8. 50. Nowosielski said: “The Lyric has something of the feel of a club and I don’t want particularly to affect that. But I want it to be open to more groups of people.” Noel ­McAdam, “Variety on the Programme at the Lyric,” Belfast Telegraph, July 25, 1991, 10. 51. Sunday Life, May 10, 1991, in Lyric Players Theatre, Press Cuttings, vol. 64, p. 19. 52. Graham, In Search of Ireland, 5.

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\ Thinking about the Theatre— and Theatre Critics An Interview with Robert Brustein, Conducted by Bert Cardullo, New York City, July 2008

Robert Brustein (b. 1927) is an Ameri­can theatre critic, producer, and teacher. He was educated at Amherst College, where he received a B.A. in 1948, and Columbia University, where he received an M.A. in 1949 and a Ph.D. in 1957. After teaching at Cornell University, Vassar College, and Columbia, he became dean of the Yale School of Drama in 1966, serving in that position until 1979. It was during this period that he founded the Yale Repertory Theatre. In 1979, Bru­ stein left Yale for Harvard University, where he founded the Ameri­can Repertory Theater and became a professor of English. He served for twenty years as director of the Loeb Drama Center at Harvard, where he also founded the Institute for Advanced Theater Training. He retired as artistic director of the Ameri­ can Repertory Theater in 2002 and now serves as founding director and creative consultant. As the artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre from 1966 to 1979, and of Ameri­can Repertory Theater from 1980 to 2002, Brustein supervised over two hundred productions, acting in eight and directing twelve. Robert Brustein has been the theatre critic for the New Republic since 1959, and he is the author of fifteen books—a number of them collections of his writings for that magazine. Twice winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism—in 1962 for his reviews in Commentary, Partisan Review, Harpers, and the New Republic; and in 1987 for Who Needs Theatre: Dramatic Opinions—Brustein is the only person to have received this award more than once. He was elected to the Ameri­can Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999 and in 2002 was inducted into the Ameri­can Theatre Hall of Fame.

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bert cardullo: Could we begin at the beginning, as it were, when you started out as a critic? robert brustein: Yes, of course. When I started writing criticism in the 1960s, I was part of a prominent community—Eric Bentley, Harold Clurman, Kenneth Tynan, Walter Kerr, Richard Gilman, Stanley Kauffmann, and Susan Sontag. It was an amazing group. Everybody wanted to write theatre criticism in those days. Eric Bentley had a profound influence on me when I was a young, evolving intellectual. He was one of the few in our time who took theatre seriously as a genuine art form and not simply entertainment, although it must be that, too, of course. I read his books religiously and scoured the New Republic for his reviews. He was my idol, as it were, and he stimulated me through his work to go into theatre criticism. I can certainly attest to the impact that Bentley’s Playwright as Thinker had on me. I had been a student at the Yale School of Drama for a year in 1948. I was appalled, actually, at the fact that we would end our experience of watching a play, and we’d talk about the acting, we’d talk about the directing, we’d talk about the technical work, we’d talk about the lighting, talk about the management, but we would never, ever, talk about the play. I found in Bentley’s book a testimony to this fact. When I got to Yale, we read plays in synopsized form, and the way we responded to the plays was to say how many characters, how many sets, where it’s placed, what the particular period is, but we never, ever talked about the play. To come upon this book, and to read what Bentley had to say about the intellectual content of plays, the artistic content of plays, the way that playwrights influenced each other, the various styles and contrary but nevertheless unified approaches to the theatre that one found from the nineteenth century to the present time, really had an untold influence on me, and this man’s name became magic to me. I also just recently thought, in preparing for this interview, that I would look back over the book, and came across some passages, which I hope I haven’t lost. I’ll just try to paraphrase them. Here they are. He speaks of the need for setting up theatres in colleges: “The college theatre should beware of totally excluding, on principle, anything but the current commodities of Broadway and the hopeful efforts of our friend who has written a play.” He gives four different things that he thinks colleges or universities should do. They should attend themselves to the classics—the great classics of the past. They should deal with new plays as much as possible. They should deal with modern classics, and they should deal with the forgotten play. I didn’t know I was doing that, but when I went to Yale and I started the Yale Repertory The-

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atre, we really started a theatre that was built on the principles that Bentley had enunciated in this book. I’ve been trying to do it ever since, up until six years ago, when I retired from running the Ameri­can Repertory Theater. There was one other thing he said that I found quite stunning as well, and that had to do with his attack on those who would attack what is now called “elitism.” He was holding out for a theatre that had intelligence, artistry, creativity, and did not, as he said—or as Chekhov so famously said—“bring Gogol down to the people, but brought the people up to Gogol.” I never forgot that and I never will forget it. It’s something that I’ve tried very much to fight for, in his tradition, when I do plays, and in my own criticism. So I’ll stop there with expressing my gratitude to my old teacher Eric Bentley, who really had a big impact on virtually everything I did. When I myself eventually became drama critic for the New Republic, it was his example that led me to make really stringent demands on the editorial staff there before I took the job. He claimed that he’d been treated very badly by the New Republic—that they dropped a lot of his articles and edited others. So I demanded that every word be published as written, and any changes had to be checked with me. As a result, my editor would call me every week and read to me from Washington my copy over the phone. It was a great time for criticism, for me personally, anyway. I want to add a few more names to the list of people who were writing in those days: Wilfred Sheed and Elizabeth Hardwick were writing criticism at the time, as was Albert Bermel, and so was Richard Hughes, who was doing extraordinary work for Commonweal. I had taken my doctoral work under ­Lionel Trilling, who was my real god as a critic. But he had nothing but scorn for the drama—he didn’t think it was worthy of a man of intellect. He would tell us that, you know, the theatre was not a legitimate form of literature. I was determined to demonstrate, if I could, that the same values could be brought to bear on the theatre that were being used by him and others like him on literature and poetry. bc: Let’s talk for a minute, if not about the critic-­as-­artist, about the critic who becomes an artist. I think it is possible to say flatly that there is no critic in the history of criticism, no first-­rate critic, who would not rather have been a first-­rate artist. It is better, of course, to be a first-­class critic, if you can be, than a second-­or third-­rate artist. But a critic is something you are on the side. You are something else before that. Coleridge was a great critic, and a great ­artist. rb: But was mainly a great artist, a great poet. bc: Sometimes the two are combined. { 222 }

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rb: In T. S. Eliot. That’s sort of a tradition that we’ve lost, in which most great artists in the nineteenth century wrote criticism. bc: Something positive happened, though, in the three centuries since theatre criticism began in the English language. Stealthily, almost, a new literary genre grew. There is great writing in the history of theatre criticism. It is a literature, a corollary art. If one wants to take that tack, it is possible—as part of the worry about the future of the theatre—to worry that this literary genre is imperiled. I mean, who would want to be cheated of the critics—of the pleasure just in reading them? What you and other genuine critics were interested in is enrichment, and that vehicle of enrichment, that vessel and opportunity for it, exists in theatre criticism. rb: If you look again at my list of intellectuals who were interested in writing about the theatre a generation ago—that’s something different today, isn’t it? We don’t have people of that caliber who even go to the theatre, let alone write about it. bc: Orson Welles once said that anyone who talks about films and doesn’t mention money is a jackass. We can say, I think, that anybody who talks about the theatre and doesn’t mention money is equally jackassian. rb: It’s true. Speaking of critics who had financial clout, Frank Rich was a triumphant, witty, powerful middlebrow, and he prevented a lot of very important playwrights and directors from being produced in New York. I date the downfall and deterioration of the Ameri­can theatre from Frank Rich’s regime, because he wanted those people onstage that he approved of, and he didn’t want them if he didn’t approve of them. And I don’t think that’s the critic’s position. That, by the way, is why I turned down the offer of a job at the New York Times in 1965. I did not want to be in the position of preventing people from being employed because I had an opinion. But that is what happened with Frank Rich, and I think we can really trace the history of a kind of deterioration in the quality of the Ameri­can theatre, and the aspiration and ambitions of Ameri­ can theatre, to that regime. And Ben Brantley is very much in his footsteps. bc: Editors today, at the Times and elsewhere, don’t consider theatre a national art—unless it’s produced by a national corporation like Disney. That’s the problem, and that’s why they don’t engage genuine critics to write about the subject of theatre. At Time magazine in the late seventies, for example, there was a full-­t ime drama critic, Ted Kalem. He died in the early eighties and was succeeded by Bill Henry. When Henry died, that was the end of it. Similarly, at Newsweek, theatre coverage must be a quarter of what it was. Even in the 1980s at Newsweek, Jack Kroll reviewed pretty much what a first-­string critic of the Times would review. All that’s gone now. { 223 }

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rb: In fact, the theatre’s become a different kind of national art. The theatre has decentralized itself, even though obviously there’s still an enormous amount of activity in New York. But the reasoning of editors is, if you go to Boston, Louisville, or Chicago, you’re not talking about something that the readers of the New York Times, for example, can connect with, because they can’t get to it. There are terrific critics these days in dance and in music—such as Tim Page at the Washington Post, Mark Swed at the Los Angeles Times, and Joan Aco­ cella at the New Yorker—but I can’t think of a young critic in the theatre today who can analyze an actor’s technique with the same skill that Acocella has brought to analyzing a dancer’s technique. Why have wonderfully agile, committed critics emerged in those disciplines but not in the theatre? I think one reason is the theatre is still considered to be an entertainment for tired busi­ nessmen. It’s been very hard to persuade people that the theatre is an art form on a par with dance, symphony and other classical music, opera and literature, even though I, along with other critics, have been working very hard to persuade people that this is true. But our editors—not my editor, but I think a lot of editors, particularly on newspapers—don’t think it’s true. What they prefer is someone to arbitrate the consumption of entertainment—a consumer guide— and tell people where to go, as they would recommend restaurants. There’s also a Puritan aspect to this, which I never tire of mentioning. Remember that this country was founded by Puritans who were fleeing England, where the first thing they did in power was to close down the theatres. Plays could be performed if there was musical accompaniment, if they were called operas. In short, music was sacred, the theatre profane. In my neck of the woods, in New England, there’s lip service for support of theatre but very little money for it. The money goes to music. It goes to the symphony. It doesn’t go to the theatre. bc: But it’s not that there hasn’t been good theatre—there has been. Still, surveys show that virtually no young people are going to theatre. And if they are going, they’re going to see large-­scale, commercial crap. rb: The median age of the audience at the Ameri­can Repertory Theater is forty-­one. It’s a very young audience, which is why the theatre doesn’t have a large subscription base, because these people don’t buy subscriptions. Nonetheless, they’re a passionate audience, deeply involved in theatre. bc: But Ameri­can Repertory Theater is in a college town. rb: I don’t think it’s college kids that are going—I think it’s young professionals.

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bc: When you go to the theatre on Broadway, for example, or even off Broadway, do you recognize the audience anymore? rb: No. I used to recognize my aunt in her mink coat going to the matinee, you know? There was an audience there that was regular, passionate. Whether their taste was any good or not, they went to the theatre. I don’t see that audience anymore. It’s mostly tourists and expense account people. As a result, look at the audience, say, for the New Republic. The New Republic was the place where theatre criticism had a very noble history, starting with Stark Young and then Eric Bentley and Stanley Kauffmann, who wrote both theatre and film criticism for it. The fact is, the New Republic has virtually done away with its theatre criticism for political reasons, like Time and Newsweek before it. bc: How many people do you know who are not themselves working in or specifically interested in theatre, but who go to plays? How long is it since you went to a dinner party where you met intelligent, literate human beings who talked about a play? The habit of theatregoing has simply been lost in a lot of ways, and that’s where price enters the picture. I’m of the last generation of New York outer-­borough kids for whom it was not unusual to get on the subway from the Bronx or Brooklyn to come downtown and pay three dollars to sit in the balcony of a Broadway theatre—even less off-­Broadway. It was as easy as going to a movie. Now those same seats are fifty-­five dollars, apart from formal discount programs. rb: Price is important. In the case of New York audiences, I think it has something to do with all those standing ovations and endless bravos—people seem to be applauding not the show, but their own expenditure. You don’t see that in any other city in the country, really—people don’t go that crazy when a play is over. They respond with affection and with enjoyment, but this is an unnatural condition. bc: What do you do, as somebody writing about the theatre on a regular basis, when the vast majority of what you see fails miserably? You then decide you’re going to focus on the cultural malaise that underlies that failure. I don’t know if you want to talk about that option, maybe simply as a means of maintaining your sanity as a theatre critic. But it’s something that seems to be starting with your Seasons of Discontent, with those pieces that are collected in this book. You were very, very conscious, oftentimes, to use the theatre as a barometer of larger cultural problems, paradoxes, and shortcomings. rb: I did try to do that. It was very boring to be continually banging your head against what you thought to be the really deleterious and second-­rate mediocrity of the Broadway stage. You gained nothing. You’re probably losing

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readers, because after all, after a while, it really gets to be boring to read such a thing. So if I wasn’t able to put it into a context and try to see how this play fit into our particular time, our particular society, our particular culture, our particular political life, and how it reflected on that—I don’t think anyone should write a word without somehow creating that kind of reflection. You just have to find it. Then I began to get happier about my criticism. More and more, I found myself subordinating the judgment that was so necessary to criticism. You know, we’re all looking for that judgment: does he like it, doesn’t he like it, does she like it, doesn’t she like it? I found that to be, when I read criticism, the least interesting part of it. I began to call that Himalayan criticism after Danny Kaye. When he was asked whether he liked the Himalayas, he said, “Loved him, hated her.” It’s essentially what we’ve all been practicing: Himalayan criticism. Especially when I began practicing as a director—as an artistic director, as an actor, as a playwright—I knew that this kind of criticism did me no good whatsoever when it was leveled at me from somewhere else. I was trying, really, to find what it was that was helpful and useful, without in any way deferring or cheating or cheapening or lying. I wanted to see what it was that could possibly help a theatre artist to advance. So I thought my most important function as a critic was to try to find out what these artists, if they were artists, were trying to do, and then to see whether they did that successfully—at least to try and find out what the intention was before I rejected it. bc: What is the best training today for theatre critics? rb: At the Yale School of Drama, we thought we were giving excellent training to drama critics. Looking over the field, we saw that most drama critics didn’t know anything about dramatic literature—or any literature. They could not put the play in its time—its social, political, or metaphysical contexts. They didn’t know anything about production, or about theatrical process. So we thought it was our obligation to train people in those areas. And we turned out some really first-­rate people, none of whom could get jobs in the major media because they didn’t appeal to the average theatregoer; and they were too intelligent for the average reader. They were not going to connect with a reader who would trust them regarding whether to see Chicago or whatever the latest musical hit was. We lost heart about training such critics, because there’s no sense in training people for nonexistent jobs. So we turned the Yale program into a dramaturgy program. Now we train the students to be dramaturges, and we are able to place them in jobs where they function quite well. bc: Let’s turn our attention to the playwrights. If the theatre is no longer on the front lines of the culture wars, I think that the playwrights are to blame. rb: I don’t agree. I think there’s a sufficient number of really important { 226 }

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and powerful playwrights around who aren’t simply writing editorials—they’re not journalists in that sense. What may be making people lose interest in the theatre is that so many playwrights in so many theatres are telling us over and over what we already know: that it’s important for all the races to be equal; that it’s important for women to share power with men; that it’s important for gay people to be respected and not abused. These things are all true and important, but they’re not interesting as art because there’s no surprise in it. And art has to be surprising. The truth is surprising. Life is surprising and unpredictable, and not a sufficient number of playwrights are being unpredictable. Therefore I think it’s crucial that artistic directors be willing to put on plays that they disagree with ideologically but that have quality as plays. bc: But who’s writing them? rb: David Mamet is writing them. Paula Vogel’s writing them. Paula Vogel has written very unpredictable, idiosyncratic, kinky plays, like Hot ’n’ Throb­ bing, for example, or How I Learned to Drive. Those are very subversive plays. How I Learned to Drive, to me, is almost as subversive as Lolita, because its author doesn’t take the approved, politically correct position on sexual har­ assment. I have an idea that just occurred to me, which is that critics like Eric Bentley and myself were too successful in establishing the importance of The Play­ wright as Thinker or a thinking playwright or a truly artistic one, and we created places for them which are no longer being supported. Therefore they are no longer being supported. It’s not that there are no playwrights in this country. I think there are more playwrights in this country of high quality than ever before in my memory. They just don’t have a place to have their plays produced. Broadway has just turned away from them altogether, and the little theatres, as we call them—even the resident-­theatre movement—are no longer being supported either by the National Endowment for the Arts or by the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation or any foundation, except for Mellon and Shubert and Jujamcyn. A few foundations are supporting these theatres, but not enough to keep them going. Therefore, they have begun to turn themselves into commercial producing organisms, and they’re putting on things that have been successful elsewhere and not taking chances on the new. As a result, we have succeeded ourselves out of existence, I’m afraid. bc: Isn’t that also an incredibly impoverishing pressure on a young playwright who wants to see his or her work produced, when he or she is told, “Look, two or three characters max, one set.” I mean, what kind of constricting effect does that have on the dramatic imagination of somebody who wants to think epically, who wants to think about class and the masses? { 227 }

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rb: And if that playwright does produce that play, he or she is told, “We’ll give you a reading, we’ll give you a workshop, we’ll give you another reading, we’ll give you another workshop.” They never get productions. Richard Nelson wrote a very inflammatory speech about this recently, in which he complained that the playwright is always being helped to write his play by dramaturges, by artistic directors, but he or she is never allowed to put the play on. And that is a problem. bc: Looking back on your debate at Town Hall in January of 1997 with ­August Wilson, what was learned from that experience? rb: Let me begin the subject of August Wilson by saying that I was a minor, small voice arguing that he was essentially a middlebrow writer, regardless of the fact that he was black. He was writing what I thought to be bad Arthur Miller plays, under the influence of a director, Lloyd Richards, that he finally was able to throw off. Only then was Wilson able to get back to his poetic roots; he was a poet who was not being allowed to perform like a poet. I was doing the same thing that Hilton Als has now done in the New Yorker—and he’s a black critic—which is to point out that this is an overrated writer. Now, about the debate at Town Hall: one thing I learned from it was the inability of journalists to get their facts right. I think there was only one accurate report in the Times out of the four or five that appeared which really reflected what happened that night. I’ve forgotten who did it, but it didn’t take sides. I think that it was a very healthy and salutary debate, frankly. It didn’t seem so at the time because it was so divisive and such fault lines were drawn between members of the audience. But it was very important that we finally began to talk about some of these things that we only mumble about in secret. And the fact is, Wilson had said some really quite outrageous things regarding the capacity of black artists to work only in black plays. It seems to me that this was a very restricting and segregating thing to do, and I thought it had to be challenged. Every time I talk to a group of black people, once they hear what the issues are, they respond positively to the fact of the debate. They don’t see it as in any way a racist assault on themselves. bc: Without rehashing the whole thing, I certainly agree with you that Wilson’s position that black artists should be segregated and can only do each other’s work is totally untenable. To me, what’s interesting about the debate is that it was a dead end. I saw people, some public intellectuals in New York City, at that debate that I’ve never seen in the theatre. People were eager for that conversation. But how is it being played out in terms of the theatre and its art? There’s been no significant play that I’ve seen from August Wilson or anyone else that deals with the issue of race in America. I haven’t seen those intellec{ 228 }

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tuals who turned out to take one side or the other turn out again for a play. So to me, it’s kind of another version of the Corpus Christi debate. The issues are very interesting, but where are they being played out in the actual life of the theatre, as opposed to being played out in journalism, and pieces by you, or in Ameri­can Theatre magazine? This leads to the question, is our theatre immobile right now? Is it the opposite of the theatre of the sixties? We agree that plays don’t deserve brownie points because they deal with political issues. I’m not saying that we should now have a Group Theatre about race, or we should have Viet Rock, or that all plays have to be David Rabe plays. But I do feel that, even in terms of metaphor and of a real pursuit of cultural issues that are not journalistic, it’s not happening. I admire Paula Vogel, but I would be hard-­pressed to argue that her plays are on the cutting edge of cultural debate. And race. Where’s race after August Wilson? rb: Suzan-­Lori Parks is for me the most exciting African Ameri­can voice today, the most original and most innovative. If I had thought of it, I believe I would have said at the debate with Wilson that the major issue that we’re wrestling with today is not just racism. Clearly there’s a lot of racism in this country, and it must be confronted. But I think there’s another issue and another danger, which is a suppression of thought and language considered by some to be racist. If people become so sensitive that words like “niggardly” are taken to be racial insults, all you will do is drive feelings underground where they fester and become very ugly. I believe in more speech rather than less speech. I’m very fearful about “freedom from speech,” the suppression and control of speech being demanded by otherwise worthy groups. Minorities are better off when they know who their enemies are, rather than muzzling them through guilt or fear. And that suppression and self-­censorship are evident in the theatre—very much so. bc: What you’re saying about the suppression of conversation about race— I don’t think that’s really happening so much in the public sphere. Whether it be in conflicts over words like “niggardly” or Ebonics, there’s a tremendous amount of debate in the public sphere. But in the case of the theatre: why would, for lack of a better term, politically incorrect debate about race be less welcome there than in all the other arts? This is not a problem in television. It’s not a problem in movies. It’s not a problem, certainly, in contemporary fiction, where politically incorrect stuff appears all the time. And kids, my kids, talk about it. The Simpsons and South Park deal with more subversive, challenging, politically incorrect notions about race than the Ameri­can theatre does. rb: Absolutely. I think it’s possibly because the theatre community is made up of what Howard Rosenberg once called “a herd of independent minds.” They { 229 }

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herd together and communicate the same ideas to each other. And it may be— we can only speculate psychologically as to why it’s so—because people in the theatre are among the very few people in this country who really love what they do, and who are being paid for something they love. Most people in this culture are doing things they hate and are being paid a lot of money for it. For the most part, theatre people have a lot of guilt about that, which transmits itself into this kind of obligatory social conscience on the part of some who really don’t have that much social conscience. That’s where we get into trouble. bc: Do you think the resident-­theatre movement that took off in the sixties achieved what it set out to build? rb: The resident-­theatre movement is not in a very healthy or buoyant state at this particular moment. It had its great days. I think its great days will come again. It’s going to need another Sputnik—by that I mean it’s going to need some external impetus which will get everyone so scared that they say, “We have to support the arts,” and “We have to support education in order to keep up with international competition,” which we’re not doing now. It’s in the schools that the audiences are developed for the theatre and for all the arts, and, frankly, they’re not being developed now. Kids are growing up thinking that graffiti is great art and that gangsta rap is great music. They’re helped in this by Time magazine, which runs a cover telling you that these are the great art forms of our time. Multiculturalism—which has been so effective in giving a voice to people who have not had a voice in the past—is now becoming a kind of uniculturalism, in the sense that it creates hostility about so-­called Eurocentric culture, which is a crucial part of Ameri­can culture. bc: The fact remains that if you’re not seeing plays, and therefore all you’re getting is the pop culture that is sent on the pipeline of cable TV into your house, there’s no alternative. One of the horrible things that has happened over the course of the culture wars has been that the demonization of the National Endowment for the Arts has been used to demonize spending on culture, period, by every segment of government—federal, state, and local—in many parts of the country. The bashing of the NEA had the effect of making the arts in general subversive, and making culture the first thing that can be slashed out of a school budget. That, by the way, was the intent of a lot of people on the Right. They’ve done as much damage as multicultural madness has from the Left, I would argue. rb: I think that’s an extension of the Puritanism we were talking about, and it’s also a demonstration of hypocrisy, which we haven’t talked about, but which is rampant in our government. I mean, Tartuffe is being enacted every day by the religious Right and the Republicans in Congress. { 230 }

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But as far as objections to the NEA are concerned, they essentially come out of deep homophobia, deep sexual nausea, and a deep hatred of the “dirty little secret,” as D. H. Lawrence called it, that the theatre seems to be identified with. The notion that the theatre should be funded according to so-­called community standards is the death of the theatre, the death of the arts. When in history have community standards told us what quality is or excellence or value? Great thinkers throughout history, starting with Shakespeare, have scorned the whole notion of community standards. bc: Including the thinkers who created this country. Once again, the Right doesn’t say, “All right, if you want to do your salacious, anti-­God, anti-­patriotic play, no one’s saying you can’t do it with private money. But why should we federal taxpayers have to pay for it?” The fallout politically goes beyond NEA money—community standards are being used to beat up people who are using private philanthropy and not public funds. Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi had no public money in it. rb: I want to quote Shaw on community standards: “Forty million Frenchmen can’t be right.” And the other thing I want to emphasize is this terrible, nauseating, content-­restriction clause that, for some reason, the Clinton administration pushed to the Supreme Court after it had been struck down by federal court in California. Now we have the Supreme Court on record as validating a violation of the First Amendment. bc: What I find equally appalling are these enhancement deals—you’ve writ­ ten very well about this, Mr. Brustein—in which the nonprofit theatre is playing footsy with the commercial theatre. In my view, the Alliance Theatre of Atlanta serving as a tryout for Disney is simply whoredom. And it blew up in their face, because it bombed. I feel that this development—this so-­called merging of the nonprofit and the commercial—is culturally significant for two reasons. First, that’s one less original Ameri­can play or musical on the schedule for a theatre that supposedly exists to do the kind of plays that any self-­respecting nonprofit theatrical institution would do. Also, it contributes to the coarsening of theatre, which should be providing alternatives to Beauty and the Beast and Riverdance. Then we have the Lincoln Center Theater situation. With Parade, they got involved with another Disney wannabe company that went belly-­up, stuck them with bills, and gave them a show that’s lost perhaps five or six million dollars—in a not-­for-­profit institution? I think there’s something seriously off. There was a Faustian bargain there, and it should have been a wake-­up call that the Livent company turned out to be engulfed in fraud. How is the Ameri­can theatre served by such an arrangement? { 231 }

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rb: Everyone involved with the commercial theatre is under the obligation to make money for his or her investors and for himself or herself. When that is your animating motive, then all decisions are made accordingly: the choice of the play, the choice of the director, the choice of the theatre, the choice of the star, how and when you get the critics in. The alternative—in which your animating motive is to create a work of art, a collective work of art—is a socialist idea, not a capitalist idea. And it’s very hard for a socialist idea to survive in an essentially ravenous, capitalist society. That’s why the nonprofit theatre is now fighting for its life and its virtue, because it is so easy to succumb to the various temptations that are out there just to stay alive. bc: May I ask, Mr. Brustein, as you look back at your critical writing, are there opinions that you’ve changed or topics you would approach differently? rb: I recently had occasion to look over Seasons of Discontent, my first book of collected criticism—the title you referred to earlier in our conversation. I didn’t read the whole thing. But I read a few essays and, whatever virtues this book may have, I was appalled at how harsh I was—how judgmental and stupid I was about the process of theatre. It just didn’t occur to me that I was talking about human beings. I was talking about an art form all the time. I think John Simon admired me in those days and copied that style. The more I got involved in theatre and making theatre, the more I saw the incredible difficulty that goes into getting something onstage. One of the reasons I gave for not taking the Times job in the early sixties— and it was the major reason, I think—was that I was privileged to be as tough as I was as long as I wasn’t affecting anybody’s livelihood. If I’d gone on the Times, obviously, I would have affected people’s livelihood. Whereas today, my concern is that I may be affecting people’s sense of themselves. The actor has nothing but himself or herself to offer—that’s the instrument. It’s not a flute or a fiddle or a cello. That’s why I do deplore some of the crueler opinions being voiced by a few of my professional colleagues. I’m looking for other ways to go about criticism. The great value of my writing for the New Republic was, and to some extent still is, that I was writing for a readership that probably didn’t go to the theatre and, therefore, didn’t need guidance from me. However, I did get a lot of mail about the things we produced at Ameri­can Repertory Theater from people who said, “How can you do this to the classics? Why did you think this was a good play?” I responded to all of them personally. And we tried to talk to our audience a lot though symposia and pre-­production discussions to explain why we went about doing the things we did and to make it clear that there was a pur-

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pose behind them. We didn’t try to insult audiences. I think the ultimate corruptibility of criticism is its lack of accountability. As critics, we’re not accountable to anybody, except maybe our editors or our readership. bc: You are accountable. The readership can turn on a critic. I’ve always been struck by the example of the film critic Bosley Crowther, who had dismissed Bonnie and Clyde as just a routine gangster film. I was going through Times microfilm recently and I found two full pages in the Arts and Leisure section of letters attacking his review of Bonnie and Clyde—people were outraged that he had missed what was then and probably still is a turning point in Ameri­can cinema. The audience really got him. I think that led directly to his being replaced by Renata Adler, who could not have been more different. That brings to mind another topic I want to address—the whole question of experimental theatre in America. Is that extraordinary movement past? rb: No, there’s the Wooster Group, and Richard Foreman, and people like Bob McGrath with the Ridge Theater. You know, whenever we tend to generalize about the death of the theatre, someone comes along and revives it. All it takes is one artist. It took Chekhov to revive the moribund Russian theatre. It took Brecht to revive the moribund German theatre. They’re out there, and they’ll reappear: whenever anyone asks me, “What’s the future of the theatre?” I always have to say, “The future of the theatre is whatever artists are coming along to revolutionize it.” bc: I totally agree with that. We have to have an infrastructure, for lack of a better term, that supports such an artist when he or she does come along. We have to make sure that that artist gets an audience. And that’s why I’m worried about things such as the commercial theatre so boldly annexing nonprofit theatres on Broadway. It wasn’t that long ago that you could do Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, you could do Angels in America on Broadway. You wouldn’t get rich doing it, but Broadway would give plays like these cultural prominence that would help speed up productions at nonprofit theatres and help disseminate them the way that Broadway once helped disseminate A Streetcar Named Desire. Now, it’s almost impossible to do that unless it’s a British import or there’s a star. And it’s going to become less and less possible as these corporations gain more and more power. How I Learned to Drive could have been done on Broadway fifteen years ago. It wouldn’t have been a better or worse play for having been, but it would have meant that “Theatre X” in Omaha might have found it a little earlier and would’ve taken more of a shine to it. So I agree with you that artists always come along, and people who love the theatre want to work in the theatre and can’t be talked out of it no matter

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what new media there are. But there has to be a theatre there to receive them. In any event, there’s always been trouble, or troubles, with the theatre. It’s not that the theatre has suddenly reached a point of trouble. rb: There’s something missing, which is an alternative social and political theory. With the death of Marxism, with the death of the Soviet Union—and, thank heaven, they died—we don’t have that alternative theory against which to push our version of capitalism. As a result, we’re involved in a kind of galloping greed, a galloping kind of cumulative situation that I’ve never experienced in my life before. You can see it with all the corruption in Iraq and the corruption here and the corruption in the current government—this is all, I think, a result of there being nothing pushing back against it. What John Kenneth Galbraith called “countervailing forces.” We don’t have them anymore. And that, certainly, is affecting the theatre. Still, astonishingly, there are more new theatres being built today. I don’t know what’s going to be in them, but a lot of new buildings are going up. The Guthrie’s got a new building. There have been two or three new buildings in Boston. There’s a new building here in New York—­Baryshnikov has put up a theatre. There must be some hunger stimulating this—­either that or the edifice complex. You have to catch people young, I think. Theatre hunger is there. But if you don’t have a taste of it then you don’t know what you’re hungry for. I think that’s tremendously important. We have to attract children—young children. Theatregoing has to be a habit. We don’t talk about theatre at dinner parties anymore. I wish we did. For that reason the kids are not being exposed to it. And we haven’t even talked about the cutting off of funds for the arts in the schools. When I was a kid, when I was eight, my parents took me to see something called Swinging the Dream. It was a black version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it had Bojangles Bill Robinson as Oberon. It had Louis Armstrong as Bottom. They had the most incredible cast. Benny Goodman was one of the pit orchestras. I sat there absolutely entranced. The next morning it was reviewed and the critics panned it. I learned three things: number one, never trust the daily critics; number two, there’s nice things to be done with the classics other than just putting them on straight; and number three, there’s a relationship between music and the arts, and the art of drama. So I knew that as an eight-­year-­old because I was exposed to it. And I never would have known it if I hadn’t been taken to the theatre. bc: Amen.

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The Actor, Image, and Action: Acting and Cognitive Neuroscience. By Rhonda Blair. New York: Routledge, 2008. xiv + 138 pp. $37.95 paper.

The advent of noninvasive techniques for studying the brain—FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), EEG (Electroencephalogram), and others—­ has ushered in a new era for cognitive scientists. And the publications of such neuroscientists as Damasio, LeDoux, and Ramachandran, among others, have made the discoveries of this field readily accessible to the nonspecialist. It was perhaps inevitable that neuroscientists’ views of consciousness would come under the scrutiny of theatre practitioners. In The Actor, Image, and Action, the theatre practitioner’s view of consciousness is informed by the recent developments of neuroscience and yields both theoretical and practical insights into the craft of acting in the twenty-­first century. The book is intended as a manual for actors, and its twin purposes are to improve “our understanding of the actor’s process” and to “provide practical techniques for applying what science has discovered” (xiii). These two purposes seem innocuous enough, but the far-­reaching impact of “what science has discovered” about the nature and processes of human memory and imagination means a radical rethinking of received acting terms and concepts. Constructs such as character identity, for instance, when seen by neuroscience, are less an entity than they are often perceived by actors; to a neuroscientist, a character is much more of a process than a construct. Emotion and reason and physicality, both for the actor and for the actor’s construction, the character, are more intimately connected than previously thought. Blair spends the first two chapters of this text discussing the relations of twentieth-­century science to Stanislavsky and the major Stanislavsky-­influenced

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acting teachers—Meyerhold, Strasberg, Adler, and Meisner. The points of contact between neuroscience and the work of each of these twentieth-­century acting teachers are delineated and established as the pattern for future development of acting theory. Chapter 2 closes with a look at two researchers who have recently begun to develop acting theory along these lines: Susana Bloch, with the Alba Emoting Technique, and actor-­researcher Elly Konijn. Chapter 3 is devoted to the extrapolation of imagination, consciousness, emotions and feelings, the self, and memory as these concepts are understood by neuros­cience. The actor, reading this chapter, will perceive both differences from and similarities to the accustomed way of considering each of these concepts, and thus this chapter is the most challenging and stimulating of the entire book. The final chapter is a series of applications of this research. First, Blair considers a hypothetical exercise designed to engage the actor in the “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Three case studies follow, discussing Blair productions of Rebecca Gilman’s Boy Gets Girl, Suzan-­Lori Parks’s Venus, and Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Each of these applications features a different view of the intersection of neuroscience and acting, considering distinct ways of image-­making and image-­streaming and their aesthetic effects. These applications are an excellent launchpad for directors as well as actors who hope to use their resources more effectively, and the closing section, “Conversations with a Master Acting Teacher,” stimulates even more thought regarding the boundaries of acting talent and the possible applications of neuroscience in acting. The afterword considers more questions that neuroscience discoveries have raised. Mirror neurons and other physical structures have raised the question, “What really is the nature of the boundaries between ourselves and others?” (106), and Blair considers where this particular path may eventually lead theatre practitioners. An appendix discussing translation and its role in the production of Three Sisters mentioned in chapter 4, along with an extensive works consulted list and index, comprise back matter and open additional channels of inquiry. It is Blair’s hope that this text will give the actor and director new tools, and so it does. But it also delivers much more: insights into the shy world of our own consciousness and, perhaps for some, a curiosity that will lead deeper into the meaning of being—and representing—the human condition. — Adrianne A dderley Missouri Valley College

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\\ Women in Ameri­can Musical Theatre. Edited by Bud Coleman and Judith A. Sebesta. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008. 282 pp. $45.00 paper.

Bud Coleman and Judith Sebesta collected and edited eleven essays regarding a group of women who have shaped and contributed to the Ameri­can theatre. The goal of the editors was to “remedy the still-­existent paucity of information on the Ameri­can women who helped create” musical theatre today (4). Focusing on the “less-­celebrated” members of the creative team (as opposed to female performers), Coleman and Sebesta have succeeded in creating an anthology that is unique and worthwhile. The authors (coincidentally, mostly women) run or work in theatre and dance departments at universities and colleges across the country and have published in notable periodicals including the New York Times and Ameri­can Theatre. The essays deal with a myriad of topics, ranging from designers to composers, lyricists to librettists, and producers to choreographers and directors, focusing on the work of the chosen few who actually have been written about, have won awards, or have been critically panned or praised for their artistic contributions between the turn of the twentieth century and its end. From those artists still living while the collection was written, many personal interviews (though some of them more than ten years old) were garnered. This grounds the book in a relatively current reality. Perhaps the most difficult task for Coleman and Sebesta was choosing what to include in such a collection from the breadth of existing information. Though the face of Susan Stroman and an image from her Broadway success The Pro­ ducers is on the front cover, she gets very little attention (as compared to the magnitude of work she has done—and given what has been written about her in the past fifteen years) in the pages that follow. And, though Stroman does get mention in the “11 o’clock number,” more time is given in earlier essays to directors whose work has had less impact on the state of the musical theatre ­today. The first essay, “ ‘Will You Remember?’ Female Lyricists of Operetta and Musical Comedy,” by Korey R. Rothman—a finely honed story about some of the earliest artists mentioned in the collection—brings up a historical truth: women have often been defined by their personal lives, physical attributes, and sexual orientation rather than by the art they created. Ironically, the next essay, “Hallie Flanagan and Cheryl Crawford: Women Pioneer Producers of the

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1930s,” by Barbara Means Fraser, does exactly what Rothman says writers in the past have done to women, giving an inordinate amount of attention to her subjects’ personal lives and physical attributes. Thankfully, Fraser’s essay also sheds much light on their contributions to the art form in the 1930s. Anna Wheeler Gentry’s “Twentieth-­Century Women Choreographers: Refining and Redefining the Showgirl Image” highlights the unique contributions of Anna Held, Albertina Rasch, Katherine Dunham, Hanya Holm, and June Taylor to early Ameri­can musical theatre. Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh’s “A Composer in Her Own Right: Arrangers, Musical Directors and Conductors” is relevant, current, and fascinating. Cavenaugh depicts the life and contributions of Trude Rittman in such a way that a clear understanding of the woman and her artistic contributions resonates well beyond the length of the essay. Gary Konas’s “Working with the Boys: Women Who Wrote Musicals in the Golden Ages” is another standout in its exploration of the past in relation to the present. Konas includes select lyrics to demonstrate how innovative the writers were and details about the characters who sang those lyrics to aid the reader in understanding the diverse talents of the celebrated Dorothy Fields, Betty Comden, Carolyn Leigh, and Mary Rodgers. His essay is almost twice as long as the others and offers some of the most astute perspectives on his subjects. Tish Dace’s essay, “Designing Women,” surveys the top musical theatre designers up to the late twentieth century. Although Dace provides valuable information on designers prior to 1999, it’s a shame that this essay does not include the triumphs for female designers in the early twenty-­first century (perhaps she’s working on this now), such as Catherine Zuber’s unprecedented four Tony awards for costume design (two for musicals and two for nonmusical works). Coeditor Bud Coleman’s essay on “Helburn, Dalrymple, and Lortel: A Triumvirate of Great Producers” is an enlightening look at women whose contributions changed the landscape of New York City and regional theatres forever. The advent and diversity of City Center in Manhattan (Dalrymple); the prestigious “Lucille Lortel Awards” handed out yearly for superior off-­Broadway work, named after the “Queen of Off Broadway” (Lortel); and Helburn’s producing endeavors, which include, among others, the perennially produced Oklahoma!— all of these suggest how significantly these three women enriched the landscape of Ameri­can musical theatre. “Open a New Window, Open a New Door: Women Directors Take the Stage,” by Anne Fliotsos, is actually quite heartbreaking, presenting women’s ­directorial contributions in professional theatre with a set of graphs and analy­ sis of those graphs, based solely on her findings in Theatre World (one of the

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only reference books during the twentieth century that collected year-­by-­year information on all artists involved in professional productions). Fliotsos focuses on the discouraging percentages of women working in commercial musical theatre over the years. The abundance of women working on musicals in regional theatre, however, points to an important topic that isn’t in this collection. What were all those women doing out in the regions? And how does their work affect the art form? These are a few questions that are left to be addressed in the next edition. Coeditor Judith Sebesta’s essay “Social Consciousness and the Search for New Directions: The Musicals of Gretchen Cryer, Nancy Ford, and Elizabeth Swados” marks a time in New York musical theatre history (the 1960s and 1970s) when women were responding to the changing world around them. And although today these three artists’ names come up occasionally, they have moved into other venues. Nonetheless, their groundbreaking contributions—­including using their personal experiences as inspiration for their musical theatre work— continue to be relevant today, when an entirely new crop of artists still questions whether a musical based on personal experience or one based on pre­ existing source material is more viable. Mary Jo Lodge’s “The Rise of the Female Director/Choreographer on Broad­ way” shines a light on Graciela Danielle, Ann Reinking, Susan Stroman, and Kathleen Marshall, the women who have come up through the chorus girl ranks and made an indelible mark as strong director-­choreographers. The most perplexing contribution to this collection is the last, Woodrow Hood’s “From Revolution to Revelation: Woman Performance Artists and the Transformation of Ameri­can Musical Theatre.” Performance art and the artists mentioned in this essay, including Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, and ­Diamanda Galás—although significant and innovative in their own right—seem to fall outside the scope of the Ameri­can musical theatre genre. The takeaway from Coleman and Sebesta’s collection, happily, is that of a hopeful future in which terms such as “glass ceiling” and “broken ladder” are faded memories of the past. This potential can only be realized, however, when knowledge of the past is made available—as it is in Women in Ameri­can Mu­ sical Theatre—and bold moves are made by the upcoming, unsung, soon-­to-­be artist heroines of the Ameri­can musical theatre. — Terry B erliner is a New York–based director who has written for Ameri­can Theatre magazine and Theatre Bay Area.

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\\ The Gendering of Men, 1600–1750. Vol. 2, Queer Articulations. By Thomas Alan King. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. xxv + 583 pp. $65.00 cloth.

In Queer Articulations, the companion study to his groundbreaking 2004 work The English Phallus, Thomas A. King continues his critique of those scholars of modern sexuality who desire to reinscribe modern subjectivities and sexualities onto bodies of individuals whose possible performances of self were limited by the degree to which they were subject to another’s power. The scope of this study is the long eighteenth century, the period from 1600 to 1750, during which male-­ and female-­bodied individuals transitioned from an erotic economy based on “pederasty, favoritism and patronage,” in which “penetration did not simply reflect or express subjection but was a performative vehicle for achieving social mobility and access to more powerful male and female bodies” (xi–xii), to possession of a private subjectivity based in gender complementariness and heteronormativity. It is during this period, according to King, that adult males became gendered as a class of men. King’s first volume detailed the transition to a gendered subjectivity through the development of the private individual. Queer Articulations examines how what King terms “residual pederasty”—erotic behaviors based on public status, which continued to be performed alongside erotic behaviors based in a developing private gendered complementariness—became coded as negative due to the trace of pederastic subjection. In this volume, King takes great care to show how the public performance of pederastic subjection, behaviors that had previously denoted manliness across an entire society and increased one’s status as a result of intimate relations with and proximity to more powerful public bodies, over time became viewed as aristocratic, effeminate, and, finally, morally corrupt. In each of his five chapters, King investigates different “queer articulations” that operate in resistance to the development of private subjectivity and gender complementariness. Chapter 1, “Performing ‘Akimbo,’ ” provides a genealogy of behavior and bodily comportment. It traces how a bodily comportment based in humanist “universals” that started as indicative of the public display of royal power and prestige became associated through the long eighteenth century with sodomy and a lack of a private self hood, finally becoming reduced to a stereotype of modern homosexual identity. In chapter 2, “Mollies Privacies,” King traces the behaviors associated with “residual pederasty” and the queering of effeminate sodomites as “mollies.” Ac{ 240 }

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cording to King, this queering is a result of “the relocation both in discursive and in concrete and specifically urban social spaces of a wide array of residual and resistant practices and their resignification as properties of ‘mollies’ ” (141). He details the ways that “mollies” were denied a private subjectivity by those who sought to define relationships based in emerging gender complementariness as the only relationships based in affect. He reveals how, over the long eighteenth century, the definition of sodomy shifted from any non-­procreative act to anal penetration, with a corresponding shift in law from the prosecution of a behavior to the criminalizing of an identity, the “sodomite.” Chapter 3, “The Canting Queen,” examines the use of the theatre to produce, as well as to represent, bodily styles and comportment. This chapter examines in great depth the cult of the “beautiful boy” and the use of cross-­ dressed boy players within an economy of pederastic desire. King also explores the representation of the aristocratic body as “foppish,” a hybrid characteri­ za­t ion with its vocal style based on the high-­pitched aristocratic cant and its bodily comportment based in colloquial rhetorical styles. He does all this in an examination of Colly Cibber’s 1740 “Apology,” in which Cibber “rejected the possibility that boys had been credible in female roles” (235). King unpacks this statement as an articulation of an ideology that advocated the use of women onstage, under the guise of “realism,” in an effort to normalize gender complementariness and reject “residual pederasty” that threatened its claim of “naturalness.” In chapter 4, “How (Not) to Queer Boswell,” King provides an extended critique of the trend in Boswell studies to hold him up as an example of a homosexual subjectivity. King asserts instead that Boswell’s erotic behavior is more accurately explained as a product of patronage, which operated in an economy of desire based in the practice of “residual pederasty.” The term “homosexuality,” King argues, demands two equals, two men, and elides the status of “boy,” which was not a function of age but was defined during the period as any male-­bodied individual who was the dependent of a person of higher status. Thus, many male-­bodied individuals could not claim the status of “man.” In assuming a class of men that did not exist at the time, King argues, we lose a true appreciation for an entire group of individuals, “boys,” and distort how patronage was practiced by both male-­and female-­bodied persons. King’s final chapter, “The Castrato’s Castration,” uses as a case study the career of the great castrato Farinelli. King documents how a performance of astonishing vocal prowess and personal presence, originally perceived as the paragon of manliness, became characterized as effeminate, monstrous, indicative of lack, and finally, feminine. { 241 }

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Although this volume can be read independently of the first, as it contains an excellent introduction that summarizes the arguments presented previously, they are best understood as companion volumes, focusing first on privacy and then on publicity as individuals struggled over the course of the long eighteenth century to articulate personal identities. This volume and its companion are highly recommended for scholars of performance studies, sexuality, gender studies, English Renaissance and Restoration theatre, and historians of the period. Its implications are profound and far-­reaching and will be rippling though numerous fields for years to come. A must read. — Scott S . B oston Bowling Green State University

\\ Spalding Gray’s America. By William W. Demastes. Foreword by Richard Schechner. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation, Limelight Editions, 2008. xxiii + 272 pp. $19.95 paper.

Spalding Gray’s America is the first and long-­overdue monograph on the actor and performance artist (1941–2004) whose career spanned almost forty years. One reason for this delay, until four years after Gray followed his mother’s example and killed himself, is his arguable representativeness. This may seem surprising for this “ ‘typical’ middle Ameri­can” (6), born and raised in Barrington, Rhode Island, educated at Fichton Academy, Maine, and Emerson College, Massachusetts, before making his first moves into the traditional theatre as an actor of the Alley Theatre in Houston. After five years in the traditional theatre (1965–70), Gray passed almost a decade in the experimental surroundings of Richard Schechner’s Performance Group and Elizabeth LeCompte’s Wooster Group before turning to the monologue format with which he ended up being identified for the remainder of his life, despite excursions into film, television, and novel writing. Still, being of WASP New England stock made Gray stand out in multicultural America, while his avant-­garde credentials and reputed mental problems rendered him equally suspicious when he came to play the stage manager in Gregory Mosher’s 1988 revival of Wilder’s all-­Ameri­can Our Town. Gray was also met by skepticism, at times even downright hostility, when with Travels to New England he extended the idea of Interviewing the Au­ dience (1980) to non-­performance spaces. The more Gray was associated with “Manhattan, that island off the coast of America,” the less he could pass as the Everyman whom Demastes makes him out to be (119). { 242 }

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The major strategies Gray relied on to draw his audiences in, Demastes argues, are an amiably naive stage persona, humor, and the instillment of a complicity, as when the spectators to the Wooster Group’s Rumstick Road were forced to listen to the private interviews Gray had had with his grandmother, his father, and his mother’s psychiatrist (54). Swimming to Cambodia owns up to a similar complicity when drawing parallels between the U.S. involvement in southeast Asia and the movie crew’s exploitation of the Asians during Roland Joffe’s shooting of The Killing Fields (116). The impact of Gray’s avant-­garde period thus extended beyond the 1970s into his autobiographical monologues, a point also informing Demastes’s Beyond Naturalism (1988) with regard to the 1960s experimentalism and the so-­called new realist Ameri­can theatre of Rabe, Mamet, Shepard, Fuller, Henley, and Norman. The documentary dimension of Gray’s solo work, adhering so closely to his everyday experiences, seems to inscribe it into that arguably retrograde but ever so popular category of realist theatre—if it were not for Gray’s irony, that “fatal” postmodern strategy, and his associative method, which are at odds with the Aristotelian tradition and well-­made play. But there is method to Gray’s madness, even in India and After (America) (1979), his first solo piece, where his scattered anecdotes and fragmented recollections were cued by the definition of words randomly chosen from a dictionary to convey his personal disorientation during the Performance Group’s tour of Mother Courage. In his foreword to Demastes’s book, Schechner ascribes Gray’s breakdown to his company’s artistic failure as much as to “a fault line” in the performer’s personality (xvi, xviii– xix), since art should achieve a reflexive balance between the personal, the social, and the medium that informs and bridges them (xvi). To Demastes, India and After (America) already struck that balance by materializing how memory affects the experiences we all are making sense of; granted Gray, in the artistic transformation of his experiences, was assisted by female “enablers” or “advisors” (xvii) like Elizabeth LeCompte, Renée Shafransky, and Kathie Russo, whom Demastes gives rather short shrift. What Demastes equally does not touch upon in the context of Gray’s “novelistic” experiment, Impossible Vacation (1992), is the degree to which his careful crafting, repetition, and subsequent publication of the monologues, aided by his extensive reading, allowed him to give them more than a semblance of literary shape within and across the individual pieces. Their intertextuality merits further exploration, as do the rhetorical techniques Gray relied on. Both offered Gray additional strategies to implicate his spectators, beyond those singled out by Demastes, and by infecting the listeners and readers with his paranoid search for meaning, Gray inscribed the monologues within a trend marking postwar { 243 }

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Ameri­can literature. The ultimate answer to Gray’s paranoia and phobias, in Demastes’s assessment, is prefigured at the end of Impossible Vacation and materialized in the domestic bliss of Morning, Noon and Night (1999): no longer to dwell in the past alone or watch the world from the sideline, neither selfishly to pursue erotic pleasures or the sublimity of perfect moments, what Schechner has called the outdated 1960s “politics of ecstasy” (131, 167). After all, happiness can be found by reaching out for the other and fully embracing the everyday at the confluence of past and present. If this sounds moralistic, “soft,” or “feminine,” it only confirms Gray’s idio­ syncratic position among performance artists and his value in a masculine competitive world. Possibly because of Gray’s unique brand of autoperformance, Demastes provides no comparisons with other storytellers, apart from a cursory reference to Will Rogers and Lenny Bruce (61). As such, Spalding Gray’s America may be profitably read along other recent, more general studies like Sherrill Grace and Jerry Wasserman’s collection of essays, Theatre and AutoBiography (2006), Michael Wilson’s Storytelling and Theatre (2006), and ­Deirdre Heddon’s Autobiography and Performance (2008). — Johan C allens Vrije Universiteit Brussel

\\ Rediscovering Mordecai Gorelik: Scene Design and the Ameri­can Theatre. By Anne Fletcher. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. xi + 258 pp. $37.50 paper.

Scholars too often gloss over, and in many cases completely ignore, the profound impact scene and costume designers have had and continue to have on determining the shape and scope of theatrical expression. Choosing instead to highlight the accomplishments of playwrights, directors, performers, critics, and theorists, researchers recurrently forgo the careful examination of these visual artists’ noteworthy efforts and lasting contributions. While it is true that many of the most eminent theatre designers (for example, Adolph Appia and Gordon Craig; Robert Edmond Jones, Lee Simonson, Jo Mielziner, and Edith Head; Josef Svoboda and the various contributors to Action Design movement; and Ming Cho Lee and Tony Walton) have been given their due in scholarly circles, it is nonetheless also true that scores of other well-­deserving and talented artists and their significant achievements are mentioned only in passing,

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relegated to the footnotes, or wholly disregarded. With Rediscovering Mordecai Gorelik: Scene Design and the Ameri­can Theatre, Anne Fletcher adroitly challenges the penchant to overlook these artists and their work by instead giving voice to one such largely forgotten figure from Ameri­can theatre history. In so doing, she models an approach that might well serve as a template for others interested in documenting the history of design in the theatre. Over the course of fourteen well-­w ritten and moving chapters, Fletcher meticulously charts Gorelik’s often-­ignored, decades-­long career in Ameri­can theatre, which included an influential apprenticeship under Robert Edmond Jones, more than twenty Broadway designs, the writing of numerous essays as well as the vitally important although now largely forgotten history of theatre (New Theatres for Old), and a late-­in-­life, although distinguished, move into the academy. Central to Fletcher’s study is her resolute belief that an accurate rendering of Gorelik’s career must not only include a summation and analysis of his numerous noteworthy designs for productions of scripts by various midcentury luminaries (including Odets, Brecht, and Miller) and the fundamental (albeit often undervalued and unrecognized) role he played in several midcentury aesthetic and/or politically progressive companies (including the New Playwrights Theatre, the Group Theatre, and the Theatre Union), but also must detail his many notable and intermittently problematic efforts as a critic, director, teacher, and playwright. Fletcher ably justifies this far-­reaching examination by arguing that Gorelik was “a person who lived in the present” (xv) and that his efforts as a scene designer during the mid-­t wentieth century were merely a handful of attempts in his larger, lifelong endeavor to “[fuse] theory and practice” (7). To that end, she convincingly argues that Gorelik was often ahead of his time, intermingling high art and popular culture before it became ubiquitous, and, moreover, bringing to his design work a desire to explore the relationship between scenery and textual theme that was unusually zealous. As for his “lost place in theatre history,” Fletcher contends that this was “not for want of talent, intellect, or imagination, nor for his inability to fit scenic design to script or form to function, but because he aligned himself with plays that fell outside the scope of the accepted dramatic canon,” plays Fletcher terms “production dependent” (2). Thus, lacking a critical vocabulary to describe them, scholars have allowed Gorelik’s designs for these productions (and, by extension, his life) to fall through the cracks of history. Fletcher counters this trend by placing Gorelik’s career in nuanced historical context. In so doing, she offers a fascinating portrait of how one individual not only experienced but also created, shaped, and, in some cases, cri-

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tiqued (as in his thoroughly negative view of absurdism) many of the defining theories and practices of twentieth-­century Ameri­can theatre. Although this view on the profile and position of theatre-­making in Ameri­can culture during the past century as seen through the eyes of one of its participants is well executed and unquestionably valuable, Fletcher is at her best when offering careful and detailed readings of Gorelik’s most influential designs. Her analyses of his designs for the Theatre Guild’s 1925 production of John Howard Lawson’s Processional (chapter 5), the Group Theatre’s production of Sidney Kingsley’s Men in White (chapter 9), the Theatre Union’s 1934 production of Friedrich Wolf ’s Sailors of Cattaro as well as that company’s 1935 production of Brecht’s The Mother (chapter 10), and the 1947 Broadway production of Miller’s All My Sons (chapter 12) stand as the acme of her study. Written with authority, specificity, and lucidity, Fletcher’s cogent explications of the formal elements central to these designs illustrate the prevalent role Gorelik played in the development of a wide variety of concepts and practices fundamental to twentieth-­century design. To be sure, in Fletcher’s able hands, Gorelik is returned as a key figure in the development of gestus of scenery, functionality of setting, manipulation of mass and volume, utilization of semipermanent settings, and the innovative use of materials. Throughout her book, Fletcher profitably draws on the archive, culling design renderings as well as Gorelik’s diaries and his professional and personal cor­respondence. Regarding the former, Fletcher’s illuminating readings of Gorelik’s design work gain considerable strength through the inclusion of a number of full-­color illustrations. As for the designer’s personal papers, although his views on his own life and career play a central role in the study, Fletcher is nonetheless cognizant of the subjective nature of these writings. Repeatedly she looks to other period accounts of the events—by other participants and ­critics—­to verify and, in a number of cases, counter or moderate Gorelik’s claims. In so doing, she offers a remarkably balanced critical biography of the designer’s life. In the end, Fletcher’s study must be viewed as an important addition to the ever-­growing body of works on theatre in the United States during the interwar years. Scholars focused on this area of study will find Fletcher’s work invaluable. Beyond this, however, the study stands as a wonderful example of bringing the work of important designers into scholarly conversation. Given this, Rediscov­ ering Mordecai Gorelik is certain to find a wide and enthusiastic audience. — Jonathan C hambers Bowling Green State University { 246 }

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\\ A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the Ameri­can Stage. By Barbara Wallace Grossman. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. 368 pp. $19.95 paper.

Barbara Wallace Grossman’s engaging biography of nineteenth-­and twentieth-­ century Ameri­can actress-­cum-­author Clara Morris lives up to Rosemarie K. Banks’s endorsement in praise of the author’s “impeccable” research (back cover). In fact, Grossman so subtly intertwines historical detail with Morris’s compelling story that her fluid narrative belies an exhaustive and painstaking scholarly study. Her contextualization of Morris vis-­à-­v is Gilded Age and fin de ­siècle society illustrates the new historicist’s best practices. Establishing the motif of Morris’s morphine addiction, Grossman notes increased use of the hypodermic needle for administering morphine as treatment for myriad ailments in the 1870s (165). The author includes an account of a bizarre treatment of Morris’s chronic spinal pain involving a hot poker (157) and suggests that the actress’s diagnosis-­defying illnesses might be attributed to “the great imitator,” syphilis (187). In contrast to the medical drama Morris faced backstage—and onstage when medication was administered during performances—Grossman describes theatrical conventions of the day. Her vivid descriptions of extravagant baskets and bouquets presented at curtain calls, numbers and sorts of curtain calls, actors acknowledging audience response mid-­performance, discomfort and inconsistent management at out-­of-­ town theatres, and grueling conditions of train travel across the United States offer insight into life in the theatre. The book takes the tone and structure of historical narrative. While it opens with Morris’s early triumph under Augustin Daly’s management, the action quickly flashes back and proceeds chronologically from birth to death. Peppered with feminist theory and discussion of gender roles, A Spectacle of Suf­ fering emphasizes the actress’s determination to earn a healthy livelihood in the theatre while doggedly adhering to her moral and ethical standards. Rather than adopting a particular feminist critical lens, Grossman incorporates tenets of feminism into her discussions of Victorian America’s definition of femininity (90), “hysteria” as a medical term applied to women (91), the “Emotional” school of acting (91), use of “metaphors of the histrionic” in medical discussions (93), and sexist theatre history practices. Grossman offers Morris’s ethics, status as a working woman, and moral rectitude as prototypically feminist. The biographical narrative is superbly executed, its style appropriate to the { 247 }

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subject. Wherever lacunae in evidence preclude the historian’s ability to surmise her subject’s motivation or attitude, Grossman faces the paucity squarely, commenting in her own voice. This stylistic choice, the addition of the historian’s perspective, adds dimension—a meta-­biographical layer—to the work. Grossman writes clearly and with precision, making the piece a pleasure to read for its execution as much as for its content. The author successfully negotiates difficulties inherent in working with autobiographies (Morris wrote three memoirs and an autobiographical stage novel), diaries, stories and articles written by her subject, and theatrical reviews. She remains respectful of Morris, championing her, and seeking to reestablish the actress’s place as once “the most famous actress in America” (1). At the same time, if not outright questioning her veracity, Grossman acknowledges Morris’s tendencies to romanticize, deemphasize, or omit events from her past. A Spectacle of Suffering takes its title not only from a review of Morris in performance but undoubtedly from the astounding number of references to suffering in Morris’s own hand and as an epithet used by others to describe her. Spectacle and suffering take on multiple connotations, ranging from the laudatory to the pejorative. Coincidentally, even works cited include Susan A. Glenn’s Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism and Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering. Grossman states of Morris that “Sufferi­ng shaped her life and art” (2). Writing of recent triumphs, the actress delighted in possessing “no knowledge of sin and suffering . . . only sunshine” (15), but acute suffering—physical and psychological—followed. Although earlier reviews praise the actress’s emotive style as “not a formulated mimicry of suffering” (130), later critics call for her retirement, and what Grossman calls “the spectacle of Morris on stage” becomes what the reviewer for the New York Daily News terms her publicly “suffering body” (180). One critic views the “ruins” of Morris’s “former skills” and finds the “spectacle not wholly agreeable” (207). Another comments on the impropriety of applause “at the spectacle of suffering which she intrudes upon the public” (181). Grossman’s use of “spectacle” and “suffering” accelerates in intensity and frequency as she explicates how Morris’s acting faltered under the burden of the actress’s addiction, stylistic atrophy, financial catastrophe, personal problems, and physical pain. The author stops short of adopting too lurid or “purple” a prose as her organizing principle builds across the book. Morris’s second career as author has bearing on the study of the Ameri­can theatre as she mined her theatrical experiences to craft parables and public lectures in addition to her memoirs and fiction. While Grossman says little on the subject of Morris’s preparation as a writer, it gives a reader pause to consider { 248 }

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the actress, who abandoned formal education as a teenager, equipped to become a respected author—a tribute to her tenacity, and apparently to her self-­study. The idea of actress-­as-­w riter could certainly prompt another study of Morris and others. Grossman’s detailed descriptions coupled with her use of primary documents makes tangible the most ephemeral aspect of theatre history: performance. General Ameri­can theatre history texts resort to categorizing, swarming with names and labels but little notion of how acting style might have mani­fested onstage. This study of Clara Morris makes sense of the “Emotional School,” explaining and comparing Morris’s style with those of others, illustrated by specific examples from performance texts. A Spectacle of Suffering is a welcome addition to reading for graduate seminars in Ameri­can theatre ­history. While it has illustrations and extensive notes for each chapter, A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the Ameri­can Stage does not include a bibliography. This omission may be owing to the press and not the author, but as a reader attempting to locate Morris’s works and specific reviews, and as an avid browser of bibliographies, I found using notes alone frustrating and time-­consuming. I was disappointed about this single aspect of the book, especially as I plan to use it as an example for graduate students. — Anne F letcher Southern Illinois University Carbondale

\\ Gothic Plays and Ameri­can Society, 1794–1830. By M. Susan Anthony. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2007. 195 pp. 7 appendices. $39.95 paperback.

Gothic Plays and Ameri­can Society is the first full-­length study of gothic dramas in early America. Although Susan Anthony uses her study to suggest ways that Ameri­can playwrights and actors attempted to appropriate and thereby nationalize the genre, the implication that gothic drama was in any meaningful way “Ameri­can” is itself more than a bit suspect. As her own research proves, there were only seven Ameri­can playwrights producing gothic dramas during this period, and of those seven, only one or possibly two could be seen as writing new or original works. The other five were clearly recycling standard British gothic fare, such as William Dunlap’s Bluebeard (1801) or J. D. Turnbull’s The Wood Daemon (1808). Nevertheless, this is an interesting study that opens up a curiously neglected area of theatrical history in this country. For instance, { 249 }

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when Edgar Allan Poe published his only drama, Politian (1835), he could assume that his fellow citizens would have recognized it as a hybridized mix of the gothic, the melodramatic, and the sentimental. The discussions of gothic dramas in this book effectively explain the derivative and anxious theatrical climate of the early Ameri­can republic. Written in a lively and jargon-­free voice, Anthony’s study has both strengths and weaknesses, and I will address the former first. Using theatrical memoirs published in contemporary periodicals, and playbills and engravings housed in the Harvard Theatre Collection, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Historical Society, Anthony has assembled a good deal of original research on the four major theatrical centers of early Ameri­can society: Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, and Boston. Her eleven chapters (six of which have been published in other venues) examine such topics as the construction of maleness and femaleness in the gothic, the evolution of the female “star” in gothic dramas, the use of stage spectacle, the adaptation of British plays for the Ameri­can stage, and the largely negative critical reception of gothic dramas. Her seven appendices are useful, particularly the one that lists the gothic dramas as they were first performed in the United States (159). This appendix makes it clear that only seven Ameri­can playwrights were producing gothic dramas in America at this time and that the majority of their works were clearly adaptations of British gothic fare (for example, British dramatist Miles Andrews’s Mysteries of the Castle was adapted by Ameri­can dramatist John Blake White). Anthony’s thesis, as she delineates in her preface, is that “Gothic plays reflected the ambivalence of Ameri­cans. On the one hand, Gothic plays featured a villain who freely transgressed legal and moral boundaries, and yet, as a form of melodrama, these same plays ensured the triumph of virtue, reinstating social order and conventional behavior” (2). This is not exactly a new insight, nor are its political, social, and cultural implications drawn out, and I am afraid that there are not many original, theoretical, or sophisticated analyses in this study. But what the book does offer, as I have suggested, is a fair amount of useful archival research that paves the way for gothic theorists to examine these long-­ neglected dramas. If originality of thought is not strongly evident here, neither is dogged research in the secondary scholarship on the gothic. My own book and articles on the subject are represented by a citation of a Web site that I didn’t even know existed: In place of reading published books and articles, the author appears to have taken the easy way out on a number of occasions by consulting dumbed-­down Web sites. The other topic that is noticeably absent is { 250 }

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any awareness that issues of religion, secularization, and modernization are currently at the forefront of gothic scholarship. For instance, in discussing the phenomenon of the ghost on the gothic stage, there is no analysis of how conflicted the audience would have been about this avatar of Catholicism, medievalism, and animism in their midst. While the book focuses on gender construction, a fairly overworked emphasis in gothic scholarship over a decade ago, it does not examine the more crucial issue that is currently being examined in gothic studies: Why were these works so popular, and what sort of cultural work was being performed for their audience members? If Ameri­cans attended the theatre, were they motivated by a need to find a substitutive religious ritual, or did the plays enact the struggle that was currently being waged between the forces of rationalism, science, and materialism and the opposing forces of supernaturalism, “superstition,” and a resurgence of the transcendent? All of this is to say that Anthony has provided us with a real service by excavating the raw materials we need to locate and study these long-­lost “Ameri­ can” gothic dramas. They need, however, to be placed in a more nuanced, scholarly, and interpretive framework that will allow us to understand exactly why they spoke to their early Ameri­can audiences so powerfully. — D iane L ong Hoeveler Marquette University

\\ Dramaturgy and Performance. By Cathy Turner and Synne K. Behrndt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. xi + 229 pp. $26.95 paper.

When discussing approaches to dramaturgical analysis in Dramaturgy and Per­ formance, Cathy Turner and Synne K. Behrndt, both professional dramaturges and lecturers at the University of Winchester, encourage openness and inclusivity. Building on numerous personal interviews with leading dramaturges in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe, as well as archival research, the authors present an understanding of dramaturgy and dramaturgical analysis that is expansive rather than reductive, suggesting numerous possibilities and applications. As part of the Palgrave series Theatre and Performance Practices, Turner and Berhrndt’s book is intended as an introductory text that offers a brief and accessible analysis of the historical developments and contemporary practices of dramaturgy. Although the authors sometimes discuss dramaturgy in Eu{ 251 }

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rope and North America, their work focuses on the current practices of dramaturgy in the United Kingdom, which is particularly useful because little has been published on the growing presence and diversity of the dramaturge in the United Kingdom. The book is divided into three parts that are further subdivided by thematic categories. Part 1 provides a historical and ideological overview of dramaturgy, addressing the perennial question “What Is Dramaturgy?” While the authors do not limit dramaturgy to any one definition, allowing a multiplicity of voices to work against any such singularity, they understand dramaturgy as the composition of a work as well as the analysis of the composition within the context of a performance event. Using metaphors such as architecture and weaving, the authors work to expand the meaning of dramaturgy to include nonverbal performance, thereby hoping to wrangle the term from its roots as a literary function. The authors’ feelings about the literary roots are clear in the statement “dramaturgs need not be the dusty, literary theatre historians that many . . . had rather believed them to be” (2). Therefore, the dramaturges discussed in the book are largely those who are meant to shatter this view: they are most often engaged in creative collaboration, policy development, and curating experimental performance events. The first two chapters of this section focus on significant moments in the development of dramaturgical practices in Germany, while the third presents a fast-­paced introduction to post-­1960 political theatre in England. Although the dramaturgical work of Lessing, Schiller, Goethe, and Brecht has been explored in previous texts, the brief historical discussion offered by Turner and Behrndt is essential here for providing a foundation for the analysis of dramaturgical practices that follows. Linking Lessing’s largely literary dramaturgy with that of his successors, who became more involved in production dramaturgy, the authors establish dramaturgy as an essentially dynamic and politically engaged practice. This perspective is most evident in chapter 2, “Brecht’s Productive Drama­turgy: From Emblem to ‘Golden Motor,’ ” and chapter 3, “Names and identities: Political Dramaturgies in Britain.” Chapter 2 establishes Brecht as the first modern dramaturge, that is, one who is deeply involved in production and involved in “restructuring theatre for a new society” (41). The chapter offers an analysis of Brecht’s adaptation work, understanding it as invariably dramaturgical and essentially verfremdung (making something familiar strange) in itself. Building on archival work, this chapter offers an especially interesting view of Brecht’s work with his own dramaturges, which is presented as an indispensable dialogic process for the playwright-­director-­theorist. Chapter 3 hinges on the description of Brecht’s { 252 }

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dramaturgical work. It highlights innovations in theatrical form and dramatic structure inspired by politically motivated theatre groups and writers in the United Kingdom since the 1960s. This chapter provides basic definitions and examples of work under the following categories: “Carnival Agitprop,” “State-­ of-­the-­Nation Plays,” “New Dialectical Dramaturgy,” “Women’s Dramaturgy,” and “Cultural Hybridity.” This twenty-­three-­page chapter, perhaps overwhelming to the introductory reader, is important to establish the authors’ theme of dramaturgy as essentially politically engaged activity. The idea that new political commitments and questions lead to new dramaturgies is central to the book. The four chapters in part 2 examine the work of dramaturges in various contexts: “The Dramaturg and the Theatre Institution,” “The Dramaturg and the Playwright,” “The Production Dramaturg,” and “The Dramaturg and Devising.” Each chapter discusses a set of activities (such as programming, audience education, commissioning and developing new works, es­tab­lish­ing contexts, doing research and dramaturgical analysis, map-­making and compass-­bearing), presents multiple perspectives on dramaturgical activities, and explores the tensions inherent in those activities. These chapters contribute to a sense of dramaturgical practice as varied, dynamic, and exciting, as well as in constant negotiation with contemporary production practices and political contexts. For example, in chapter 4 the authors examine the work of institutional dramaturges and curators working in very different contexts—such as national theatres, experimental theatres, arts festivals, and educational theatres—­who face difficult questions regarding public funding, artistic policy, politics, and programming. Part 2 is the most useful section for practitioners and students with limited experience working with dramaturges, for it offers accessible descriptions and provides numerous useful examples. Part 3, “Millennial Dramaturgies,” the final and most concise section (consisting of a single chapter), describes contemporary dramaturgical strategies ­responding to postmodernism’s challenge to “presence” and “authenticity,” current critical theories of space, and the development of interactive technologies. This chapter discusses contemporary work that has increased interactivity by focusing on process, destabilizing time, space, and identity, and leaving more gaps for spectators to fill. The authors argue that contemporary performance (or an interactive, live performance encounter) requires a dramaturgical sensibility from all participants in a performance event, including the writers, directors, performers, and spectators. As with parts 1 and 2, this section works to expand and broaden the spectrum of activities defined as dramaturgical. While such an expansive view may lead to further debates about the dramaturge’s function in a specific situation, it encourages openness to creative collabora{ 253 }

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tion and emerging performance contexts. Thus, Dramaturgy and Performance, written in an accessible style and format, could be a very useful instructional tool for courses in dramaturgy, as well as advanced courses in theatre production, contemporary theatre, and performance studies. — Valleri J. H ohman University of Illinois

\\ Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin Ameri­can Theater and Perfor­ mance. Edited by Diana Taylor and Sarah J. Townsend. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. 325 pp. $39.95 paper.

This impressive volume is a long-­awaited anthology of plays and performances from Latin America in English translation beginning with pre-­Columbian times to the beginning of the twenty-­first century. Following an excellent introduction by Taylor and Townsend, each play or performance is preceded by thorough introductions, divided between the two coeditors. Although the introduction provides an overview of the subject through the centuries, the individual introductions expand on those histories, placing each play, performance, and playwright(s) in its national historical and sociopolitical contexts. There is some redundancy, but information repeated from the initial introduction is a useful reminder that makes each essay complete. This book is the first of its kind and should be read and studied by any serious student of theatre and performance in Latin America. Taylor and Townsend have given themselves (and the reader) quite a challenge, as they state in their preface: “How do we go about selecting fewer than twenty plays that span five centuries and supposedly represent twenty-­six countries?” (xi). Indeed. Theirs is not a rhetorical question, and their honesty and forthrightness sets the tone for what is the essential question when attempting to anthologize (and thus “canonize”) any national performance standard, let alone the theatre of so many distinct countries, cultures, and genres. Thus they avoid overgeneralizations at every turn, pointing out the distinctions between the plays and periods and supplementing their scholarship with thorough and useful bibliographies after each introductory essay. The plays are presented in chronological order beginning with the Rabinal Achi, a Maya-­Quiché dance-­drama presumed to be of pre-­Columbian origins due to the subject matter (a warrior sacrificed) and concluding with a one-­act, { 254 }

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based on improvisations by the two Mexican creator-­performers, Petrona de la Cruz and Isabel Juárez Espinosa, circa 2003. Carefully placed in between these two very different pieces are seventeen plays or performances from other Latin Ameri­can countries. Some of the plays have never been translated into English, while others, like the Rabinal Achi, translated from the French by Richard E. Leinaweaver for the Latin Ameri­can Theatre Review in 1968, remain the standards. A recurring theme throughout the collection is the idea of performance and the performative nature of all human interaction, here set in the frame(s) of ritual, theatre, discovery, and rediscovery about a continent that was “discovered” five centuries ago. The coeditors make it clear that all the pieces they have chosen are just the tip of the iceberg, their ideas of what their readers (and audiences) should know about the cultures represented. They never let the reader forget that the pieces they have selected have all been performed on a stage, in a plaza, in a union hall—wherever people have gathered to explore, assess, and discuss their condition. The essays encourage the reader to visualize each piece. Further, some of the plays (along with others not included in this collection) can be witnessed online at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics Web site, This online accessibility is an excellent supplement that the editors promise will be updated with plays, essays, videos, bibliographies, and articles. This service to the field is unprecedented and to be commended. Some of the plays are old standards, such as the much-­produced and frequently anthologized Night of the Assassins, by Cuban playwright José Triana (1965); The Camp, by Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro (1967); and the seventeenth-­century Mexican classic The Loa for the Auto Sacramental of the Divine Narcissus, by Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz. Other offerings, such as the little-­k nown nineteenth-­century New Mexican folk play Los Comanches or the sixteenth-­century Spanish religious folk play Final Judgement, are not meant to be performed but are included as historical documents. The contemporary plays will certainly be new to the U.S. reader or audience member, yet most of these plays have circulated throughout the Spanish-­speaking world. Most of the translations are by Taylor or Townsend, and the additional translators vary. Ultimately, only those readers with scripts in the original languages in hand will be able to assess the authenticity and usefulness of the translations. For the most part, the plays are definitely “playable,” and it is hoped that they will gain the interest of “mainstream” theatres in this country. Of course, the most popular of the texts, such as Manteca (1993), by Cuban playwright Alberto Pedro Torriente, have been produced, especially by Spanish-­language theatre { 255 }

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companies such as Repertorio Español, of New York City, or Teatro de la Luna, of Washington, D.C. First published in Drama Review in 1996, the translation by Christopher Winks is excellent. The title sets the tone for this collection with its multivalent meanings, each word ripe for discussion and debate: “stages,” “conflict,” “performance,” and indeed the very term “Latin Ameri­can,” which the editors point out was a French invention in the time of Napoleon III. Thus, the reader should not expect to find plays that uphold the status quo or fail to question the hierarchy, especially those pieces that have been produced in the twentieth and twenty-­ first centuries. What binds these disparate plays together is a sense that much remains to be done to improve the lives of the subaltern and even middle-­class citizens of the countries represented and beyond. A footnote points out that none of the plays are representative of U.S. Latina and Latino playwrights, performers, or collectives, which is understandable, given the limited space and time. However, the footnote lists only two anthologies of plays by U.S. Latinos as representative of the many playwrights who call themselves Chicano, Cuban Ameri­can, Dominican, or Puerto Rican. Here again the uninitiated in this country may be unaware of the important artistic and political contributions of U.S. Latina and Latino theatre artists. But this minor detail pales in view of the scholarship and creativity of this collection. This volume is most important as a document of well-­k nown and virtually unknown plays, rituals, and performances that stand as a testament to a long and vital history. It will remain the standard for years to come and should inspire other such collections. — Jorge H uerta Chancellor’s Associates Professor of Theatre Emeritus University of California, San Diego

\\ Ameri­can Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century. By Anne Fliotsos and Wendy Vierow. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. 488 pp. $60.00 cloth.

Rethinking gender bias in the theatre has recently come back into sharp focus. In June 2009 more than 160 playwrights and producers met to hear the results of a year-­long study about bias in the presentation of women playwrights (Patricia Cohen, “Rethinking Gender Bias,” New York Times, June 24, 2009, C1). { 256 }

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This symposium followed a standing-­room-­only town hall meeting in Octo­ ber 2008 at which women playwrights aired grievances about the difficulties of being produced to representatives from leading off-­Broadway and nonprofit New York theatres. Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theatre, was succinct in his response to this event in a New York Times article: “It’s harder for women playwrights and directors [because] it’s harder for professional women in the United States” (Patricia Cohen, “Charging Bias by Theatres,” October 25, 2008, C1). The authors of Ameri­can Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century would certainly agree. Anne Fliotsos and Wendy Vierow frame their excellent book with a premise—there are not enough women directors working professionally in Ameri­can theatre. The authors suggest that one of the major obstacles for women directors is a lack of role models (25). This book goes a long way to correct that particular obstacle by providing fifty profiles of women who have made significant contributions to Ameri­can directing over the past century. They have extensively documented their profiles, providing sources and representative directing credits at the end of each entry. Also, in appendix C they provide an introductory “General Bibliography on Women Directors” for further reading. The title of the book delimits the study—the authors state that the directors must have been born in the United States or have had the major portion of their careers there, and their achievements must be significant, influential in their own time, and have a pioneering or innovative quality (3). The profiles are prefaced by a concise but thorough introduction that contextualizes the book in terms of similar works, provides a brief history of women managers and directors from Caroline Neuber to Laura Keene, and discusses gender issues that affect the work of women directors. These issues include the “glass ceiling” of Broadway, motherhood, and race, and provide a context for the organization of the profiles that follow. Following the delimitations outlined in the introduction, the book proceeds in alphabetical order by director’s last name (a chronological listing by age appears in appendix A). Some of the directors profiled are expected—Anne Bogart, Eva Le Gallienne, Elizabeth LeCompte, Antoinette Perry, Julie Taymor, Mary Zimmerman—while others are unique contributions of this book. Many of the less-­well-­k nown directors worked in the early twentieth century, and the paucity of information on them has obscured their contributions in larger studies about Ameri­can directors. Osceola Archer (1890–1983), for example, was one of the first African Ameri­can directors to work professionally, largely in summer stock. Margo Jones (1911–55), a pioneer in regional theatre, formed the first { 257 }

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permanent professional nonprofit resident theatre in the United States and directed more than one hundred plays in her lifetime. Other unique profiles are of more recent directors who represent a wide range of specialties from directing musicals (Julianne Boyd, Susan H. Schulman, Susan Strohman) to multicultural theatre (Tisa Chang, Margarita Galbran, Muriel Miguel). Some of the more obscure recent directors have not achieved conventional success but have made notable contributions to Ameri­can theatre nonetheless: Sue Lawless, who, except for one ill-­fated production, has never broken the Broadway glass ceiling, has been a major contributor to regional theatres; Carole Rothman, the artistic director of Second Stage Theatre in New York, put her career on hold to raise her two children after her husband passed away, and has not yet returned to directing. Each profile is organized around a similar narrative structure, starting with the highlights of each woman’s career and then focusing on a few key productions with primary source material commenting on these from reviews and interviews. The profiles generally include at least a few anecdotes to enliven the narrative. The earlier and more diverse directors require more narrative interpolation, with conflicting sources noted and assumptions drawn from research: “the implication of these scant reviews are . . .” (60). The authors’ thoughtful research, however, keeps these from seeming like invention. Rather, the narrative is a careful reconstruction from what sources are available to make the authors’ point. The authors seem keenly aware of the limitations of their study. They have restricted themselves to fifty women, made specific choices about how to define success, and have privileged racial diversity. Lacking room to include every credit of every director, the authors opted for “representative directing credits,” focusing on major theatre works. They understand that condensing an entire life’s work (especially a work-­in-­progress) can only provide a snapshot into particular moments in a career. However, their acknowledgment of the difficulties of the task they have set for themselves strengthens the work they have done. As a reference book, Ameri­can Women Stage Directors is the best resource available on the topic. As a textbook, it would be appropriate reading for any theatre history, contemporary drama, or Ameri­can theatre course. It should be mandatory reading for students studying directing. They will find in the book a rich tradition of women directors who can serve as role models for anyone hoping to make a similar contribution to the Ameri­can stage. — Megan S anborn J ones Brigham Young University { 258 }

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\\ Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts. Edited by Elina Gertsman. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2008. 348 pp. $114.95 cloth.

Gertsman begins her introduction to this collection of essays with a question: “What do we mean when we refer to medieval performances?” (1). The advent of performance studies as a discipline has made this question increasingly vital, and the answer lies somewhere in the interstices between the sixteen essays the editor has selected for this volume. The contributors—­medievalists across a range of disciplines—offer examinations of some sort of medieval performance, ranging from Christina Maranci’s explication of possible performance practices connected with external inscriptions on medieval Armenian churches to Jennifer Nevile’s examination of the effects of an emergent written dance culture on dance performances. The collection, which developed out of a 2005 “Performance/Performativity in the Middle Ages” conference organized by Gertsman at the University of Chicago, takes as its mandate the necessity for an interdisciplinary approach to medieval studies, an approach particularly suited to the opportunities afforded by the application of performance theory. Gertsman’s collection stands as a response, in part, to a challenge issued by one of the volume’s contributors, Mary Suydam, in her essay “Women’s Texts and Performances in the Medieval Southern Low Countries.” Suydam encourages a new methodological approach to medieval visionary phenomena that might just as fruitfully be applied to any number of medieval subjects: “I therefore issue a call for both particularity and interdisciplinarity. . . . We need more teamwork among art historians, historians, linguists, and scholars from theater studies, sermon studies, and religious studies, just to name a few” (155). Suydam acknowledges some of the difficulties attendant upon applying performance theory to medieval texts, given the often fragmentary nature of the evidence involved, but nonetheless urges “a methodology that incorporates imagination in regard to narratives of past performances” (155). Gertsman’s introduction wisely avoids trying to recapitulate the entirety of performance theory, focusing instead on a brief overview of some of the field’s central definitional moves. With much of the material in the present volume concerned with sacred performance, the collection reveals a decided (and understandable) emphasis on Richard Schechner’s distinction of ritual from theatre on the efficacy-­entertainment continuum. In part, the book’s emphasis on performativity in medieval studies reveals the breadth of what might truly be considered performance, and Gertsman’s contributors take the broadest pos{ 259 }

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sible view in an effort to reconfigure the practices related to the production and reception of such “texts.” The volume is divided into four sections, each containing essays concerned with a different type of performance, and Gertsman makes explicit her inten­ tion that the essays be read as a unified, if not always univocal, whole. The first section, “Visual Performance: Word, Image, Body,” attends to a variety of different “fluid performative spaces, activated by their respective audiences” (3). Included in this section are the aforementioned Maranci essay, as well as Richard K. Emmerson’s examination of the Trinity Apocalypse, ­Pamela Sheingorn’s phenomenological exploration of the performative reading of illuminated manuscripts, and Gertsman’s own fascinating essay on the simultaneous performances of birth and death in Shrine Madonna statues. In this essay, Gertsman argues for the statue as a “performing object” and attributes to it qualities that underscore the manner in which performance is figured throughout the collection: “unstable and unfixed, transformative and transforming, constituted through and triggered by the presence of the beholder” (99). This emphasis on the interaction between beholder and that which is beheld, between visionary and field of vision, serves as an effective transition into the book’s next section. The second section, titled “Devotional Performance: Preaching, Prayer, ­Vision,” focuses on religious performances and brings to the foreground the question of embodiment. Here, the essayists carefully interrogate the relationship of the personal to the spatial, both physical and metaphysical. Beverly Mayne Kienzle examines the homilies of Hildegard of Bingen for traces of or­ality and suggests that such traces offer new ways of viewing Hildegard’s corpus as a whole. Carolyn Muessig’s “Performance of the Passion: The Enactment of Devotion in the Later Middle Ages” treats primary documents related to “performances” of the Passion by Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Margarita of Cortona, ­Gertrude van der Oosten, and Ladislaus of Gielniow. Muessig’s examination reaffirms the medieval emphasis on the visual that was explored in the collection’s first four essays. Mary Suydam’s essay, in addition to offering a sense of the impe­ tus for the entire collection, examines Beguine spirituality in the southern Low Countries, while the section’s final contributor, Mary Frohlich, uses Michel de Certeau’s notion of stories as “spatial practices” to (re)construct the process through which Teresa of Avila established a “(feminine) authority of hospitality” in opposition to traditional masculine visions of authority as a means of control. The third section, titled “Social Performance: Identity, Language, Au-

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thority,” moves the mode of inquiry from the personal and devotional more fully into the space of the social, examining the intersection of personal performance of self and identity with the political and ideological forces that dominate the public sphere. If the essays in this section are perhaps less clearly linked to one another, each nonetheless vividly depicts medieval performance practices. They encompass Jonathan Decter’s look at the investiture ceremony of the Exilarch, leader of medieval Baghdad’s Jewish community; Daisy Delogu’s explication of identity in the pseudo-­romance Jehan de Saintré; Helen Swift’s Derridean analysis of performative “haunting” in Jean Bouchet’s Jugement poetic de l’honneur femenin; and Rebecca Zorach’s close reading of primary sources related to the public spectacle of the royal entry of Henry II into Rouen. As Gertsman notes in her introduction, Zorach’s essay makes an effective segue into the book’s final section, “Lived Performance: Theater, Dance, Music.” These essays will probably be of the most immediate interest to many theatre scholars, as they focus on more traditional notions of aesthetic performance, including two essays on medieval theatre, one on music, and one on dance. ­Erika Fischer-­Lichte addresses Rainer Warning’s theory of the ritual-­based origins of medieval drama in order to convincingly disrupt what she perceives as an artificial distinction between ritual and theatre. Instead, she posits that “religious and aesthetic experience were/are inextricably linked to each other, the one reinforcing the other” (260). Glenn Ehrstine’s essay links mansion staging with medieval mnemonics, thus allowing for the effects of an individual performance to be devotionally felt long after the physical event had commenced. Yossi Maurey’s essay addresses the modern reconstruction of medieval music and its performance, and the volume concludes with Jennifer Nevile’s essay on medieval dance. Taken as a whole, Gertsman’s collection represents an important intervention in medieval studies, utilizing performance theory as an interdisciplinary bridge with which to connect varying and disparate discourses. I hope that the call taken up by this volume will be answered by others as well, resulting in an increased understanding of how and what medieval performance meant and how those meanings continue to proliferate today. — D arin K err Bowling Green State University

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\\ Theatre Arts on Acting. Edited by Laurence Senelick. London: Routledge Theatre Classics, 2008. xvii + 531 pp. $35.95 paper.

Theatre Arts (also referred to as Theatre Arts Monthly for a time) was one of the most significant journals on theatre during the mid-twentieth century. It combined theory and practice, providing contemporaneous “state of affairs” occurring in Ameri­can and European theatre. Issues included a potpourri of specials, such as “In the Service of Comedy” (September 1938), “Broadway in Prospect” (October 1945), and “French Theatre” (November 1955), to name just a few. In this anthology, Laurence Senelick has assembled Theatre Art’s contributions to acting. He has neatly divided the collection into six major areas of interest: “Acting in the Ameri­can Tradition,” “The British Legacy,” “Foreign Modes of Performance,” “Stanislavsky and His Followers,” “The Actor and His Role,” and “Technical Matters.” These essays examine methods, trends, styles, and working procedures that will guide students of acting toward a better understanding of performance. It is refreshing to read many of the articles in this collection. The mid-­ twentieth century was a period when scholars were expected to know the practice of performance and actors were encouraged to define their methods intellectually. The rise of performance studies has its virtues, but one of its drawbacks is that it has served to divide theory and practice. Lost in the current discourse is the expectation that scholars ought to know practical theatre and actors should discuss their craft in a thematic way. Contributors in this anthology move seamlessly between theory and practice: the actors comprehend the assortment of methods, clarifying the ones they favor; and the academics write informatively about acting craft. Among the gems of this collection are essays by Morton Eustis on Paul Muni, Alla Nazimova, and Katharine Cornell (all of whom dispense sage practical advice); Aimee Scheff ’s interview in search of good acting (with prescient insights by Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, and Lee Strasberg); F. Bruno Averardi’s illuminating description of Eleonora Duse; Stark Young’s astute observations of the actor Mei Lan-­Fang; Jean-­Louis Bar­rault’s specific work on mime; Louis Jouvet’s Artaud-­like analysis of acting; Harold Clurman’s informative description of Stanislavsky; John Gassner’s scho­ larly overview of the Group Theatre; Maurice Zolotow’s balanced assessment of the Actors Studio; and Hume Cronyn’s commonsense approach to acting technique for the stage and camera. There are, however, shortcomings. The editor’s obvious proclivity for Brit{ 262 }

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ish over Ameri­can acting influences his descriptions of people. Senelick claims, for example, that John Gielgud “had given outstanding performances” (103) but the great Ameri­can actress Kim Stanley “played an overwrought Masha” (509) in the Three Sisters (on the contrary, I thought hers was the outstanding performance and Gielgud’s work unassuming but dull). Another great Ameri­can actress, Laurette Taylor, had “distinct but limited talents” (35), while Alfred Lunt (Ameri­can-­born but British-oriented) possessed “a wide range” (287). Editors are entitled to opinions, but when biases obscure objectivity they skewer editorial evenhandedness. Senelick does a masterful job of orchestrating the various sections. But he provides little insight into the deep division between British and Ameri­can acting traditions that occurred during the mid-­t wentieth cen­tury, squandering an opportunity to illuminate this debate played out on The­atre Arts’ pages (Sherman Ewing’s pro-­British essay, 280–84, for example, fa­vor­ing the British star system over the Method’s ensemble approach, needs contextualization). Senelick notes that Marlon Brando’s performance in A Streetcar Named Desire “brought him to Hollywood, ended his stage career and made a torn T-­shirt and mumbled lines the signs of a Method actor” (401). Brando’s stage career ostensibly ended after the Streetcar film in 1951, although he appeared in a regional production of Shaw’s Arms in the Man in 1953. More importantly, Senelick calls attention to Brando’s “mumbling” without sufficiently examining its significance. The English were deemed superior at articulation, but Brando and his coterie had more heart; the Method, among other things, was a system designed to challenge the vocal pyrotechnics of Olivier, Gielgud, and others, stressing instead spontaneity, truthful behavior, and primarily the visceral over the vocal. Like many scholars, Senelick adds to the misunderstanding of the Ameri­can Method when he notes that the Strasberg-­Kazan version in particular was a “medium for personal, rather than public, dramas. Symptomatic of the theatre’s retreat from the political forum, it was not so effective in satire and social protest” (xviii). Whatever else one might think of Death of a Salesman (1949), directed by Elia Kazan and cast with Strasberg’s Actor Studio actors, it was nothing if not social protest theatre. Senelick misses the point that for the Method the personal is the political. As Maurice Zolotow remarks in this anthology, “What has made the Actors Studio a moral force is that it has said in a loud voice to any actor who cares to listen: You do not have to be ashamed of dedicating yourself to self-­k nowledge as a person and self-­f ulfillment as an artist” (274). While the editor’s formidable and encyclopedic contribution cannot be underestimated, the need for a 146-­page glossary of proper names at the end of the book might prove questionable to some, given that similar two-­to three-­ { 263 }

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sentence descriptions are readily available on Wikipedia. Along similar lines, some judicious pruning of the articles would have ameliorated the book’s turgidity (do we really need, for instance, a description of George C. Scott’s ­living room?). Finally, Senelick reports that Edith Isaacs, one of the journal’s editors, dedicated “the August 1942 issue of Theatre Arts to ‘the Negro in Ameri­can theatre’ ” (xvi). This important issue was later expanded into a book published by Theatre Arts in 1947. Why, then, were none of the comments about African Ameri­can acting made in the 1942 issue reprinted in this collection? Other than Young’s essay on Mei Lan-­Fang, the anthology lacks contributions beyond the white establishment. Despite misgivings, the significance of this collection is evident, and Laurence Senelick has done a great service to the scholarly and professional community. — D avid K rasner Emerson College

\\ Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain. By Scott K. Taylor. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. 320 pp. $55.00 cloth.

Scott K. Taylor’s Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain offers a fresh approach to understanding the Spanish concept of honor and its prominence in the cultural landscape of seventeenth-­century Spain. Although Taylor is an early mod­ ern historian, his work is interdisciplinary in its breadth of scholarship as it touches on literary criticism, cultural anthropology, legal studies, and theatre history. In this book, he challenges the dominant theory that Spanish honor was a rigid social code based on shame and cultural anxieties as depicted in early modern Spanish drama and literature. In contrast to the strict “code of honor” traditionally ascribed to Spanish culture, Taylor introduces his concept of the “rhetoric of honor,” which he defines as “the conscious use of phrases, gestures, and actions—including elements of the duel—to convey information about the issues in contention while simultaneously advancing a violent confrontation” (21). Finding the term “code” too limiting in its implication of a formal process, Taylor’s “rhetoric” creates a loose template of action that establishes an accretion of shame which can then rise to violent confrontations—a fluid and performative approach to honor as a construct in early modern society and literature. Taylor presents his theory in juxtaposition to the previously published { 264 }

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theories of social anthropologists Julian Pitt-­R ivers, J. G. Peristiany, and Jane Schneider, who have explained honor as a strict code that supported a family-­ centered morality, acting in and influenced by a larger sense of community. Taylor asserts that their concept of honor developed in part by using the “honor plays” of Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca and discussions of dueling in fencing manuals as examples of actual behavior. Taylor contends, however, that social interactions involving violence in dueling manuals, law books, and “honor plays” of the period do not accurately depict Spanish behavior. For him, these printed accounts of violence depict Spanish life in an imagined or idealized form where two wronged parties duel in accordance to a strict code of actions. He therefore places de Vega, Calderón, and other Spanish playwrights in the ranks of early modern moralists and an “elite culture” of Spanish authors. Rather then relying solely on dramatic and other literary representations, such as novels or dueling manuals, to illuminate the workings of “honor” and “violence” during the era, Taylor focuses on legal documentation of actual historical events. He does employ the plays, however, as tools for an intellectual discourse of honor contrasted with the factual events documented in legal records, by introducing each chapter with a dramatic scene treating the chapter’s topic, followed by an explication of the topic gleaned from his research into the courts. Through this methodology he deconstructs the romanticized anthropological and artistic concepts of honor by comparing them with descriptions of real-­life confrontations involving civil matters of “honor” in early modern Spain. For example, in chapter 4, titled “Men,” which explores the anxieties of masculine honor and its dependency on the behavior of others, Taylor pre­ sents the opening scene of Calderón’s El pintor de su deshonra (The Painter of His Dishonor). He then contrasts the fictional anxiety of Calderón’s Don Juan, cursing that his honor has been stained by his wife, Serefina, with the historical legal misadventures of Juan Camacho, a tailor from Yébenes who was involved in eight separate criminal cases involving honor from 1609 to 1618. Although Don Juan’s troubles are theatrically exciting, the details of Camacho refusing to give up his sword to the alcades, his violent confrontations over perceived public insults, and his seeking sanctuary from the courts in a church cemetery creates a vivid understanding of the practical invocation of honor in Spanish society. Taylor’s strengths lie in the meticulous detail of his primary research in the archives of the fiel del juzgado (faithful to the court) of Yébenes from 1600 to 1650 and the Indultos de Viernes Santo (Good Friday Pardons) issued by the { 265 }

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king of Spain from 1618 to 1652. His catalog of actual violent confrontations in Spain is a treasure trove of primary documentation for scholars of law, history, anthropology, and martial practices. Taylor also creates an exciting paradigm by juxtaposing specific legal cases involving violence against the introductory theatrical scenes for each chapter. Although antithetical to his purpose of using dramatic scenes to illuminate contemporary misperceptions of honor, for theatre practitioners this approach explores Spanish honor in both a practical and artistic sense, as it pertains to his chapter topics of dueling, law, men, women, and adultery. Taylor’s approach in contrasting historical and dramatic accounts of violence unintentionally offers directors, fight choreographers, and actors exciting choices for performance that are grounded in a sense of authority and respect for early modern Spanish playwrights and culture. Although perhaps not Taylor’s intent, this discussion of Castilian society also illustrates the performative elements of legal trials. Here two parties (actors) come together before the court (audience) to describe past events (plot or action), intending to resolve the conflict (denouement). As Taylor notes: “The judicial authorities tended to expend less ink describing the actual combat than they did on the verbal and gestural posturing that preceded, and often accompanied, the fighting” (50). This description highlights the absence of specific actions for combat in early modern plays known for their limited stage directions. My only criticism of Taylor’s impeccable scholarship is that he relegates plays to an “elite” printed world of literature, with minimal consideration of what these plays might have conveyed beyond the printed word, in performance. What Taylor ignores is that comedias, Spanish plays of the Golden Age, were written primarily as pieces of theatrical entertainment intended for performance in the corrales of Madrid. If Taylor had regarded the printed texts as ­examples of performed dialogue, he might have seen in the evidence of his historical research the connections between his theory of the “rhetoric of honor” and the verbal banter that leads to the stage direction “Riñen” (They Fight). In his conclusion, Taylor reaffirms his theory of the “rhetoric of honor” by stating that affairs of honor involved a series of improvisational signifiers as opposed to a strict set of actions. “Instead of locking participants into a code of behavior,” he notes, “honor offered tools to be picked up and used at the discretion of the user—insults, gestures, symbols such as hats and moustaches, and violence were all part of a loose but well understood repertoire of moves and emblems that allowed early modern Castilians to pursue disputes over truth and reputation” (227). Each descriptor Taylor employs has a theatrical element that may have been further manifested through blocking and gesticulation in performance. { 266 }

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Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain significantly broadens our under­ standing of its subject by exploring aspects of “honor” as a social construct with mutable application and behavior. Although a social history, Taylor’s work is immediately applicable for early modern theatre historians and practitioners attempting to analyze, research, teach, or stage the plays of Spain’s Golden Age. More importantly Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain opens new lines of inquiry for early modern scholars of multiple disciplines. — H ugh K. L ong Tufts University

\\ Branding Texas: Performing Culture in the Lone Star State. By Leigh Clemons. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008. xi + 173 pp. $40.00 cloth.

I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. John Steinbeck

In Branding Texas: Performing Culture in the Lone Star State, Leigh Clemons uses her native state of Texas to investigate how nations and regions develop a sense of identity through performance. She explores the emergence of a dominant narrative of “Texanness” over more than 170 years through performative pedagogy reinforcing a selective paradigm. Clemons examines issues ranging from the acceptance of pseudo-­historical events in the inclusion of “official” history to the types of Texans featured as “authentic” in plays and television. This process includes the “branding” of a specific Texas cultural image as a commodity for statewide, national, and international consumption. This brand—­as embodied in the “prototypical” Texan—she calls the “Lone Star.” The Lone Star is almost exclusively white, male, and on the wealthy side, and is exemplified by the most famous example at the time of printing, George W. Bush. Clemons makes clear in her first chapter why the case of Texas is relevant to a wider audience. Texas holds a unique place in Ameri­can regional identity and, through politics and economics, has a strong impact on America and the rest of the world. More to the point, the Texan example is emblematic of how any cultural identity is formed and reinforced through performative (and frequently exclusive) means. Her second chapter addresses the manipulation of cultural geography and history. Examining historical markers, battle sites, mu{ 267 }

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seums, and outdoor “historical” dramas, Clemons shows how each is used as an element of a selective pedagogical performance. The aspects of history included (and not included) strengthen one primary image of “Texan” to the exclusion of others. Chapter 3 looks at films such as John Wayne’s The Alamo, school pageants from the Texas centennial in 1936, the centennial exposition, battle reenactments, festivals, and historical dramas. In each case, the Texas Revolution is repeatedly reinforced as the central event in Texas history and the continued measure of what is and is not “Texan.” This interpretation promotes a racial binary distinguishing “Texan” (white) from “Other” (Hispanic). Chapter 4 investigates the portrayal of small-­town Texans as archetypes of the Lone Star brand. Clemons delves into King of the Hill, currently the most recognizable television example, asserting that it too supports the traditional “whitewashed” Texanness of the Lone Star brand. Clemons also examines Preston Jones’s A Texas Trilogy and the plays of Horton Foote. In Jones and Foote she finds a more honest view of Texans: one attempting to show people as they are. Finally, she skewers the Tuna Trilogy as reinforcing and promoting the worst aspects of presumed Texanness as well as excluding women and Texans of color. For example, men portray all of the female characters, and so the feminine presence exists only as a mocking absence. Nonwhite Texans are missing entirely. The fifth chapter looks at the marketing of the Lone Star brand as a contemporary political tool. The brand sold to the Ameri­can public says that Texans are independent, traditional, and plain speaking and that they believe strongly in justice. The Lone Star is somehow more “Ameri­can” than the rest of America. George W. Bush used this political brand repeatedly with success. Of course, this branding ignores the rich and varied tradition of Texas politics, which includes not only George W. Bush but also Barbara Jordan; however, the purpose of the Lone Star brand is not merely to sell the commodity of Texas and Texanness but also to reinforce the place of the preferred group. In her conclusion, Clemons considers how the sense of Texan “authenticity” affects the individual Texan’s sense of self-­identity, especially those who do not fit the Lone Star mold. Finally, Clemons implies that this process is at work in all cultures. Branding Texas is an important book. While not knowing the basics of Texas history may make it less accessible to the uninitiated, this concern is minor. Branding Texas is a must-­read for anyone interested in cultural construction and reconstruction, and the role of performance therein. It gives the reader an awareness of how culture and identity are manipulated—consciously and unconsciously—to promote one vision of society while marginalizing oth-

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ers. Promisingly, Clemons cites several examples of ways in which marginalized Texans have asserted their cultural value and sought to subvert the dominant brand of the Lone Star. Even though the traditional brand dominates the cultural and historical landscape, women and Texans of all backgrounds are making their voices heard. To this end, Leigh Clemmons has given us a book that not only shows how culture is controlled and branded, but also how it can be reclaimed. — Eric L ove Tennessee Wesleyan College

\\ Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism. By Toril Moi. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 396 pp. $29.95 paper.

Although Toril Moi—a literary and theatre theorist of Norwegian extraction— feels Ibsen is suffering from underexposure due to his distorted reputation as a turgid realist, the plethora of Ibsen productions staged around the globe each year suggest otherwise. Moi, a talented and precise writer, opens Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism with the assessment that Ibsen has fallen out of favor in scholarly circles, and in terms of the attention he receives in theatre production, the issue is not that he is being ignored but that he is being misunderstood in terms of style, technique, and content. Moi provides some interesting solutions to the problem of how we should look at Ibsen as moderns in a postmodern context. Moi’s objective is to show the role Ibsen played in the revolt against idealism, and she does so by tracing the history of European idealism in painting, holding up Ibsen’s work—with both its idealist and increasingly skeptical tendencies—to the worldview that was evolving in nineteenth-­century pictorial art. The book is also rich with excerpts of correspondence with other advocates of skepticism and realism, including Danish critic Georg Brandes, the foremost champion of Ibsen’s work. The opening chapters dedicate some time to defining modernism and even postmodernism as opposed to the antisensual, antihuman, and religiously tinged idealism that dominated prior to—and during—Ibsen’s time. Here Moi’s biases in favor of the great “realism-­that-­is-­more-­than-­realism” that Ibsen shaped is reflected in some negative assertions concerning not only idealism but also

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postmodernism and, perplexingly, even modernism itself. She betrays an impatience with formalism as well, although she makes intriguing comments on Ibsen’s aesthetic innovations throughout the book. The second part of the book casts light on such important early Ibsen works as the epic poem Terje Vigen, which Moi finally opens up for non-­Norwegians— one of the most important national, romantic nondramatic works from his pen. After an exposition of his first produced idealist play, Cataline, Moi discusses Ibsen’s short play The Burial Mound, Saint John’s Night, and his less­-­than-­ successful national romantic dramas such as Lady Inger. The conflict between idealism and skepticism emerges first in the verse drama Love’s Comedy. Moi somewhat strangely glosses over almost completely the great dramatic poems Peer Gynt and Brand, which she refers to as “closet dramas.” She has, however, another large project to take on in this transitional period for ­I bsen. Moi’s work with Emperor and Galilean is historically timely now that Brian Jonston’s strong modern translation of the play has become available and has begun to be taught in English-­speaking countries. Here we get a thorough background on the importance of this transitional play. The emperor in the play is Julian the Apostate, who sought the ideals of antiquity, and so turned back to the old gods, and turned away from the religion of “love” embodied by Roman Christianity. Applying Stanley Cavell’s ideas to this major work, Moi asks: “Why is Julian theatrical? I think of theatricality as a skeptical recoil against the discovery that we are separate from each other” (212). The discovery that “we cannot know the other,” together with a modernist “loss of faith in language,” have brought on an existential crisis (212). Rather than facing a world without meaning in rejecting Christianity, Julian retreats to the Greco-­Roman pantheon of earlier times. He tries to “stage” the Dionysian rites, but the result is nothing more than a “theatrical” facade. In her exploration of Emperor and Galilean, Moi determines that Ibsen is representing idealism in order to critique it. In her chapter on The Wild Duck, Moi is compelled to address (as everyone is) the meaning of the “duck” in the play—which apparently strikes not only us moderns as a little overdone; Andre Antoine’s theatre in Paris, Moi points out, encountered audience members who would “quack” out loud each time the duck was mentioned. Moi directs us to look at who is being “heavy handed” here (249). It is not the playwright. The misguided idealist Gregers Werle turns everything into symbols of his idealist vision until they border on the grotesque, and he tries to create poetic arias (or sermons) and extended metaphors using the wild duck in the Ekdal family’s loft. When Hedvig misunderstands his convoluted symbolism, identifying herself with the duck that Werle has told her must be sacrificed, the play turns from a realist grotesque to tragedy. { 270 }

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For Moi, Ibsen’s modernism begins in earnest with A Doll’s House. Nora is most obviously, at least to modern audiences, objectified by Torvald. He casts her in inconsequential roles designed to contribute to his sense of “beauty” in life. Thus, he is not just a male egoist, he is an “aesthete” (230). In pointing up how clearly idealism is being critiqued in the play, Moi is successful at showing that at the time realism was radical and politically engaged. Idealism looks away, either upward or inward, while realism shows individual engagement and reaction to the world through its intentional gaze. Nora’s consciousness is possessed by “the ideal” when she believes that Torvald will sacrifice himself for her, a condition that reaches even more melodramatic proportions when she contemplates suicide so that he will not have to sacrifice himself. Moi sees the scene in which Nora dances the tarantella as a moment of “theatricality,” revealing her inner state (226). “The striking theatricality of the tarantella—the fact that it is such an obvious theatrical show-­stopper—reminds us that we are in a theatre. Ibsen’s modernism is based on the sense that we need theater—I mean the actual art form—to reveal to us the games of concealment and theatricalization in which we inevitably engage in everyday life” (241). In turning to Rosmersholm, the author gives us a surprising and enlightening perspective on that “challenging” play as an exploration of the problem of language. “If I am a linguistic skeptic, I am convinced that language fails in the task of expression. The words lose their value; I come to feel that I can never hope to know others, or be known by them, as long as words are all I have to go on” (268). Rosmersholm is also dominated by the specter of idealism in such a way that the house, the island, the death of Rosmer’s late wife whose memory he can’t escape, and the visions of the white horses (associated with death) give it a “gothic” quality. Rebecca, who had more or less driven her to her death, lives in a world beyond language and cannot have a living relationship with Rosmer. The pair can only “become one” in idealist fashion, by joining their souls (290– 91). Moi again admits to the melodramatic elements of this “realism,” but once again she is at pains to point out that with Ibsen this is not due to insufficient naturalness or slice-­of-­life realism but rather part of his dramatic method. Although it is not clear if Moi is inadvertently making a case for productions of Rosmersholm that exploit melodramatic and “stylized” elements in the play, she is clearly onto something with this play that has stumped so many. Moi sees something of the absurd in Brendel, referencing Waiting for Godot in describing him. For Moi the play’s theme is “expression, communication, and language” (278). Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism is penetrating. It provides the “freshening up” that Ibsen has needed for a long time. For those who want to { 271 }

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see Ibsen live and breathe on the stage, the book is provocative and invaluable. We are left with a sense of Ibsen grasping the ankle of the angel “Idealism” until it blesses him, and he can move on. — Joe M artin Johns Hopkins University

\\ The Ameri­can Play, 1787–2000. By Marc Robinson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. 405 pp. $45.00 cloth.

Marc Robinson’s The Ameri­can Play, 1787–2000 explores the “nourishing form of ecology” (2) that shaped two centuries of Ameri­can theatre. Robinson questions how Ameri­can drama recycles and reinvents themes and forms, highlighting links between melodrama and the avant-­garde, between Ameri­can tragedy and vaudeville. The work offers both a general survey and a series of microhistories, cutting a wide swath through Ameri­can dramatic and cultural history, while at the same time providing detailed textual analysis of a diverse array of materials. Robinson divides the study into an introduction and seven chapters. Though the book moves (essentially) in chronological order, Robinson avoids a strictly linear or evolutionary narrative by focusing on what he characterizes as the permanently unstable state of Ameri­can theatre and culture and by questioning the meaning of time and timeliness in Ameri­can drama. For Robinson, chaos, confusion, and self-­doubt seem not only the hallmarks of many Ameri­can dramas but the very qualities that underscore their “Ameri­canness.” He prizes this “productive instability” as generative and even necessary (13). Robinson situates Royall Tyler’s The Contrast (1787) and William Dunlap’s André (1798) in his introduction, offering these two well-­k nown plays as early examples of the ways in which Ameri­can dramatists destabilized efforts to establish any kind of national aesthetic. He moves quickly past the history of the early Ameri­can theatre into chapter 1, “Envisioning the Nineteenth Century.” Here he focuses on the visual literacy of Ameri­can audiences, who, he argues, were conditioned to read multiple layers of meaning into the images they witnessed on the stage. Robinson begins the chapter with Henry James’s childhood recollections of the theatre (and will return to James throughout the book) and then segues into the staging history of plays such as The Drunkard (1844) and

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), underscoring the intersections between the stage tableaux of the nineteenth century and silent-­film spectacles of the twentieth. While Robinson acknowledges that the visual spectacle of the nineteenth-­ century theatre seldom held the audience enraptured for the entire play, he does suggest that the audience was “invested with the authority to engage the stage’s visual propositions, versed in the gestural languages that convey emotion and thought, and aware that spectatorship confirms or prefigures the acts of recognition by which one joins the surrounding culture” (42). His discussion of the visual seems particularly applicable to the realm of urban theatre, which might boast some of the more elaborate spectacles that he describes, as well as more sophisticated audience members (sophisticated in the sense that they were in the habit of attending theatre on a regular basis—whether at the Astor Place Opera House or the Bowery). For example, Robinson describes the intricacy of George Aiken’s adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, noting that Aiken “makes visual and aural rhymes that complement Stowe’s narrative ones,” and that he “works out variations on a simple gestural or choreographic theme, and manipulates the stage itself as one might turn shapeless nature into a cultivated, symbolically coded landscape” (54). Given how widely Aiken’s play toured and how frequently it was adapted, truncated, or otherwise altered in its stagings throughout the United States, it would be interesting to speculate on how or whether these alternate versions managed to sustain the visual impact that Robinson argues for. Chapter 2, “Staging the Civil War,” examines the inadequacy of the post– Civil War theatre to express the full horror of the nation’s trauma. For Robinson, the visual spectacle that had dominated the antebellum period gave way to a diminished palette of image and gesture that expressed the literal poverty of Reconstruction and the emotional devastation that paralyzed the country. Robinson also connects the shifting styles of dramatic writing in the postwar period to Abraham Lincoln’s deep ambivalence about his role and about the future of the country (100). This “self-­interrogatory” mood of the postwar theatre may also illuminate some of the deliberately escapist and frivolous spectacles of the era (103). While Robinson finds the undercurrents of bitterness and even mania in comedies such as The Mulligan Guard Ball (1879), his analysis could be extended to the nation’s postwar obsession with spectacles like The Black Crook (1866), spectacles that ultimately demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the visual to establish identity or mediate conflict. Chapters 3 and 4, “Realism against Itself ” and “The Borders of Modern­ ism,” challenge familiar constructions of both genres. Chapter 3 imagines how

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realism ultimately fetishized the quotidian objects that artists, authors, and directors included in their narratives. Not surprisingly, David Belasco offers the quintessential example of the artist who developed a language of “things” in his version of realism, as Robinson notes in his lengthy discussion of The Girl of the Golden West (1905). By contrast, Robinson sees Steele MacKaye as someone who (perhaps inadvertently) illuminated the value of absence and the impal­pable, and thus heralded a shift into new ways of seeing onstage. Chapter 4 traces the shift away from the passionate and emotional attachment to characters and objects, and toward a redefinition of the psychological and physical space of the stage. Focusing on O’Neill, Stein, and Wilder, Robinson argues that each author exploited the limitations of the stage—its inability to bring the audience fully into the emotional or material world of the characters—in order to underscore the unknowable depths of life and meaning hovering just outside the audience’s vision. Chapter 5 challenges the notion that the interwar Ameri­can drama pushed artists and audiences toward a collective experience. Instead, Robinson suggests that these new styles trained audiences “to look to the peripheries for the central dramatic event” (218) and to understand that “drama occurs in the negotiation between private and public cultures” (239). Through works by E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jean Toomer, Robinson explores the ways in which artists struggled to jolt passive audiences back toward individual thought and action by infusing popular culture and the vernacular into the drama. Chapters 6 and 7 return to themes of chaos, as Robinson examines the “kinetic complexity” that shaped postwar and late-­t wentieth-­century Ameri­can drama (261). Chapter 6 invokes innovations in dance choreography as a parallel to the changing patterns of movement, thought, and space reflected in works by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Jane Bowles, and Frank O’Hara. In this chapter, Robinson dissects minutely one major work by each author, tracing patterns of movement and the relation of the characters’ bodies to the spaces the playwrights establish around them. Chapter 7 serves less as a conclusion than as a hiatus in Robinson’s study. He begins by noting that 1961 was the moment that the “ground gives way in Ameri­can theater” and ends with a meditation on Wallace Shawn’s determination to keep his audience in suspense by not writing plays, claiming that “the ideal spectator is most responsive when waiting for something to see” (310, 354). Robinson’s final sentence, which refers to Shawn’s “refusing to decide” on a genre or topic for a new play, reflects his own seeming ambivalence at the end of this substantial study (354). He casts a wider net than some of his previous chapters in terms of the number of { 274 }

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playwrights and artists mentioned, sweeping quickly through Lorraine Hans­ berry, Sam Shepard, Maria Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, Tony Kushner, and others before focusing more closely on “four playwrights who stand out in this crowded Ameri­can landscape . . . Edward Albee, David Mamet, Suzan-­Lori Parks, and Wallace Shawn” (324). For Robinson, each of these authors pursues a kind of neutrality that displaces the author’s traditional obsession with engaging or manipulating the spectator’s attention. Throughout this voluminous work, Robinson engages with an impressive and imaginative array of materials that shape his persuasive arguments about the transformations of both the Ameri­can theatre and its audience. He offers students of both theatre and dramatic literature new ways to interpret language, staging practices, and spectacle in the playhouse. His dynamic study will doubtless provide a strong foundation for scholars across a range of disciplines. — H eather S . N athans University of Maryland, College Park

\\ The Influence of Tennessee Williams: Essays on Fifteen Ameri­can Playwrights. Edited and with an introduction by Philip C. Kolin. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008. 229 pp. $39.95 paperback.

Unquestionably, Tennessee Williams is one of the great Ameri­can playwrights. Spanning five decades, his dramatic works have served as foundational texts for the development of Ameri­can theatre. His use of language and metaphor, depth of character, powerful themes, and rejection of kitchen-­sink realism have inspired and incensed audiences, critics, and playwrights for decades, and will likely continue to do so in the future. In The Influence of Tennessee Williams, Philip Kolin and his contributors explore the myriad ways in which Williams touched Ameri­can theatre. Kolin’s introduction nicely grounds the volume, explaining that the fifteen essays “investigate the complex relationships between Williams’s canon and the works of other major playwrights—male and female, white and black, heterosexual and gay, popular and radical” (6). Each essay examines the relationship between Williams and another Ameri­can writer, including William Inge, Neil Simon, Edward Albee, A. R. Gurney, Lorraine Hansberry, Adrienne Kennedy, John Guare, Sam Shepard, August Wilson, David Mamet, Beth Henley, Christopher Durang, Tony Kushner, Anna Deavere Smith, and Suzan-­Lori Parks. { 275 }

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Many of these playwrights owe Williams a clear debt, which, Kolin notes, is either largely unexplored or deserving of further inquiry. Michael Greenwald’s “ ‘[Our] Little Company of the Odd and Lonely’: Tennessee Williams’s ‘Personality’ in the Plays of William Inge” delves into the complex mentoring relationship between the two midcentury giants and notes many parallels in their work. In “Image, Myth, and Movement in the Plays of Sam Shepard and Tennessee Williams,” Annette Saddik investigates the “intersection of theme and style” and persuasively argues that Williams and Shepard “are concerned with the postmodern question of essence versus appearance and the slipperiness of ‘authentic’ identity as it relates to image” (110–11). David Crespy paints a convincing picture of a “fundamental subtextual structure of non-­realistic, non-­linear plasticity in real action” (43), building on Williams’s notions of a new, plastic theatre in “ ‘Inconspicuous Osmosis and the Plasticity of Doing’: The Influence of Tennessee Williams on the Plays of Edward Albee” (supplemented by an interview with Albee, also published in this collection). While some of the connections to Williams are straightforward, Kolin also explores Williams’s subtler influences, emphasizing the importance of showing “how Williams’s plays have been radicalized in the works of several Afri­can Ameri­can playwrights” (11). A good example of this is Harvey Young’s “Twilight in Tennessee: The Similar Styles of Anna Deavere Smith and ­Tennessee Williams,” which reads Williams through a “contemporary, critical lens . . . with the aim of locating those moments when his poststructuralist and social activist voice appears” (188). Similarly, Sandra Shannon’s discussion of August Wilson provides a comprehensive history of Wilson as well as thoughtful comparison of the two writers’ “deep disregard for the strait jacket effect of traditional realism” (126). Harry Elam Jr.’s “Theatre of the Gut: Tennessee Williams and Suzan-­Lori Parks” provides a fascinating analysis of race, sexuality, and theatre “from the gut” functioning as “forms of social resistance attacking the status quo and social complacency” (201–2). Although it is not possible to discuss all of the articles in this review, the majority are interesting and clearly argued. While there is some unevenness in the writing and organization of individual articles, the range of scholarship is impressive, and the volume as a whole is well balanced. The essays explore the work of fifteen major Ameri­can playwrights, encouraging readers to expand their appreciation of Williams’s influence on twentieth-­century theatre. The breadth of the work traces the development of important themes and devices in Ameri­can theatre, from the representation of family and regional character to the use of myth and the challenging of realism. Yet it is also likely that many readers will be unfamiliar with plays that are foundational to the in-­depth tex{ 276 }

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tual analysis, whether it is part of Williams’s expansive and thoroughly covered canon or some of the more than forty-­five plays by the other playwrights. Overall, The Influence of Tennessee Williams provides valuable insights into both the enduring legacy of one of the great Ameri­can playwrights and the themes, styles, and concerns of late-­t wentieth-century Ameri­can theatre. While the essays are a bit uneven and may necessitate additional reading in order to follow the argument, most are clearly written and approachable. Scholars of Williams and Ameri­can theatre can find fodder for discussion, and the comprehensive index will prove useful to scholars and students hoping to easily locate and distill relevant information on specific plays or playwrights. Many will probably locate this volume while searching for information on a specific play or writer and stay to learn more about Williams’s place in Ameri­can ­theatre. — Eliz abeth A . O sborne Florida State University

\\ Signatures of the Past: Cultural Memory in Contemporary Anglophone North Ameri­can Drama. Edited by Marc Maufort and Caroline de Wagter. Brussels: P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2008. 312 pp. €34.90 cloth.

This volume serves to remind us that the past is always inevitably present in our cultural memory, that it is easily rewritten and most certainly not constituted solely by the white, Anglo-­Saxon, male tradition. The past and its traces in the cultural memory of nations as complex as the United States and Canada include the settlers and conquerors but also necessarily the “settled” and conquered— those who were bought, sold, made invisible, and so never allowed to acknowledge or perform their identity or to hand it down to their descendants. Signa­ tures of the Past brings together twenty-­one essays that explore how memory of the past and a national or cultural identity are created; it also explores how the forced denial of the past has affected the identity of African Canadians and Afri­can Ameri­cans, First Nation men and women, and those of Hispanic or Asian origin. The volume is made up of mostly academic essays, but it is built up around the centrally placed contribution of two Chicanas, the dramatist Cherríe Moraga and the performance artist Celia Herrera Rodríguez. The essays by Moraga and Herrera Rodríguez speak from the heart rather than from an impersonal center of learning. Moraga’s essay, “Indígena as Scribe: The (W)rite to Remember,” is clearly a piece of writing to which Moraga has { 277 }

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given much attention and thought. She invokes the past of the indigena, that is, the woman who has been colonized, demeaned, and denied visibility, and urges her to look backward and recover the ability of her forebears to live in greater proximity to the spirit of the “ancient original world (151).” Herrera Rodríguez’s essay is based on an interview with Cherríe Moraga and the text of her performance piece Cositas quebradas, which has been performed on various university campuses, including the University of Málaga, Spain, where I had the good fortune to see it. However moving the written version of Cositas quebradas undoubtedly is, I found the performance much more evocative of what Moraga has called “the broken places of our small life and grand history” (167). The remaining essays of the volume deal with plays written by playwrights belonging to majority or minority ethnic and national groups of the North Ameri­can continent, and reinforce the message of the two centrally placed essays by Moraga and Herrera Rodríguez, namely, the importance of words in the creation of our history, the importance of memory, of not forgetting, and of learning to forge our identity not only from what the powers that be impose on us but also from that which comes from the heart, the spirit, the memory of the past. The best of the essays deal with the plays under examination not only as evidence that the cultural memory of specific groups of people has been obliterated but with the significance of production or performance. Harry J. Elam Jr.’s “Remembering Africa, Performing Cultural Memory” analyzes that wonderful scene in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun when Walter and ­Beneatha return to their African roots in what is frequently seen as a moment of (drunken in the case of Walter) exhilaration. Elam draws our attention to the fact that this is a “highly performative moment within the performance” (32) and that, as such, it links cultural memory and performance. Ric Knowles, in “Performing Intercultural Memory in the Diasporic Present,” analyzes plays by Asian and Moroccan Canadian dramatists and adds the creation of identity as a vital product of the performance of cultural memory, while Karen Shimakawa studies the audience reception of plays by Korean Ameri­cans Julia Cho and Young Jean Lee, only to show that the two dramatists fail in their intent to be specifically Korean. Audiences appreciate their plays as universal and so find it easy to feel comfortable with the characters and the action. Audience reception is also examined by Susan Kattwinkel in a probing essay on how Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues has been transformed into the international phenomenon of V-­Day, celebrated in around ninety countries. She, too, emphasizes the audience’s craving for a politically correct statement as she explores how words can change what we know or remember; Kattwinkel

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claims that The Vagina Monologues has “lost much of its identity as a collection of words by real, individual women, and become more of a collective political statement, designed to make people comfortable” (253). A similar need for comfort is either a principal or underlying theme in many of the essays that discuss the memories of the past held by those we consider “Other.” Craig Walker argues that Ameri­cans and Canadians react differently to those who do not conform to normally accepted standards of physical appearance; he is unable to develop his argument in this short essay, but his conclusion that Ameri­cans see “doomed freaks” where Canadians seek “hopeful monsters” (22) could well be explored further to include other plays, say Venus by Suzan-­Lori Parks or­ Heroes and Saints by Cherríe Moraga, and of course many more. Sheila Rabillard, in her essay on Marie Clements’s The Unnatural and Ac­ cidental Woman, discusses how the same material is interpreted differently by audiences when presented onstage or in the cinema—as quest or as revenge— even when the screen adaptation is the work of the playwright. Nationality can also influence the reception of a play: Birgit Schreyer Duarte questions the success of Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy in Germany and argues that a German audience cannot understand the issues of identity construction that a Canadian audience will immediately perceive. Identity construction, another underlying theme in this volume, is well exemplified by Michele Elam’s essay on Carl Hancock Rux’s Obie Prize–winning play Talk, in which the absence of the protagonist facilitates the manipulation of reality, memory, or identity. Many authors question what they term official multiculturalism, that is, the extent to which the performance of plays by minority dramatists or about minority issues really addresses the problematics of these groups, rather than attempt to impress a majority viewpoint and thus a feeling of comfortable belonging or understanding on the audience. The essays by Roberta Mock, Jacqueline Petropoulus, Phil Howard, Micaela Diaz-­Sanchez, and Caroline De Wagter can be included among these, although they deal with issues of identity creation or the rewriting of history through memory, as do those of Jerry Wasserman, Guillermo Verdecchia, Ginny Ratsoy, Sammie Choy, and Mary Blackstone. Most of the authors are very much aware that they are dealing with works written for the stage, with plays that examine history, memory, or the creation of identity through knowledge of the past and are able to successfully link form to content. In some cases, however, the origin of these essays—yet another highly successful conference (2007) organized by the University of Brussels, which has created a tradition of conferences on the Ameri­can drama—is

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perhaps too obviously a short paper on a specific conference theme. Nonetheless, even these shorter essays provide descriptive introductions to plays that are not necessarily widely known to scholars of the Ameri­can theatre, particularly those by younger playwrights. This is an interdisciplinary volume in which interpretations of the historical and cultural past of two nations promote an understanding of how national, ethnic, and personal identities are shaped. It will interest those teaching and researching North Ameri­can drama for the accent placed on the significance of form and the innovative approaches to plays as constructing memory, history, and identity. — Barbara O z ieblo University of Málaga

\\ Women in Irish Drama: A Century of Authorship and Representation. Edited by Melissa Sihra. Foreword by Marina Carr. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. xix + 241 pp. $74.95 cloth.

On April 2, 1902, in St. Teresa’s Hall in Dublin, British-­born and fervent Irish Nationalist Maud Gonne indelibly created the title role of Kathleen ni Houli­ han, the symbolic Mother Ireland who inspires her native sons to defend her honor by becoming martyrs for her—the Nation—in her quest for independence. Exemplifying the “overall disempowerment of women in mainstream channels of artistic expression” (9), William Butler Yeats claimed sole authorship of ­Kathleen ni Houlihan. Scholarship, however, has proven that Lady Augusta Greg­ory penned the majority of the play. Gregory remains the token woman represented in the canon of Irish dramatic literature, a monolithic figure of Irish drama whose undeniable contributions have nonetheless overshadowed those of other women of the Irish theatre for the last one hundred years. It is appropriate, then, that Kathleen ni Houlihan, a play for which her authorship has only recently been restored, is perhaps her most important work. The character of Kathleen, promoting feminized concepts of the nation, determined subsequent portrayals by male Irish playwrights of Irish women as icons, disavowing their lack of agency as subordinates in the patriarchy (1). Lady Gregory’s creation of Kathleen ni Houlihan (exacerbated by the hypnotic performance of the striking and influential Maud Gonne) as well as other female characters symbolizing Ireland dominated patriarchal twentieth-­century Irish drama as the most common representation of women. { 280 }

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Certainly, as Janelle Reinelt asserts in her preface, contemporary playwrights such as Marina Carr and Marie Jones have some level of recognition, as their works have been produced internationally, and “most theatre scholars and avid theatregoers will have heard of Lady Gregory and associated her with early Irish Nationalism” (xii). However, as Reinelt adds, “few will know in any detail many of the women in between” (xii). Marina Carr notes in her foreword that ­Melissa Sihra’s edited collection begins to name the “vanished women” (xi) and their unknown or forgotten plays. Sihra, who is interested in representation as well as authorship, proposes that her collection will further attempt “to interrogate the signification of ‘woman’ as idealized trope of nation and to look at the ways in which the works of later Irish dramatists either contests or per­petu­ates this legacy” (1). Sihra commissioned twelve essays by Irish academics, arranged chronologically “in order to enable the historical, social and thematic contexts to emerge organically” (11), with brief interchapters providing insight regarding the “governing of gender, sexuality and the female body  .  .  . as encoded by both the Catholic Church and Irish Constitution” (1) that twentieth-­and early-­t wenty-­ first-­century female playwrights observed, reported, and challenged. Eamon de Valera’s 1937 Constitution of the Republic of Ireland enshrined woman in the home, but urbanization, a booming economy, demands for equal pay and education, and the signal election of Mary Robinson as the first female president in 1990 reflect the evolving status of women since the Republic’s founding, and the fairly recent decriminalization of contraceptives (1985), homosexuality (1993), and divorce (1995)—as well as vocal demands for the legality of abortion—­reflect the Catholic Church’s waning political power following allegations of child sex abuse by the clergy and other scandals. Sihra acknowledges that the chronological framework allows for “moments of intersection and thematic interrelationship [that] have materialized in the volume of their own accord” (11). While not a comprehensive survey of the twentieth century—Sihra acknowledges that it was not possible to include all of the playwrights she would have liked (12)—the essays are remarkably diverse, utilizing a range of methodologies to examine some of the seminal works of Irish women playwrights. Particularly poignant is Lisa Fitzpatrick’s “Taking Their Own Road: The Female Protagonists in Three Irish Plays by Women,” which details Yeats’s demand that Margaret O’Leary rewrite the ending of her play “The Woman” prior to its opening at the Abbey in 1929 so that the headstrong female protagonist unequivocally dies, an ending that dramatically altered the play’s sexual and gender politics. O’Leary acquiesced. As a woman’s place was legally the home, { 281 }

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Fitzpatrick explains, “the tragic heroine was in ascendance over the free adventurous character who might seek her own destiny” (84). It is important to note that “The Woman” remains unpublished. Equally poignant is Mark Phelan’s essay “Beyond the Pale: Neglected Northern Irish Women Playwrights, Alice Milligan, Helen Waddell and Patricia O’Connor.” While certainly women playwrights from the Republic have largely been ignored, women playwrights from Northern Ireland are erased completely because of Irish studies’ exploitation of “the singularity of ‘nation’ as the dominant conceptual and organization category of historiography and criticism” (109). Phelan calls for an abandonment of this concept to “replace this singularity with a plurality of histories, restore the histories of numerous neglected women playwrights, and in the process rejuvenate the wider field of Irish theatre history” (109). All three Northern Irish playwrights rejected the notion of woman as nation, and all three encountered sexual discrimination that shaped their plays. Sihra also includes several essays about the representation of women in the works of male Irish playwrights Frank McGuinness, Stewart Parker, and Samuel Beckett. In addition to the richly informative essays, Sihra provides a valuable appendix of Irish women playwrights and their plays from 1663 to 2006, including date and place of first production. Playwright Marina Carr, herself the subject of a chapter by Sihra, wonders, “Are their plays any good? This will be the next very important question which follows the retrieval of these women from obscurity” (xi). — W. D ouglas P owers Susquehanna University

\\ The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson. Edited by Christopher Bigsby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ii + 227 pp. $29.99 paper.

Appropriately and respectfully rolled out for publication, Christopher Bigsby’s The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson has the advantages of time and aesthetic distance. Published in 2007—two years after the playwright’s death— this important compilation of fresh insight on Wilson’s work comes at a moment when interest in the playwright is at an all-­t ime high. In addition to fifteen original essays written by some of the most respected scholars, critics, and theatre practitioners in the field, The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson has to its credit incisive critical analyses on each of the ten plays that constitute { 282 }

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Wilson’s now-­legendary twentieth-­century chronicle of the African Ameri­can experience. As one who has written extensively on August Wilson and who is well acquainted with both the milestones and the minutiae of his artistic life, I found Bigsby’s introductory essay, “August Wilson: The Ground on Which He Stood,” especially enlightening. Bigsby cultivates new ground by situating the playwright’s work within several heretofore unexplored contexts. For example, his in-­depth look at the experiences of the European immigrant as represented by Wilson’s German father offers a counterbalance to the migration, separation, and reunion experiences that affect Wilson’s African Ameri­can ­characters. Bigsby provides additional portals to understanding Wilson by contextualizing his ten-­play cycle within a host of topics, such as the European Holocaust, Arthur Miller, Franz Fanon, Black Arts and Black Power movements, and the cultural nationalist aesthetics of 1960s poets and playwrights. Bigsby’s familiarity with both specific details and nuances of Wilson’s life provides a helpful framework for the fourteen essays that follow. Many of the essays are heavily biographical in their content, yielding much about the playwright that has never before been divulged in print. While the increasing number of published studies on Wilson—pioneered by scholars Peter Wolfe, Mary Bogumil, Mary Snodgrass, Kim Pereira, Harry Elam, Joan Herrington, and Sandra Shannon—essentially embrace the well-­k nown narrative of his life, in some way each contributor to Bigsby’s collection offers new and intriguing details that may counter some of the myths and falsehoods that have already begun to surface and that threaten to obscure the truth about the playwright’s life and his art. For example, “Been Here and Gone,” by journalist and Ameri­can theatre critic John Lahr, is layered with savory asides about the life and playwriting career of August Wilson. Lahr’s revelations on the extent to which Wilson jump-­started the careers of well-­k nown talents such as Charles Dutton, Samuel L. Jackson, Courtney Vance, Angela Bassett, Ruben Santiago-­Hudson, and Laurence Fishburne are riveting. The same is true of his incisive commentary on the sobering testimonies of members of Wilson’s Pittsburgh posse, chief among whom is his longtime friend Chawley Williams, whom Lahr refers to as “a black drug dealer turned poet” (39). As if to offset Williams’s streetwise recollections of his friend and ally, Lahr offers testimonies from high-­profile actors such as James Earl Jones, who observed a more universal struggle in Wilson’s characters: “He’s so faithful to the blackness. He’s faithful like a father—that represents fidelity to him” (39). In another largely biographical entry, Mary L. Bogumil’s “August Wilson’s Relationship to Black Theatre” foregrounds aesthetic issues of his playwrit{ 283 }

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ing and situates his dramatic works within the larger context of black theatre. Bogumil argues from the outset that “Wilson did not begin his career with a specific objective in relation to the black theatre. Rather, he began as a writer, a poet first, living and representing the varied experiences of those in the black community” (53). Likewise, Stephen Bottom’s “Two Trains Running: Blood on the Tracks” acknowledges the energy inspired by the black theatre movement that grew out of the politically charged 1960s. Well versed in this potentially explosive moment in America’s history, Bottoms not only documents the role that radical 1960s artists played in shaping Wilson’s aesthetics but also gives a behind-­the-­scenes account of what went on during a turbulent yet pivotal decade that is largely downplayed in Two Trains Running. Like Bottoms, Pereira continues to shift the focus of the collection away from emphasis upon the playwright’s biography toward an exploration of various discourses (African myths, history, storytelling, and song) at work in the individual plays that make up his ten-­play cycle, arguing that, in Wilson’s work, the constant forces that dissolve all borders are music and myth. David Krasner’s “Jitney, Folklore and Responsibility” looks at Wilson’s revised play for the 1970s by holding it up to standards of black writing stipulated nearly seventy-­five years ago in Richard Wright’s 1937 manifesto, “Blueprint for Negro Writing.” While Krasner’s discussion offers much-­needed critical commentary on this largely ignored play, it misses an opportunity to more clearly define the connections between Wright’s manifesto and Wilson’s mission. Nev­ ertheless, Krasner offers a solid and useful reading of the play and fills the void in the amount of serious critical attention given it. Alan Nadel delineates new meaning in the crossroads between music and history in Wilson’s ten-­play cycle, essentially building upon Pereira’s earlier claim. Nadel stretches Pereira’s assertions that Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom “resembles a jazz composition” (102) to suggest that this observation is also true of “Wilson’s approach to drama” across the board. In “Gem of the Ocean and the Redemptive Power of History,” Harry Elam looks at Wilson’s early 1990s play through the lens of history. Here, much as he does in his award-­w inning study The Past as Present in the Drama of ­August Wilson, he argues that “Wilson is not simply reviewing this past and reevaluating history. His project is so much more proactive as he considers how this past now impacts on the African Ameri­can present” (75). While Elam challenges us to contemplate Wilson’s use of history as a two-­way affair between past and present, Felicia Hardison Londre’s “A Piano and Its History: Family and Transcending Family” attempts to deemphasize the need to know the particularities

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of the historical moment that informs The Piano Lesson. She observes that although readers and spectators are naturally inclined to “do the math” and to deduce from a host of cultural, political, and economic time markers to situate the play, this tendency runs counter to the playwright’s efforts to deemphasize history, time, and space. Deceptively titled “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” Samuel Hay’s essay demonstrates how key episodes of Wilson’s life become fodder for what is arguably Wilson’s most important (and, as Wilson often admitted, his favorite) play. The tragic resonance in Wilson’s plays emerges as a recurring topic of concern in several essays. In “The Tragedy of Seven Guitars,” Brenda Murphy demonstrates how Wilson redefines tragedy and the tragic hero through the specimen of Seven Guitars. Matthew Roudane is eloquent in dissecting the tragic figure of Troy Maxson in “Safe at Home? August Wilson’s Fences.” The tragic dimension of Wilson’s ten-­play cycle continues to be the focus of both original and insightful discussion in Joan Herrington’s “King Hedley II: In the Midst of All This Death.” Margaret Booker’s “Radio Golf: The Courage of His Convictions—Survival, Success and Spirituality” is the last of a thematic grouping of strategically placed essays that invite us to look closely at the ideas Wilson espoused on a play-­by-­ play basis and the playwriting skills he drew upon to convey them. Booker’s efforts are commendable for so accurately depicting the cultural, political, and economic backdrop of 1997 Pittsburgh and for showing how Wilson creates art out of the negative by-­products of this milieu. David K. Sauer and Janice A. Sauer round out the collection with what is much more than a survey of existing scholarship on the playwright. In effect, “Critics on August Wilson” offers cautionary advice to any aspiring critic of his work, maintaining that Wilson’s plays demand nothing less than complex, culturally sensitive readings. In a gracious and strategic gesture, Bigsby ends The Cambridge Compan­ ion to August Wilson with the unfiltered words of August Wilson couched in the form of Bigsby’s conversation with him in November 1991 while both were in London for the National Theatre’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Never one to shy away from talking about his craft—here as well as elsewhere in a plethora of published interviews—Wilson provides a wealth of material and uncharted landscapes for expanding the field of Wilson studies. — Sandra S hannon Howard University

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\\ Directors and the New Musical Drama: British and Ameri­can Musical Theatre in the 1980s and 90s. By Miranda Lundskaer-­Nielsen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 244 pp. $74.95 cloth.

In recent years, musical theatre scholars have invoked the term megamusical to categorize the musical behemoths that emigrated from London’s West End to Broadway in the late 1970s and their later Ameri­can imitators. Megamusicals deal in economies of scale—large casts, lavish sets, aggressive and enduring market campaigns, amplified emotions, sweeping orchestrations, and a generally sung-­through score. Jessica Sternfield’s The Megamusical (2006) helped not only to define but also to solidify the term as it examined how many of Broadway’s more recent commercial successes—Cats, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera—fit into this category. However, as Miranda Lundskaer-­Nielsen notes in her new study, Directors and the New Musical Drama, the term mega­ musical is categorically reductive, as it refers to the musical’s size rather than its form or content. What is of interest to Lundskaer-­Nielsen is not how or why these musicals won the praise of audiences or the scorn of critics—although both would make for fascinating studies—but rather the dramaturgical methods and staging vocabularies employed by a new genus of Broadway-­musical director. The gradual shift away from the director-­choreographer—a staple on Broadway for most of the 1960s and 1970s—precipitated the introduction of the director-­ dramaturge or director-­playwright in the 1980s. Having emerged from text-­ based traditions, directors like Harold Prince, Trevor Nunn, Nicholas Hytner, and James Lapine crafted unsentimental musicals that addressed serious issues and sophisticated themes—a stark contrast to the musicals produced during Broadway’s golden age. For Lundskaer-­Nielsen, these directors have worked to expand the definition of the Broadway musical. Determining how they helped accomplish this feat is the focus of her work. She achieves this goal through analyzing representative productions by these directors, offering a careful examination of the contexts into which these musicals were born and chronicling their respective journeys to Broadway. The author uses the term musical drama to classify these productions. Musical dramas draw upon Broadway-­musical traditions established by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but they apply techniques for dramaturgy and staging normally found in straight plays. These musicals treat sober themes and often

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manifest a sociopolitical slant. They have more to do with Wagnerian opera or the Brecht-­Weill collaborations than with Mame. Helicopters and falling chandeliers appear alongside songs about murder, abortion, poverty, debauchery, and revolution. Historical context is prized above the production number, and authorship is a joint effort—the director, working in concert with the librettist, effectively coauthor the musical’s book. Lundskaer-­Nielsen identifies four major agents that occasioned the rise of musical drama (and organizes her volume accordingly): the work of Harold Prince, the directing tradition in Great Britain, the rise of the nonprofit musical, and the emergence of the reimagined revival. After a brief history lesson to establish context, she segues into case analyses and close readings of major musical dramas. Her examination of both libretto and production history proves quite useful and helps to situate these plays in the musical theatre of the decades in question. Citing Harold Prince as a provocateur of musical drama, the author dedi­ cates her first two chapters to his methodology and his production catalog. Noting his penchant for history, social issues, avant-­garde traditions, and implicating audiences, Lundskaer-­Nielsen suggests that Prince’s dramaturgically based treatment of Cabaret, Company, Evita, and Sweeney Todd paved the way for the likes of Trevor Nunn and Nicholas Hytner, whose methods are addressed in the book’s third and fourth chapters. Having trained in the world of Britain’s subsidized theatre, these directors offered a text-­based staging vocabulary that effectively transformed Les Misérables and Miss Saigon into operatic tragedies. Helicopters notwithstanding, these productions were relatively simple in design. Their true scale therefore lies in their respective librettos and scores. These British directors treat the musical as serious drama rather than lighthearted entertainment or sentimental hokum. Chapters 5 and 6 are dedicated to reviewing the musicals produced by Play­ wrights Horizons and the Public Theatre. By the author’s charge, the nonprofit theatre has become the oasis for directors of musical drama as well as the emerg­ ing composer-­playwright. Away from Broadway, directors like James Lapine, George C. Wolfe, and Tina Landau create “art musicals”—chamber pieces not necessarily intended for the Broadway stage. Some do transfer and have successful runs; however, as the librettos frequently address contested topics or existential questions, they stand in opposition to typical Broadway fare. Lundskaer-­ Nielsen argues that distance from Broadway allows these directors to play with the musical’s form and bend Broadway convention, a luxury that might not have been afforded if the musicals had been produced for the Great White Way.

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The final two chapters explore how these directors deconstruct golden-­age musicals. This discussion is a particularly timely inclusion as critics and artists continue to debate the ethics and efficacy of this practice. To the directors of musical drama, a musical is not a closed text, and the Broadway canon is not off-­limits. The revivals that have emerged from this tradition offer radical rereadings of the libretto that correspond to a larger cultural or social reassessment of its content. For example, Nicholas Hytner’s production of Carousel offered a psychoanalytic reading of characters’ loneliness; Trevor Nunn’s interpretation of Oklahoma! was a sociological study of frontier life; and Cabaret as directed by Sam Mendes presented a more accurate and brutal depiction of the Holocaust. As Lundskaer-­Nielsen argues, nostalgia curtails the artistry of theatre. If the musical canon is to remain viable, it needs to remain timely, relevant, and open to reinterpretation. Directors and the New Musical Drama is a welcome addition to Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History. Edited by Don B. Wilmeth, the series contains books on vaudeville, burlesque, and other popular entertainments, but this volume is the first to address musical theatre. Lundskaer-­Nielsen’s prose is reader-­friendly, and her analyses of production histories are thorough. As a treat for Broadway enthusiasts, she includes transcripts of her interviews with several current composers and directors of musical drama. Discussions with Adam Guettel, William Finn, David Leveaux, James Lapine, and others usefully complement her study. — Bryan M . Vandevender University of Missouri

\\ Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works. Edited by Sharon Friedman. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009. 290 pp. $45.00 paper.

The year 2010 marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of It’s All Right To Be Woman Theatre (IARTBWT), the first all-­female performance collective in New York City. The eleven members of this troupe—some political activists, some artists, some both—came together at Alternate U to perform origi­ nal stories rooted in their experiences as women. This new content, developed in consciousness-­raising sessions, necessitated new theatrical forms and new modes of production—a nonhierarchical division of labor, nontraditional venues, and no separation between audiences and actors. The production of original { 288 }

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stories by groups such as IARTBWT is one mode of feminist theatre praxis. Revision of extant narratives is another. Feminist revision involves the imaginative reinterpretation of master works, classical texts, and cornerstones of the canon in ways that foreground women’s experience, reclaim and re-­present negative and demeaning images of the female sex, disrupt fixed and essentialized notions of “woman,” and expose the constructedness of gender categories. In 1972, Adrienne Rich outlined the significance of this aesthetic and political project for women: “Re-­v ision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction—is for us more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know our selves” (“When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-­Vision,” College English 34, no. 1: 18). This new anthology, Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works, edited by Sharon Friedman, suggests that over the past four decades the praxis of feminist revision has evolved into its own theatrical genre, one that has exerted such a profound influence on postmodern aesthetics that it shapes even those productions not directly informed by or engaged with feminist theory and practice. The book takes as its premise the notion that feminism, in its multiple incarnations, shares with experimental theatre “a questioning attitude toward traditional means of representation and . . . semiotics,” a healthy suspicion of universal truths, and a belief that texts are inherently unstable, interactive, and open-­ended (8). To highlight the importance of feminist revision on contemporary drama­ turgical practice and the development of critical theory, this collection examines theatrical reimaginings of urtexts of the Western tradition (many of which are themselves adaptations) created and staged since the 1980s. The book is divided into four sections: classical theatre and myth (with essays on Aeschylus’s Orest­ eia and Ovid’s Metamorphoses); Shakespeare and seventeenth-­century theatre (covering Lear, Othello, Phédre, and The Rover, among others); nineteenth-­and twentieth-­century novels, short stories, and essays (dedicated to adaptations of The Scarlet Letter and three female-­authored texts: Jayne Eyre, The Awak­ ening, and A Room of One’s Own); and modern drama (the shortest section, with articles on A Streetcar Named Desire and A Doll’s House). Within these sections, essays are arranged according to the period and genre of the source text. The chapters represent a range of methodological approaches and explore a wide variety of thematic issues. The contributors include both scholars and practitioners, listed here in alphabetical order: Cheryl Black, Johan Callens, ­Lenora Champagne, Kristin Crouch, Lesley Ferris, Sharon Friedman, ­Deborah Geis, { 289 }

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Amy S. Green, Julie Malig, Carol Martin, Sandee K. McGlaun, Chiori Miyagawa, Andrea J. Nouryeh, and Maya Roth. There is no way an anthology on the topic of feminist revision could be comprehensive. Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works appropriately makes no attempt to be inclusive, and Friedman laments in a footnote that some major productions are omitted, most notably Caryl Churchill’s A Mouthful of Birds (an adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae cowritten with David Lam) and ­Cherríe Moraga’s The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea. While I understand the need to carefully delimit the scope of this book, I feel Friedman’s decision to anchor this study in revisions of canonical Western texts in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom limits the impact this volume might have. Of the fourteen essays in this collection, many of which are eru­dite and illuminating, only Roth’s provocative and compelling “The ­Philomela Myth as Postcolonial Feminist Theater: Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Night­ ingale” engages in any significant way with issues particular to intercultural, transnational, or global feminist theatre, although Martin’s “The Political Is Personal: Feminism, Democracy and Antigone Project” gestures in this direction in an interesting essay on secular individualism. The volume’s lack of diversity coupled with its Anglo–North Ameri­can focus and its rehearsal of tired taxonomies (most notably in the introduction’s “capsule history of feminist theater theory” that concludes with the 1990s) reflects an anachronistic mode of feminist inquiry, one more in line with the hegemony and homogeneity of earlier decades than befits a book published in 2009. The cracks in the anthology’s architecture, however, do not damn the book, not by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, they reveal that the practice of revision remains essential to the project of feminism and that as feminists we must revisit and reimagine not only male-­authored texts and patriarchal structures but our own history, ideology, and modes of critical and cultural production as well. To revise Rich for our generation: until we can understand the assumptions in which feminism is drenched, we cannot know our selves. — Sara L . Warner Cornell University

\\ The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder. Edited by Robin G. Wilder and Jackson Bryer. Foreword by Scott Donaldson. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. xxxviii + 729 pp. $59.95 cloth.

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The editors of this collection estimate that Thornton Wilder wrote over ten thousand letters during his lifetime, and they examined more than six thousand for this selection. Other collections already exist: Edward M. Burns and Joshua A. Gaylord edited the correspondence of Wilder and Adaline Glasheen on Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (A Tour of the Darkling Plain, 2001); and Burns, Ulla E. Dydo, and William Rice edited The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder (1996). In each of the latter cases, the focus is on someone other than Wilder. The notes and commentary on the correspondence with Stein seem to operate on the assumption that Stein matters, and Wilder is significant only in that he happens to have corresponded with Stein. Somewhat more justifiably, the editorial focus of Wilder and Glasheen’s correspondence is actually on Finnegans Wake, and the purpose of that volume, according to Burns, is “to encourage others to tour the plain of Finnegans Wake” (Tour, xxvi). But the editors of this collection, while fortunately actually interested in Wilder, make what seems to me to be an odd choice as well: “we have had to omit a number of valuable letters, especially those relating in detail to Wilder novels or plays or to specific works by other writers, because they would have required the reader to possess extensive knowledge of the material discussed” ( xxxvi–xxxvii). My own view is that readers come to a volume of an author’s letters because they are interested in the works of that author and seek further information; that is, the readers of this volume are likely to have precisely that detailed knowledge or may be inspired to go find it by the kind of letters omitted from this collection. This is, of course, by no means the only way to think about letters. Wilder lectured on the great letter-­w riters and admired Madam de Sévigné so much he turned her into a character in The Bridge of San Luis Rey. That is, a well-­turned phrase or well-­crafted letter has its own appeal, and there is no shortage of such moments of aesthetic satisfaction in this volume. Wilder is a graceful correspondent; writing to his friend C. Leslie Glenn, a fellow teacher at Lawrenceville School in the 1920s, Wilder touches on his return to the school, El Greco paintings at the Worcester Art Museum, reviews of his first novel (The Cabala) and proofs of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, praises a woman Glenn is apparently seeing at Smith, and closes with the felicitous “The English language (as I’m always saying) does not comfortably permit of the expression of great regard between gentlemen; but let me indulge in a paroxysm of understatement and announce that I am pretty attached to you, pretty attached as it were” (213). As lettres go, that is rather belle. Moreover, as Scott Donaldson points out in his foreword, Wilder has not been well served by his biographers: Richard H. Goldstone’s Thornton Wilder: An Intimate Portrait (1975) bizarrely turns Wilder into a nineteenth-­century { 291 }

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Puritan who nevertheless commits symbolic patricide in most of his works, and while Linda Simon’s Thornton Wilder: His World (1979) and Gilbert A. Harrison’s The Enthusiast: A Life of Thornton Wilder (1986) have no axe to grind, they also lack a complex understanding of the context of Wilder’s career. This collection, organized chronologically, includes biographical headnotes, and serves, as Donaldson observes, as a life in letters. It was certainly a productive life of varied experience. A 1942 letter to Robert Maynard Hutchins, Wilder’s friend from Oberlin College and Yale, who, as president of the University of Chicago, brought Wilder there to teach, mentions finishing The Skin of Our Teeth, volunteering to join the army (Wilder finished as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Corps, having served in North Africa and Italy), and working with Alfred Hitchcock on the script for Shadow of a Doubt. Of equal importance to what the letter covers is that it was written during that time period; Hutchins publicly opposed U.S. involvement in World War II, but although they were in complete disagreement on this point, Wilder and Hutchins remained friends. And Wilder made lots of friends. Along with the letters to family and friends who were not famous, the collection includes correspondence with Robert Frost, Edward Sheldon, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Katherine Cornell, Ruth Gordon, Charles Laughton, Max Reinhardt, Montgomery Clift, Lawrence Oli­ ver, and numerous other glitterati of literature, stage, and screen. What is clear is that Wilder was an exceptionally likable man, and despite the limitations of the collection for people doing scholarly work on Wilder, it is a great pleasure to get to know him better. Not surprisingly in a collection of this length, I had quibbles. Wilder writes to his sister Isabella in 1913 that his father will not let him “read the Rubaiyat of Omar!” (31). That strikes me as interesting (O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, for instance, presents its young hero as infatuated with it), but the reference is not indexed under “Omar,” “Khayyam,” or “Rubaiyat,” so it might be overlooked. A letter addressed to T. E. Lawrence, and which is clearly to Lawrence as indicated by a reference to his translation of Homer, begins “Dear Mr. Shaw” (244). There is no explanation in the footnotes, and I am curious as to the discrepancy. Nevertheless, the volume is handsomely printed, with helpful notes, many pictures, and large print. Theatre scholars will find much of interest—Wilder planned on a career in drama by his mid-­teens—and general readers will enjoy the chatty nature of many of these letters. — Christopher J. W heatley The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

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\\ Unfriendly Witnesses: Gender, Theater, and Film in the McCarthy Era. By Milly S. Barranger. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. xviii + 197 pp. $37.50 paper.

The culture war has many battlefields but perhaps none as contentious as the patriot game, where the Left and the Right have skirmished for a century now over who is more “Ameri­can.” From the Palmer Raids to Joe McCarthy to CIA torture sites, the rhetoric is repetitive and simplistic, but the stakes are enormous. Can the essence of the Constitution be preserved in the face of national traumas—real and imagined—or must we from time to time suspend the rule of law in order to preserve the republic? With each new revelation from former Eastern-­bloc spy agencies that “Hiss was guilty,” or that “Ethel Rosenberg was innocent,” we are embroiled again in the spy drama that poses as history, ferreting out the appropriate traitors and patriots while ignoring the vast “collateral damage” of real bodies, careers, and reputations. Milly Barranger chronicles that collateral damage among what she terms “McCarthy’s women,” those courageous actors, directors, and writers who refused to cooperate with the various congressional committees investigating communism in the performing arts industries. Unlike many of their male counterparts, who made headlines with celebrity appearances and highly publicized confessions, the women here were uniformly uncooperative and clung to their Fifth Amendment rights even though they knew that such pleas would endanger, if not doom, their careers. They were brave in the face of the terror, and they were scared. Judy Holliday spoke for most when she recalled, “You think you’re going to be brave and noble. Then you walk in there and there are the microphones, and all those Senators . . . it scares the shit out of you. But I’m not ashamed of myself because I didn’t name names” (31). Nor did Anne Revere, Margaret Webster, Kim Hunter, Uta Hagen, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and others. Each suffered, of course, in the blacklisting that followed their defiance. Kim Hunter won an Oscar for Streetcar, but Warner Brothers did not pick up her option and no other studio called. Holliday promised not to reveal her testimony in Senator Pat McCarran’s closed hearing, but she was dropped as a panelist on What’s My Line and The Name’s the Same anyway. Anne Revere, who had a successful career in films such as National Velvet, Body and Soul, and A Place in the Sun, could not find work in Hollywood and finally resorted to giv-

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ing theatrical readings of Salt of the Earth, the controversial pro-­union film produced by Paul Jarrico, Herbert Biberman, and other blacklisted artists. Barranger contends that the women were not only punished for their behavior but, for the most part, they were also silenced, and she is determined to reclaim their voices. Using interviews, congressional testimony, letters, and documents, she undertakes “an act of restoration of the political histories, the damaged careers, the heartbreaks and triumphs” of these “unfriendly” women (xiii). While the seven case studies that make up the core of the book are compelling and revealing—the chapter on Hellman and Parker is especially interesting given the linkage of their professional and personal careers—Barranger also describes the institutions that propelled the black and “gray” lists. She reveals how the election of Mady Christians to the Actors’ Equity Council in 1941 erupted into a furor of communist name-­calling that reverberated in the union for two decades. Actors’ Equity was courageous and denounced Hollywood blacklisting when the Screen Actors Guild and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees would not, but given the mounting pressures even Equity was forced in 1953 to adopt a non-­communist loyalty oath. Barranger also invokes the infamous Ruth Shipley, who ruled over the U.S. Passport Office and controlled foreign travel for Ameri­can artists. Shipley’s treatment of luminaries like Paul Robeson and Arthur Miller is familiar, but Barranger’s account of the way Shipley made Margaret Webster write a “life story” denying communism or any communist affiliations is appalling. Shipley also lectured Webster on joining too many organizations and demanded that she sign a loyalty oath before granting her a passport to vacation in France. Kim Hunter’s courageous testimony in the John Henry Faulk trial finally wounded the blacklisters, and some of the women here were able to salvage their damaged careers. Revere was praised in Hellman’s Toys in the Attic, and Uta Hagen was revitalized under Webster’s direction in St. Joan. But the damage was widespread, and Barranger’s record of its impact is precise and impressive. The focus of Unfriendly Witnesses is tight—essentially seven careers—and I sometimes wished for a broader view of the outrageous male chauvinism that fueled the committees. There is no mention of women like Senator Margaret Chase Smith, for example, who stood up to McCarthy demagoguery but who has been erased by the—deserved—tributes to Edmund R. Murrow and Joseph Welch. Still, Barranger’s vivid case studies illuminate the victims of a shabby time “which bequeathed to the cultural landscape a record of blighted lives, relationships, marriages, families, careers and social programs” (130).

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B ook R evie ws — Barry W itham University of Washington

The Book Review Editor would like to acknowledge and apologize for the omission of Jeffrey Veidlinger’s The Moscow State Yiddish Theatre: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage (Indiana University Press, 2001) in the review of Benjamin Harshav and Barbara Harshav’s The Moscow Yiddish Theatre (Yale University Press, 2007). The review, published in Theatre History Studies, volume 29, mistakenly identified the Harshavs’ work as the “first full-­length study” on the topic.

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Books R eceived

Bartels, Emily C. Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Bhatia, Nandi, ed. Modern Indian Theatre: A Reader. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Brown, Jayna. Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008. Chapman, Don. Oxford Playhouse: High and Low Drama in a University City. Hertfordshire: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2008. Doyle, Brian Leahy. Encore! The Renaissance of Wisconsin Opera Houses. N.p.: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009. Everett, William. Rudolf Friml. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Fisher, James. Understanding Tony Kushner. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008. Forman, Valerie. Tragicomic Redemptions: Global Economics and the Early Mod­ ern English Stage. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage: 1574–1642. 4th ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Harrington, John P., ed. Irish Theater in America: Essays on Irish Theatrical Di­ aspora. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009. Hubbard, Valorie, and Lea Tolub Brandenburg. The Actor’s Workbook: How to Become a Working Actor. Boston: Pearson Education, 2009. Jiang, Jin. Women Playing Men: Yue Opera and Social Change in Twentieth-­ Century Shanghai. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009. Kennedy, Dennis. The Spectator and the Spectacle: Audiences in Modernity and Postmodernity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Lal, Ananda, ed. Theatres of India: A Concise Companion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. { 297 }

B ook s R eceived

Magee, Gayle Sherwood. Charles Ives Reconsidered. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Marranca, Bonnie. Performance Histories. New York: PAJ Publications, 2008. McEvoy, Sean. Ben Jonson: Renaissance Dramatist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. Mee, Erin B. Theatre of Roots: Redirecting the Modern Indian Stage. London: Seagull, 2008. Nathans, Heather S. Slavery and Sentiment on the Ameri­can Stage, 1787–1861: Lift­ ing the Veil of Black. New York: Cambridge, 2009. Opstad, Fillian. Debussy’s Melisande: The Lives of Georgette Leblanc, Mary Gar­ den and Maggie Teyte. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2009. Papa, Lee, ed. Staged Action: Six Plays from the Ameri­can Workers’ Theatre. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009. Plunka, Gene. Holocaust Drama: The Theater of Atrocity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Roach, Joseph. It. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. Rozik, Eli. Generating Theatre Meaning: A Theory and Methodology of Perfor­ mance Analysis. Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2008. Sagala, Sandra K. Buffalo Bill on Stage. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008. Schweitzer, Marlis. When Broadway Was the Runway: Theater, Fashion, and Ameri­can Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. Shand, G. B. Teaching Shakespeare: Passing It On. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-­Blackwell, 2009. Taylor, Diana, and Sarah J. Townsend, ed. Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin Ameri­can Theater and Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michi­ gan Press, 2008. Turnbull, Olivia. Bringing Down the House: The Crisis in Britain’s Regional The­ atres. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Woodruff, Paul. The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Zarhy-­Levo, Yael. The Makings of Theatrical Reputations: Studies from the Mod­ ern London Theatre. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008.

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V irg inia Anderson is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. She received her Ph.D. in 2009 from Tufts University, where her dissertation focused on the effect and representations of the AIDS epidemic within Broadway theatre. Awo M ana Asiedu is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts and was recently appointed Acting Director of the School of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana. Her research interests include contemporary African theatre and performance, the sociology of theatre, and theatre for purposes other than entertainment alone. Her publications include articles on the plays of Ama Ata Aidoo and Tess Onwueme and also on West African theatre audiences. C heryl Black is an Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Missouri. Her publications include The Women of Provincetown (2002) and numerous book chapters and journal articles on women in theatre, feminist theatre, and African Ameri­can theatre. Jocelyn L. Buc k ner is a Ph.D. candidate in Theatre Studies at the Uni­ versity of Kansas, where she is completing her dissertation, “Shady Ladies: Sister Acts and the Representation of Cultural Identity in Ameri­can Popular Performance from Emancipation to the Great Depression.” Her research interests include early-­t wentieth-­century U.S. performance, contemporary feminist performance, and the plays of Suzan-­Lori Parks. She also holds an M.F.A. in Theatre from Virginia Commonwealth University and serves as the Managing Editor for the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. { 299 }


Bert C ardullo is a theatre and film scholar who has authored, edited, or translated many books. Among his titles are Theater of the Avant-­Garde, 1890– 1950; Soundings on Cinema; and What Is Dramaturgy? Andre w C arlson is a Ph.D. candidate in Theatre History at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. His research focuses on Shakespeare and race in Ameri­can culture and on the connections between theatre scholarship and theatre practice. He also holds an M.F.A. in theatre performance. For the last several years, he has been a member of the acting company at the nationally renowned Great River Shakespeare festival in Winona, Minnesota. Christopher Connelly is a professional theatre director and independent scholar. He has traveled to Africa several times, including three trips to Kenya on grants from the Andrew H. Mellon Foundation. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois. Roy Connolly is Programme Leader for Drama at the University of Sunderland. His research interests include Irish theatre, twentieth-­century theatre practice, and theatre and psychology. He has published widely on these topics. R ebecca He w ett is an Assistant Lecturer at Texas A&M University in College Station. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Performance as Public Practice Program at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is currently completing her dissertation on representations of gender, race, and class in Progressive Era pageantry. E. Patrick Johnson is Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Performance Studies and Professor in the Department of African Ameri­can Studies at Northwestern University. He is the author of Appropriating Black­ ness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity (2003) and Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South—An Oral History (2008), and coeditor (with Mae G. Henderson) of Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology (2005). F elicia H ardison Londré, Curators’ Professor of Theatre at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, won the Theatre Library Association’s George Freedley Memorial Award for her twelfth book, The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of Ameri­can Theatre, 1870–1930. She is currently researching a book on French and Ameri­can theatre artists during the Great War. { 300 }


L auren McC onnell is an Assistant Professor at Central Michigan University. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in The­ atre and Drama, she specializes in Slavic and East European theatre. In 2010 she will be a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Mbala D. N k anga is an Associate Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He works on the history of theatre and practices of traditional performance in Francophone Africa. Praise Zenenga is an Assistant Professor in the Africana Studies Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has published articles and book chapters on gender, censorship, and experimental theatre in Zimbabwe. His current research is on theatre for social change, often referred to as theatre for development or popular theatre.

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