When I first heard about this plot, I was skeptical. Two brothers named Lincoln and Booth. Two African-American brothers named Lincoln and Booth. Lincoln gets a job at an amusement park portraying Abraham Lincoln which requires him to wear whiteface and allow tourists to assassinate him. Can you see what I mean? But Parks pulls it off with humor and a claustrophobic intensity. And to imagine Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright in the roles. . . well, wow. I’d love to see it.
One of my favorite times of the year comes when theatres announce their shows for the following seasons. It always seems possible to see everything. One I won’t miss is Lynn Nottage’s Sweat. I saw one of her earlier plays, Ruined, and was blown away not only but the play, but the research and interviews that went into creating it.
This play, set in a very different time and place, does overlap with Ruined in one essential way. What, she asks in both plays, will people do when they seem to have very few choices?
The characters who populate the bar that is the setting for this play have to contend with each other, with current events, and with family history. No one gets out unscathed, and I think a Director must have quite a challenge centering the play. Whose story is it? There’s certainly no one without flaws and ulterior motives. It’s one of those plays where you’d like to get inside the heads of any number of characters to find out what they are really thinking.
How did we get here? This play tells us.
This one hasn’t lost one bit of its power. War profiteering. A father’s secret cannot stay secret. What boys want their fathers to be. When money isn’t enough. I’ve seen it before. I knew what was coming. I still raced to the end. It breaks your heart. It has to.
I am continuing to wind my way through Arthur Miller’s Collected Plays (Penguin, Miller Centennial Edition). I’ve never seen this one live; it certainly read very quickly. It reminded me of The Crucible in places – an individual’s decision to sacrifice himself for a larger idea. And the individual, as in Miller’s more (most?) famous play is not the expected sort. He’s more of an everyman. There seemed to be a wide array of characters for such a short play, so I wonder if they can be brought to life so quickly. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never seen it. I can’t even remember seeing it produced anywhere. Next is All My Sons.
I have a ticket to see the production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago on Saturday, and I’m pretty excited. I’ve read great things about Ivo Van Hove’s production. I saw the show once before in a production that was designed for a student audience. I enjoyed reading it. Though the language may be dated at times, the conflicts at its core are not. And the accusation that marks the climax of the play both puts one in mind of the HUAC as well as the power of the accusation – so often fueled by social media – today.
I saw a production of it on Broadway with Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub and Danny DeVito, and it has been kind of haunting me ever since. I wanted to read it, but I could not find a copy of the script by itself, so I finally went in for the collection of his plays produced for the centennial of his birth two years ago. Despite the dated language – we don’t call each other ‘kid’ anymore – it holds up well; it’s complicated. No one is simple or oversimplified. Everyone has a story. The story they are living, the story they tell themselves to keep living. Time passes. Laugh. That’s all.
I think it was the Steppenwolf fan non-fiction biography that put me in the mood to read some plays. I saw the first, In the Red and Brown Water, at the Guthrie in Minneapolis. I could tell then that there was something new and exciting about this playwright, though I can’t claim that I forecast his being the source for something like the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. Like Suzan-Lori Parks, he is playing with what to me are conventions of drama. There are multiple occasions when he simply puts the name of the character in the script. For example (from the third play, Marcus) –
How, as a director, are you meant to honor that on stage? Should our focus shift from one to another? Does this anticipate McCraney’s camera eye? The camera, in this case, should move from Marcus to Osha to Shua?
McCraney also has the characters narrate their own stage directions. From In the Red and Brown Water –
She wanna be friends with us?
Smiling like the light of the night.
Note that ‘smiling like the light of the night’ is neither italicized nor is it in parentheses. There is, in fact, no real spacing between the two lines. Elegba is meant to say the words.
I think it’s cool.
The stories, the first two of which are set in the ‘Distant Present’ and all of which are set in a fictional bayou town in Louisiana, are filled with water. There is a coming storm. There is also unnerving dream that is filled with water. There are multiple intertwined generations. There is love of all kinds. There is even a character named Terrell in Marcus. Granted, it’s spelled differently than the author’s name, but it’s an interesting choice, especially since the character is not such a nice guy. The stories are not so much the calm before the storm as the tension between the calm and the actual storm. I hope that someone decides to produce all three plays together.