Cultural Tips #3

Submitted by Nora Nicosia

I saw two exciting plays last weekend. They both dealt with the issue of race in our country and with the opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture; it is an amazing time

The first play was at the Mark Taper Forum, It is a revival called “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” by playwright August Wilson and directed by Phelicia Rashad who you might remember from the Cosby Show. She said that she wanted to shine a light on the complications and humanity of Wilson’s characters.

The play is set in Chicago in 1927 and in this play Wilson creates characters who profits from the music business. The question he poses is whether the music of the blues is an art or a commodity for white America. In a splendid review in the LA Times by Charles Mcnulty this week, he says “ It speaks of the same racism that is making headlines today.” And that “through an honest historical reckoning can a richer humanity be found” The play is filled with humor, excellent playing by members of the band and singing by Lillias White.

August Wilson was an African American who grew up in hard times born in 1950 to mixed race parents. He was bullied in school, but educated himself by reading all the books in the local library and decided he would like to become a poet. However, when he married, he organized a theatre group and took a book out of the library which taught him to be the director.Wilson wrote 10 plays, one per decade, to raise the consciousness of Americans through theatre, and echo the poetry in the everyday language of black Americans. He received Pulitzer prizes for two of his plays “Fences” and “Piano Lesson.”

The second play is called “Barbecue” at the Geffen Theatre in Westwood. It is a new contemporary play, the collaboration of playwright Robert O’Hara and Director Domingo Colman. Commissioned by the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago to write a new play with focus on race. What did black people want to say about race? “The Place is Middle America, Time (after and before.)”

Barbecue is an ensemble piece of 10 strong individualistic characters who are both black and white. Each gives their own perspective on how to live life today. That is what makes it so interesting but complicated and they say that is what makes a great play. When we left the theatre we had a discussion of what the play was saying other than successful people, lie and get away with it so that others can profit. Can’t wait for the review. Fun and interesting to experience so I highly recommend it.


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