The Democratic debates, a provocative new play, and a frustrating high school graduation speech all took place within three days in June. Oh, and I was in the midst of retiring.
Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA has two different theaters, fairly close together. One tends to present cutting edge material. America v. 2.1: The Sad Demise & Eventual Extinction of The American Negro had its world premiere June 14-30 on the St. Germain Stage. It was written by Stacey Rose, and directed by Logan Vaughn
America v. 2.1 “is a day in the life of a troupe of Black actors who are charged with re-enacting the revised history of the once-thriving American Negro. It quickly becomes a day of reckoning. A provocative, funny and dark look at Black Americans in post-apocalyptic America.” Well, “funny” is of course quite subjective.
From a local review: The play within a play shows the “‘demise of the American Negro was brought about by his own hand’ and ‘by his own actions,’ despite the loving care and ‘noble efforts of the American government and American culture.
“Resurrecting the minstrel show style of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the playwright deploys outrageous caricatures ostensibly to demonstrate, using song and dance, how the Founding Fathers saved the African savages…
“The play takes place in the ‘not too distant future,’ in which the actors, who are clearly aware of the untruthfulness of the history they present, are forced by an authoritarian regime to perform this script ten times in twelve hours, six days a week, or suffer unspecified consequences. In chilling voiceover announcements the presumably white audience is warned against documenting what is seen onstage, and, what is worse, advised when to disengage the safety locks on their firearms.”
The review points out the fine actors: Peterson Townsend as Jeffery, Jordan Barrow as Grant, Kalyne Coleman as Leigh, Ansa Akyea as troupe leader Donavan, and Peggy Pharr Wilson as the “officious and frightening Voice.”
The New Play Exchange notes “The troupe finds themselves at odds with the state of their own existences while being painfully oblivious to the parallels and intersections their lives draw to that of the very Negroes whose story they are bound to tell.”
Intentionally, there was no chance to applaud the performance. The talk back session afterwards allowed the primarily white audience to express how the play made them feel angry, outraged, sad, et al. Some considered it a call to work for change.
The next day, we went to a high school graduation about an hour away. It was VERY HOT outdoors at 6 pm. The speaker was a graduate from three decades ago, and has been working in the military industrial complex for a number of years. Along with the usual bromides, such as having a purpose and work hard, was a message that was about 180 degrees from what I saw the day before.
Race, gender, sexual orientation don’t matter. Work hard and you’ll succeed. And don’t let certain forces take away what you’ve worked hard for, as he conflated democratic socialism with the fight against communism during the Cold War.
The talk generated some to give a standing ovation – n.b., not from us – but it was a fascinating bit of propaganda. Most of my family was not impressed, though one noted that he was “a product of his times.”