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Yesterday we went to go see August Wilson's Jitney, part of his "Century" cycle (ten plays for ten decades that REALLY need to get published in a collected volume). We've seen two other Wilson plays before, back when we lived in DC/Baltimore. Scott considers him the greatest American playwright, and wistfully wondered aloud why his plays aren't done more often. "Racism," I said flatly, because all the plays are about African-Americans by African-Americans; I want to say "for African-Americans too" even though I recognize that's hard to say given the whiteness of America's theater scene. But anyway, this was a Broadway production, so everything's best-of-the-best on top of the amazing writing, and just. Let me put it this way, the tears started in ACT ONE. Everyone.

We sat between a middle-aged black woman--who told us about how she got to see the limited run of Fences (another Wilson play) with Denzel Washington before the movie adaptation came out, and we were all TELL US EVERYTHING!!!!"--and two white dudes who were clearly theater buffs, but also one was having to explain to the other about how to take care of a newly-adopted cat and it was unintentionally hilarious (1. How do you get to be middle-aged without ever having interacted with cats before?? 2. Sample conversation: "And it keeps jumping on me in the middle of the night and biting my toes. What's up with that? It pisses me off!" "It's a kitten, it's playing with you. It might be cold in your apartment so it wants to be near you, too, so cuddle it.").

But anyway, I sat there watching the play, and the thing was, the decor of the jitney shop (jitneys are unlicensed cabs) from the early 70s looked **so much** like my dad's shop when I was little, it made me doubletake: there was the beat-up couch (the one on the set was tan instead of burgundy, and ditto the boss's office chair, which was otherwise like my dad's), the work desk, the magazine holders, the rotary phone on the wall. And the men onstage *sounded* like the men I knew growing up, too. And I mean, there's always intersections of race and class, but it was a feeling sitting there next to two white dudes who saw working class black folks and me seeing working class black folks who were my family growing up. (My dad worked with black folks all his life, and he was fairly dark-skinned too, which always makes my family's racism more bizarre and confusing to me, like, is this overcompensation or what???) And I wish I could articulate more about this in a more meaningful way, but it always strikes me that, for all of my current middle-class signifiers--academia, the ability to travel, and so on--there's a part of me that's still where I grew up and it is something that is going to be largely unseen by middle-class people around me, and part of this is because of whiteness and part of this is because, as a friend once said with a mixture of cluelessness and bluntness, I "sound educated." But on the flip side, there's also a bunch of--and I'll be blunt and say it--the classic white feminists who will tell me I "don't get it" because they assume things from my background that aren't there, and therefore have to ~explain to me things I already know which is it's own special kind of bullshit. But so, anyway, I'm watching this play that is like what I grew up with, the background and the nosiness of some people and other people trying to get by and so on, and it's just a rare thing when what you see is your real life and you know other people are watching a show.


Anyway, other things we did: We made pilgrimages to The Strand and to The Drama Bookshop where we mostly behaved; Scott got some more August Wilson plays (we have a bunch but it's always tricky to find them) and I got an oop anthology of SF women writers from the 1930s and 1940s, and a booklet of Hamilton-related stuff to sightsee, because tomorrow is going to be Hamilton Day for us. (Related: on Broadway, there is a Hamilton STORE for Hamilton merch. A whole STORE.) And today we spent at The Met, and I gotta say, I appreciate an institution that has so many antiquities that eventually they just stop making labels and put in computer terminals so you can look up objects by item number. But we got to see an entire Roman chariot, reconstructed ROOMS of Roman villas and Assyrian palaces, pieces of the Temple of Artemis from Sardis, an actual surviving garment from the Silk Road from the 7th c.--which also surprised me because it was a long tunic and boots that looked like they would fit a medium-sized modern person, which surprised me given how tiny most armor and such from the period is; ngl I'm enjoying pretending it belonged to a time-traveler. :)

But most of all the art has been an emotional restorative to politics. Even though the marches this weekend give me hope, I know we have a long, hard road to travel, and I think we can do it, but art helps so much. I was thinking about all the flack Amanda Palmer got for her piece on why we need to make art for the coming years, because I'm torn: one the one side, given the outright scariness and lunacy of TPTB, obviously art isn't enough, but at the same time art--making it and enjoying it and celebrating it--does help.


( 1 comment — Add your .02 )
Jan. 24th, 2017 06:10 am (UTC)
I adore you so much. I could write a LOT.

So of course I'll write my cavil. *laugh* I didn't see Amanda Palmer get disagreements along the lines of "how dare you make art" but instead along the lines of "lots of people will be too wounded, imprisoned, overworked and/or dead to make art, and also, you're running off to Australia while saying this."

Of COURSe we have to make art. But the idea that misery is okay because it produces art (the "if we'd medicated Van Gogh we wouldn't have his paintings" bit) is wrong for at least two reasons: one, misery can stifle or displace art, and two, even if it didn't, people should not be forced to be preventably unhappy in hopes of generating art.

I feel like I should follow this actually tiny nitpick with a thousand lines about how much I agree with you and am delighted by this post. *huggles you*
( 1 comment — Add your .02 )

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