Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Cast & director of the TOSOS production of
Waiting for Giovanni
2018

Anyone who knows my spouse, Diane, knows she understands that a production stands or falls on how well its cast is fed.  So she kept the theatre stocked w/fruit, cookies and candy back stage. Yes, I did sneak back there to get peanut butter cups for myself.

Of course it helped that we had a wonderful director, Mark Finley, (2nd from the left) who wasn't afraid to strip the production down to its elemental ideas and images.  He privileged the words and actors over set pieces and my (notoriously long) stage directions.

The party we had for opening night was the opposite of minimalist. It featured a cornucopia  of soul food catered by Melba's on W114th Street www.melbasrestaurant.com which had the best chicken wings ever.  Ultimately the food must have been magical because the cast sure was!

This is my very first experience having a second production of one of my plays by a new company!  So at first it was a little difficult for me to re-imagine the characters with other actors in the roles.  The company at New Conservatory Theatre did such an amazing job and were patient as I cut and pasted the thing together. They helped to crystallize the meaning of the play for me.

Before the new production started I did have the amazing input of one of my icons, Martin Sherman (BENT)   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Sherman. who helped me re-imagine the ending.  He basically said when the play begins we see Baldwin in a struggle with the ghost of his father; you need to resolve that struggle for Baldwin's growth to be dramatized.  That totally changed the end of the play.  The TOSOS production gave me the opportunity to see that new ending for the first time and Mr. Sherman was absolutely right.  I'll hope I can remember that for the next and final play ("Unpacking in Provincetown") in this trilogy about African American artists in the first half of the 20th century. 

Some favourite moments: Me ( the ultimate atheist) on the search for just the right bible to be used on stage.  I was very specific about what it should look like and finally tracked one down at Strand Books. Or the audience member who wanted to talk to Robert, who played Jimmy's lover, Luc, in French since Robert's accent was so good. And seeing the joy on the face of James Baldwin's sister-in-law, Carole when gave me her blessing. Since her partner, David, Baldwin's brother, figures prominently in the piece, that could have been sticky! And of course the birthday party we had on Jimmy's birthday, August 2 where legendary performer, Andre De Shields   www.andredeshields.com came to celebrate with us!

Because they work in the hometown of James Baldwin the TOSOS cast brought a different energy and viewpoint for which I'll be eternally grateful.   So this is my chance to say more thank you to them for helping the play have a new and vibrant life.  Here's hoping I see Michael Striano, Neil Dawson, Joy Sudduth, Jonathan Dewberry, Jordan J. Adams, Robert Jeffery, and Ken Simon in other works of mine or just anything! 
Andre De Shields helps us celebrate Jimmy's birthday.

Friday, June 29, 2018

When the mystery is too great....

Robert Jeffery as Luc



In a period when a man's gayness was always shadowed by society's discomfort or hatred it can be difficult to unearth a true picture of historically what male lovers were like. (Equally true for lesbians too, of course.)  In this case discovering who Jimmy's lover was, what he might have been like and how they related was very difficult.  But in some ways that freed me, as a writer, to use more imagination to shape his character as it is embodied in this production by Robert Jeffery.

Robert has an all-American look (whatever the hell that is!) which he's able to adeptly transform so we feel the essence of the young, French painter I created to be Jimmy's lover and champion.  Robert attractively balances Luc's youth and French sophistication which makes Luc a worthy partner for Jimmy.  Luc has a great fondness for Le Petit Prince which, for him, embodies the depth as well as the ephemeral nature of love. "When the mystery is too great, one dare not disobey," he says when first meeting Jimmy.  Over the course of the play Luc learns what Jimmy must contend with in order to obey his heart and his conscience.


LUC
The United States is such a foolish place sometimes! We must stay away from there! 
Away from the anger and the fear.  So you can rest and not think of
these things.
                                         JIMMY
                              I cant not think of these things, my dear Luc.
                                           LUC
Then the thinking goes much better here in a small village where they
speak French and make good cheese.
JIMMY
People back there should learn to speak French and make good cheese.
And drink it with good wine!  That might make freedom move along
much faster.
                                             LUC
They will move along whether you are there or here. And maybe here
you will not be so afraid.
JIMMY
                                   Afraid?
                                             LUC
Oui, mon cher.  You listen to too many voices.
                                           JIMMY
          One needs guides in the publishing jungle.
                                                       LUC
          Oui, like Lorraine, but not executioners.
                                                     JIMMY
          They worry, thats all.  What this new novel will mean to the movement
LUC
          Non.  They worry what will the book mean to them and their little lives.
                                                    JIMMY
But is this book a good idea?  Now? In the middle of all of these horrible attacks?
                                            LUC
The book is not goodit is brilliant like the star you are.

***


The Flea Theatre      theflea.org/        July 12-August 4 
See you there!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

It's About Joy!

Joy Sudduth rehearsing her character "Lorraine"

When my friend, Harry Waters Jr. asked me to write something about James Baldwin I thought he meant a monologue for him.  He's a great actor (in the original "Angels in America") so I put together a monologue which he liked.  Then he said: "Where's the rest of it. I'm looking for a 3 act play."  I don't think anyone (other than Tony Kushner) could get away with a 3 act play but I went back to the computer and started to think about it.  As fate would have it the monologue--a letter about Emmett Till--ended up really belonging to Lorraine, Jimmy's friend and advocate.  Funny how that happens.  Joy, rightfully named, brings the urgency of the times and the faith needed to make Lorraine, even in her anguish, seem unstoppable!


LORRAINE
(Singing low as she enters carrying napkins and flatware) Deep in my heart, I do 
believe, we shall overcome some day. 

The song seems somewhat incongruous with the act of setting a table
but believe me, to a woman, nothing is incongruous.  You and I sang
that song quite a bit, Jimmy.  We all used to sing then. As if the singing
might wipe the fear and bitterness off of peoples faces.  But, there you are. Three centuries of hatred need a little more than a four minute melody. 

You are on the road so much! I missed singing with you at the memorialthe anniversary of Emmett Tills murder. 

Most of the Negroesthe Black peoplein the little storefront were so choked with sorrow, Jimmy, they couldnt get the words out.  I was choked with irony.  How closely tied are sex and blackness in this country?  A boy, no more than 15 years old, beaten mercilessly and killed---by grown white men---because hes perceived to be a threat to white womanhood. 

It is 1956, for Gawd sake! How can Ior youor Richard write a word
and hope it to have a single shred of meaning? Its as if our dark skin is a
symbol of rampaging desire roaring in their ears! 

Whatever words Emmett Till may or may not have said to that white girlthat 
store clerk in Money, Mississippiare irrelevant.  Emmett Till had no voice at all.  
His skin did all the talking. 
 Lights down on Lorraine

See you TheFlea Theater/NYC  www.theflea.org   W4G July 12-Aug 4 
produced by  www.tososnyc.org

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Original Baldwin Brothers

Jonathan Dewberry (Jimmy) & Jordan J. Adams (David)

When I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1980s I was quite near the club where David Baldwin worked.  Being a James Baldwin fan I, of course, had to frequent the bar to catch a glimpse of the brother of my iconic hero.  And I thought if I were lucky maybe even JB himself would stop in. (Never happened for me!)  But David was always charming even though he probably recognize me of one of the JB groupies.  It was gratifying to think of him and JB growing up together.

Years later, working on "Waiting for Giovanni" I really enjoyed writing about a relationship I imagined between the brothers (based somewhat on research at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture https://www.nypl.org/locations/schomburg).  It was satisfying to write about two African American men, raised in tight economic circumstances in 1930s Harlem, and living under the erratic reign of a difficult father making a haven within each other.  The smile that David had for his friends and customers was inside my head as I wrote every line.  

In this production Jonathan Dewberry as Jimmy is joined by Jordan J. Adams as his brother, David.  Jordan is nimble with a solid resonance on stage.  And he's able to deliver that million dollar smile just as I remember David's from back in the day!  In this scene Jimmy, as a child preacher, prepares a sermon under the shadow of his father's disapproval.  His younger brother, David, is his reality check here and just as he is later in life when they are adults.


ACT I  Scene 1

Jimmy (as a boy) is seated at the typewriter then on the stoop; it is 1938. Using a pencil he pulls from behind his ear Jimmy works on his sermon. Rehearsing it in his head before reading/preaching out loud, he begins at a hesitant, halting pace making notes, disturbed by the shadow of the Father; then he builds to fullness and confidence. When David enters he wears a big apple/newsboy cap and knickers.


JIMMY
In the beginning was the word. It says right there, brothers and sisters:  
             in the beginning was the word.  The word was with God.  And how do we
make a word? 

                                           FATHERS VOICE
      (in shadow, Bible in hand)
You have to be accountable for your words and your deeds!

                                                         JIMMY
And how do we make a word?  We take in a breath and as we
speak the breath shapes a sound. What then is the word, my brothers
and sisters, but the breath of life? 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   FATHERS VOICE
We cant make a life here!

                                                           JIMMY
                                             (trying to ignore the voice)
A breath of life so deep and soso……something (makes note
w/pencil and moves away from the typewriter)it sweeps us up.
It sweeps us up into the air toward the righteousness that is God.
It is with our very breath that we speak Gods word. Think! 
Think about that breath of God that keeps us all alive. 

FATHERS VOICE
              Anger and fear choke out our breath every day!                                                                                                                                                                                     
                                                                         JIMMY
Can we imagine Gods merciful word without that breath?  I say no! We
cannot.  Ummmm(picking up pace getting the spirit)....the word made holy...

                                                   FATHER'S VOICE
You are an unholy thing! Black noise of Lucifer!

                                                        JIMMY
...the word that must be spoken as long as we draw
breath, brothers and sisters.

DAVID
(interrupts laughing)
Its a heap more than just one word with you, Jimmy.

 JIMMY
Come on David, I need to get this right for Sunday.

DAVID
You already know what you doin'.  Come on go down the corner
with me and the fellas.  I got a cigarette.

JIMMY
             You know Daddy dont want us hanging out on Lenox Avenue.

DAVID
He dont want you going downtown to them plays and all that theatre
damnation either.

JIMMY
Thats not the same thing.

DAVID
Jimmy, I keep tellin you: dont pay no attention to him.

JIMMY                         
I just want to get this right, David.

DAVID
You got to cut our daddy loose.  What goes on his head

JIMMY
Theres nothing wrong with his head!

DAVID
Im only saying his head and your head is two different things.(silence)
You cant do nothing to suit him so why dont you just drop this
Look around you, Jimmy, look at the stoops.

JIMMY
I see them. 

DAVID
You know your stuff, Jimmy.  But Daddyhe dont see nothin’…not God,
not the folks sitting out fanning they selves, not you either.

                                                     JIMMY
David

DAVID
Aint you never gonna see past his shadow.  Daddy jus a man!

JIMMY
Youre the one with too many words. 

                                                      DAVID
If you cant take people into account, them words are all crazy.

                                                       JIMMY
Why is madness all of a sudden the main attraction on this stoop?

                                                       DAVID
Shit!

JIMMY
That type of language is unattractive in a young man

                                                      DAVID
You got to let go of this thing with Daddy, sometime, you know?
 
                                                      JIMMY
David, werent you on your way somewhere?

                                                       DAVID
Thats what Im saying: where you going with all these words?

                                                       JIMMY
My realm is the spiritual world.

                                                       DAVID
We black, Jimmy.  It is all the spiritual world. 

                                                              ***




See you July 12-August 4     http://www.tososnyc.org/            http://theflea.org/