Let’s open with a couple of links:
- Here is a Frank Rich review from the original in 1988. Frank Rich review 1988
- Here is a link to the Romare Bearden collage, Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket
Notes from the prior session are pretty exhaustive. More in the morning.
In my first reading, I overlooked that the character Seth, the boardinghouse owner descended from free blacks and married to Bertha, has an interesting name with Hebrew and Egyptian antecedents. The Bible Seth was the third sone of Adam and Eve, the direct linear ancestor of Noah. The Egyptian mythology Seth was the god of chaos and represented everything that threatened harmony. Seth reject’s Bynum’s way of understanding the world. He is an entrepreneur, a landlord and a craftsman, but he is hemmed in by the structure of the economy and his world, i.e., he can’t get a bank loan to expand his business without putting up his only asset as collateral, he works for Mr. Olowskoi where he has little say about the direction of his efforts, and he depends on Selig to pay him a fair price for his wares, the pots and pans he makes. Yet, he constantly rejects the cultural traditions (mostly) of the very people whose misfortunes and temporary homelessness create a demand that gives him some measure of economic freedom. Nonetheless, he plays harmonica for the Juba on Sunday afternoon, so there is hope for him.
(NOTE: Selig Polyscope was the name of an early motion picture company founded by William Selig in Chicago in 1896. It eventually moved to Los Angeles but folded in 1918, selling its assets to Louis Mayer, who later formed the parent company of MGM)
Skipping around, I also focused in this reading on the Act 2 Scene 4 (a continuation of their first conversation upon meeting at the end of Act 1 Scene 1) tenderness and sweetness of the burgeoning relationship between Zonia and Reuben, two children who find themselves in this human orbit through no choice of their own. I love the way they share secrets about the pigeons and the ghost of Miss Mabel, the way they kiss on the lips twice because of meaning attached to the first time. Reuben takes the lead, names Zonia, Spider, and proposes marriage to her at some time in their future. She rejects the name but accepts the proposal and in the audience we feel there is a chance for a second chance at redemption in the future.
(NOTE: Zonia is a genus of skippers (butterflies) of the family, Hesperiidae, of the Lepidoptera species of insects.)
Then there is the kitchen conversation between Bertha and Mattie late in Act 2 Scene 5. Just after Mattie does something “motherly” for Zonia, tying a ribbon on her hair, Loomis and Zonia leave and Bertha gives Mattie some motherly advice, noticing, perhaps, the energy exchange between Mattie and Loomis (there is definitely chemistry there).
Finally, Martha arrives and Loomis returns for a mild but meaningful confrontation. Both have moved on, in a manner of speaking, following Loomis’ kidnapping and seven year imprisonment. Harsh though it may seem, true love can fade depending on the circumstances. Loomis hands his daughter over to her mother after a long separation and we are led to believe he ends up with Mattie. Not quite the ending we may have anticipated, but a suitable one, nonetheless.
I’ll leave the rest to the discussion and post meeting wrap-up.