Letter #6 – Preps for Jitney (27Feb2021)

Good morning, all!

I’m getting ready, after breakfast, to take the plunge into Jitney. My aim is to finish it and get my new notes up on the blog Monday. I also have reading to do for my other OLLI groups, which I will probably talk more about Thursday when we meet.

Speaking of Thursday, I have a new idea for our discussion that I’d like to try out. As you are reading, imagine you are in the play, as one of characters or as one that may not exist, except in your imagination. Suspend temporal, spatial, and identity assumptions and locate yourself in the Jitney station, in the play. Then, Thursday, let’s discuss our “immersion” experience. Who would you be? Who would you befriend? Who would you advise? Should be fun.

Here is a link to the YouTube playlist. There is some theater chit chat, some interviews and some period music. Enjoy!
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXZapfkM43eU0KVt5QWBxdlK

I have a surprise opening that I hope you will like.

If anybody has any questions, give me a shout by email.

Can’t wait to “see” you all Thursday!

Ray

Letter #4 – obit and a sneak peak at Deleuze and Guattari

This piece by Christopher Rawson is especially poignant as it was written as an interview a full month before Wilson’s death, September, 2005, knowing that Wilson’s death was imminent, yet hoping that death could be averted.
https://old.post-gazette.com/pg/05247/564028.stm

Here is the October 3, 2005 Obit, one month later. https://old.post-gazette.com/pg/05276/581786.stm

And here is another Rawson piece from August 26, 2005 before Wilson’s death.
https://old.post-gazette.com/pg/05238/560386.stm

EXTRA CREDIT! We’ll talk more about Wilson’s play writing structure (and play structure in general) with the third play, Fences. Meanwhile, a sneak preview of “The Web as Rhizome in Deleuze and Guattari.” We will have a brief, very brief discussion in week #3 of the relationship of the rhizome as an organizing principle to the structure of Wilson’s plays. https://bluelabyrinths.com/2015/07/15/the-web-as-rhizome-in-deleuze-and-guattari/

and here: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/a-beginning-rhizomatic-schematic-of-the-august-wilson-american-century-cycle/

Letter #3 – Syllabus

Syllabus – August Wilson American Century Cycle
SG-685 – OLLI-AU. Spring 2021

Course Description
The study group will read and discuss one August Wilson play each week for ten weeks, completing the Century Cycle of ten plays. Each group member will be required to read each play at home and be prepared to contribute to a group discussion on what they have read. The goal of the course will not be to exhaustively discuss each play. Instead, each group member (including the group leader) will select a brief passage to read aloud to the class, followed by a brief, collaborative close read and discussion by the group.

Instructional Methods
The course uses collaborative group discussion and close reading of a passage selected by each group member.

Required Texts
Group members will be required to procure all the plays listed below. The first five plays are linked in the syllabus, others will have to be purchased or borrowed from the library. The complete set of plays in hardback is available on Amazon for $100-$160. Each play can be found separately in paperback for $6-10 each.

Additional Suggested Texts
Bigsby, Christopher. Editor. 2007. The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson.
Bryer, Jackson and Mary C. Hartig. 2006. Conversations with August Wilson.
Elkins, Marilyn. 1994. August Wilson, A Casebook.
Herrington, Joan. 2004. I Ain’t Sorry for Nothing I Done.
Nadal, Alan. 1994. May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the drama of August Wilson.
Nadal, Alan. 2010. Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle.
Nadal, Alan. 2018. The Theatre of August Wilson.
Shannon, Sandra and Dana Williams. 2004. August Wilson and Black Aesthetics.
Shannon, Sandra. 1995. The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson.
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. 2004. August Wilson: A Literary Companion.
Temple, Riley Keene. 2017. Aunt Esters Children Redeemed.

Course Requirements
Class participation. Each study group member will be expected to contribute to each week’s discussion.

Week 1: March 4, 2021 – Jitney (1979)
Synopsis: Set in an unofficial taxi station threatened with demolition in 1977, Jitney explores the lives and relationships of drivers, highlighting conflicts between generations and different concepts of legacy and identity.
- Lahr New Yorker Interview, 2001. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2001/04/16/been-here-and-gone
- Suzan Lori-Parks Interview, 2005. https://www.americantheatre.org/2005/11/01/the-light-in-august-wilson-a-career-a-century-a-lifetime/
- Racist Roots of Urban Renewal. https://www.fastcompany.com/90155955/the-racist-roots-of-urban-renewal-and-how-it-made-cities-less-equal
- Full play pdf: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/jitney.pdf
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXZapfkM43eU0KVt5QWBxdlK

Week 2: March 11, 2021 – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982)
Synopsis: Set in 1927 in a Chicago recording studio (the only cycle play not set in Pittsburgh), Ma Rainey examines racism in the history of black musicians and white producers, and the themes of art and religion.
- The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin. https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf
- My blog post has lots of links: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/some-links-to-background-material-for-ma-raineys-black-bottom/ Ma Rainey film adaptation screenplay
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXb3E8p4pv7MmgNPoDUlqCB7

Week 3: March 18, 2021 – Fences (1984)
Synopsis: In 1957, Troy Maxson, a former Negro Baseball League player, is a bitter man in his 50s who works as a garbageman. His frustration and disappointments in life affect his wife Rose and son Cory.
- Freytag’s Pyramid Dramatic Structure article: https://www.clearvoice.com/blog/what-is-freytags-pyramid-dramatic-structure/
- Article on Negro Baseball leagues. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/16/sports/baseball/mlb-negro-leagues.html
- America’s Most Undefeated Playwright: https://theundefeated.com/features/august-wilson-is-americas-most-undefeated-playwright/
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXYPmItHweBOyfAwDJ-x1qwO
- Full play pdf: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/fences1.pdf

Week 4: March 25, 2021 – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984)
Synopsis: Set in a Pittsburgh boardinghouse in 1911, the ensemble play includes characters who were former slaves and examines the residents’ experiences with racism and discrimination.
- Article on convict leasing programs: https://www.thoughtco.com/convict-leasing-4160457
- Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual – https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/09/06/the-prevalence-of-ritual-on-romare-beardens-projections/
- Maslow on Self-Transcendence. https://reasonandmeaning.com/2017/01/18/summary-of-maslow-on-self-transcendence/
- Full play pdf: https://wp.me/a4gJ6W-qe
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXaWJ0J5IXBUUpwoVe-klNmc

Week 5: April 1, 2021 – The Piano Lesson (1986)
Synopsis: Named after a painting by Romare Bearden, the play follows the Charles family in the Doaker Charles household. A brother and a sister have different ideas about what to do with their piano, a family heirloom. Sell it to purchase land their enslaved ancestors once toiled upon, or keep the piano, which includes carved depictions of two distant relatives.
- Exploring the Use of Myth and Mystical Practice in August Wilson’s Century Cycle – https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/colloquium-presentation-3-april-20186.pdf
- Article on Parchment Prison/Farm – https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/inside-mississippis-notorious-parchman-prison
- Youtube playlist (includes film adaptation): https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXYBNIkZcDVM0y_xff-c1zCi

Week 6: April 8, 2021 – Two Trains Running (1990)
Synopsis: Set in 1969, the play revolves around a restaurant in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, which has suffered a long economic decline. The restaurant owner, Memphis, worries what will happen when the city comes to claim the building through eminent domain. A young activist, Sterling, tries to organize protests and rallies that can help save the restaurant, but Memphis is not so supportive.
- Dear White People – Two Trains Running is Not About Race: http://phindie.com/11061-11061-dear-white-people-two-trains-running-is-not-about-race/
- August Wilson Life and Work Timeline: https://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/2012/06/01/August-Wilson-s-Life-and-Work-A-timeline-1945-2005/stories/201206010268
- YouTube Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXZOBWNf_EwGXjngVAQKrvbC

Week 7: April 15, 2021 – Seven Guitars (1995)
Synopsis: Set in Pittsburgh in 1948, blues singer Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton is newly freed from prison when he’s asked to sign a record deal after a song he recorded months before becomes a surprise hit. He struggles to right wrongs and make his way back to Chicago. Black manhood is a theme of the play and a rooster is used in to symbolize it.
- Aristotle Poetics, Parts 13-15 – https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/studying-aristotles-poetics-part-13-a-a-perfect-tragedy-2bced5e9ed3c
- A Short History of the Legend of Buddy Bolden – https://www.jazziz.com/a-short-history-of-the-legend-of-buddy-bolden/
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXYQzNGKFRhdwbLYZ1mz6hLK
- Educational guide and synopsis: https://wp.me/a4gJ6W-qu

Week 8: April 22, 2021 – King Hedley II (1991)
Synopsis: Set in Pittsburgh in 1985, an ex-con tries wants to support a family and aims to get the money to open a video store by selling stolen refrigerators. The play features some characters from Seven Guitars.
- The Function of the Chorus in Greek Drama article – http://krishaamer.com/function-chorus-greek-drama/
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXaqsHCCMTcpz7qemeLe19xv
- Curriculum guide and synopsis: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/king-hedley.pdf

Week 9: April 29, 2021 – Gem of the Ocean (2003)
Synopsis: Set in Pittsburgh in 1904, the play features a man whose small crime has had deadly consequences for another man. Feeling guilty, he comes seeking the spiritual healing of Aunt Ester. A recurring character in Wilson’s plays, Ester claims to be 285 years old and is the kind matriarch of her household in Pittsburgh.
- August Wilson in the “City That Encourages Dreams”. https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/project_muse_588846.pdf
- Prologue: definition and examples – https://literarydevices.net/prologue/
- Baraka: Columbia the Gem of the Ocean – https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/baraka-gem-of-the-ocean.pdf
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXbpLBU1gTGwfhRV207HTXPb
- City of Dry Bones sermon: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/city-of-bones.pdf

Week 10: May 6, 2021 – Radio Golf (2005)
Synopsis: Set in 1990 Pittsburgh, this play concluded Wilson’s Century Cycle and is the last play he completed before his death. The home of Aunt Ester is threatened with demolition that will make way for real estate development in the depressed area. Investors include Harmond Wilks, who wants to increase his chance of becoming the city’s first black mayor. History and legacy challenge personal aspirations and ideas of progress.
- Radio Golf Student Guide: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/radio-golf-student-guide.pdf
- The Ground On Which I stand: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/the-ground-on-which-i-stand.docx
- Alan Nadal, The Theatre of August Wilson, Chapter 9: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2021/02/chapter_9_the_century_that_cant_fix_nothing_with_the_law_radio_golf.pdf
- YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0Lvs-e_eIXbZDGZ3NZTVicN5q755bnrd

Week 11: May 13, 2021. Wrap-ups (TBD)

Letter #2 – Proposed weekly schedule

Greetings, all.

Thanks to all who have reached out to me in response to last week’s letter.
Here is the proposed schedule:

Week 1:  March 4, 2021 – Introductions and Jitney (1979)
Week 2:  March 11, 2021 – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1982)
Week 3:  March 18, 2021 – Fences (1984)
Week 4:  March 25, 2021 – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984)
Week 5:  April 1, 2021 – The Piano Lesson (1986)
Week 6:  April 8, 2021 – Two Trains Running (1990)
Week 7: April 15, 2021 – Seven Guitars (1995)
Week 8:  April 22, 2021 – King Hedley II (1991)
Week 9: April 29, 2021 –  Gem of the Ocean (2003)
Week 10:  May 6, 2021 – Radio Golf (2005) and conclusion.
Week 11: May 13, 2021. Wrap-ups (optional and if necessary).

Here are the links to the first two plays. Sorry these are the only ones I have found so far.
https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/jitney.pdf

https://augustwilsonstudygroup.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/ma-rainey-_1_.pdf
I suspect these exist in violation of copyright laws. “For educational purposes only” is the work around.

The Lahr New Yorker article from 2001 is quite comprehensive and a worthwhile read, particularly at the beginning of the Wilson journey.  I am attaching it below.

Early next week I will dispatch some readings that are particularly relevant to the first week’s play, Jitney, along with some thoughts about how we may want to structure the group discussions for maximum utility.

Enjoy!

Ray
p.s. I have some fresh ideas for Jitney that I am very excited about!

Letter #1 – Welcome to SG 685: August Wilson American Century Cycle!

Dear all:

A hearty welcome to SG 685: August Wilson American Century Cycle!

Where shall we start?

I have pdfs I can provide for the first two plays, Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. You may wish to have your own copy and there are hardback and paperback versions of each play available at online sellers, local bookstores, and public libraries.

The study group involves doing the hard work at home of reading each play on your own, then coming together for a robust discussion. A key part of the journey is reading a play per week for ten weeks and getting together once a week for a no holds barred chat.

As the study group leader I claim no monopoly on understanding these plays other than familiarity from four previous sessions of the study group. The wealth of this group is ALWAYS the live experiences of the study group participants. In some regards, for a few minutes each week, we can imagine taking part in a pure democracy! But you must do your homework!

Pause. Deep breath.

As you may have figured out, I have a deep love for these plays. I saw Fences on Broadway with James Earl Jones in 1987. My wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and I saw the first UK production of a Wilson play, Two Trains Running, in London in 1996. We saw Radio Golf performed in Baltimore in 2005 while it was still being workshopped at local theaters. And others.

There is something a bit of timelessness, and even colorlessness, in Wilson’s plays, a topic we will discuss from time to time, but we will always return to the base, to the decades of the 20th century, and to the Pittsburgh community that produced Wilson in his youth.

I can go on and on. Let me pause again.

We’ll be doing the plays in the order in which they were written, beginning with Jitney, the only play written in the same decade in which it is set. In the following days I’ll send out a revised list of the plays and the weeks they will be assigned. And there will be non-required readings from time to time. For now, here is a link to my most recent blog post which also contains a YouTube playlist of Wilson’s 4B’s for background:

https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2021/02/10/spring-2021-study-group/

Again, Aloha! Welcome! and Bon Voyage!

Ray

p.s. Feel free to write me at any point.

Spring 2021 study group!

The spring 2021 study group at OLLI-AU gets underway the first week of March, Thursday at 0945. This year we are returning to the original order of the plays, a nod to my inner archivist, the order in which the ten plays were written, beginning with Jitney. I’ve given this some thought, but not too much. At the beginning, back in 2017, we did the original order to see Wilson’s development as a playwright. I found that thinking to be pretty shallow; surely he was an expert at his craft when he cranked out the very first one, so just what was it we were tracking? In the next three sessions I thought it might make some sense to do the plays chronologically, by decade. But really, how much sense did that make? It’s not a history class after all, it’s a literature class. And decades are an arbitrary measure of the passage of time anyway. Nothing really special about it.

I dare say I am looking forward to it. Again. We will be meeting weekly by Zoom, like last time, but last time we actually met face to face for the first two meetings, before the lockdown broke our world. This time it will begin and end by Zoom and everybody knows what they are getting into. I have both Jitney and Ma Rainey texts available by pdf, and in addition this year I have the screenplay script of Ma Rainey to distribute if folks want to compare the stage to the film production. Ma Rainey will be fresh on everybody’s radar with the film and the upcoming Academy Awards. That will be fun.

My personal focus this year will be to look at August Wilson in the classical tradition, a perspective I think best showcases his immense talent. Yes, August Wilson as a dead white man, some may accuse, but that is exactly where I’d like to try to go. And of course Wilson as an archivist, a preserver of records and a purveyor of speech patterns of a special people on a special journey. Yep. Going there. The associated readings and the weekly playlists will groove closely. And with a liberal sprinkling of Deleuze and Quattari to spice things up.

OK. Stay tuned. I’ll be posting weekly until the actual journey begins in early March. Bon Voyage!

p.s. a sneak peak at the youtube playlist for Wilson’s 4 B’s.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on the silver screen!

I meant to mention our viewing of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix. We unsubscribed from Netflix a couple of years ago, maybe three, when it became evident that changes on its board might have effects on its content. We missed a couple of seasons of Orange is the New Black and Black Mirror, and the latest Dave Chapelle. But for August Wilson, I am back for one month.

It was impossible to resist, having experienced the magic of George C Wolf’s stage direction in The Iceman Cometh, the screenwriting wizardry of Ruben Santiago-Hudson, whose production of Jitney we had recently seen at Arena Stage, and the overall production artistry of Denzel Washington. Washington is committed to bringing all ten plays of the American Century Cycle to the screen (one can only imagine what he will do with Joe Turner, or Seven Guitars, my two favorites in the cycle).

The screen version was slightly compressed but excellently done. Many of the lines of my favorite character in the play, Toledo, were left on the cutting board. Toledo, performed by the great actor Glynn Turman, so impressed me that I wrote a sonnet featuring him during our last session of the Cycle. May I share it with you here?

Lockdown sonnet #12

I just listened to the new Bob Dylan drop.
Some kind of weird incantation –
A forced repetition, for a hypnotic effect,
a magic ritual in an ancient oral tradition.
Also, a shout out to the musical ancestors,
Invoking each of the gods by name.
An African conceptualization is what Toledo
would call it. Oh, you don’t know Toledo?
How could you? He was Ma Rainey’s piano player.
Ain’t never been the same fool twice. Don’t worry,
You’ll see it on Netflix when it comes out.
A piano lesson disguises the real drama.
Old Bob gives the devil his due. Play that funky
music white boy. Spell it with a K in B flat.

All the attention is on Viola Davis, who plays Ma Rainey, and Chadwick Boseman, who plays the brash trumpeteer, Levee. Davis is at the top of her game, a respectable top considering the Academy and Tony awards to her credit. Boseman, who is pretty much the star of the show, gives an Academy Award worthy performance in his final stage appearance (Boseman died last year after a lengthy battle with cancer). In fact, I am not alone in saying that the play was much more about Levee than about Ma Rainey, but, keeping it real, Ma Rainey actually existed, while at best, Levee, a fictional character, represents a composite of people who lived and performed during the same era (Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton).

Here is the true kicker. The best review of the film I have seen so far appears in, of all places, Good Housekeeping. That is about as good as it gets in modern day America!

Alternatively, and as Troy Maxsom from Fences would say, “you gotta take the crookeds with the straights,” here is a not so complimentary review from the right of center, National Review, “The Fiasco of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

And here is Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s film adaptation screenplay.

p.s. Golden Globes acceptance speech for best actor by Chadwick Boseman’s wife, Taylor Simone Ledward. https://twitter.com/i/status/1366231153766711300

August Wilson archive to Pitt!

Big news on the literary scene! Pitt has acquired August Wilson’s papers! 450 boxes of pure gold. As an archivist it makes my heart sing, but as an August Wilson scholar it is a dream come true. Scholarship had reached some limits and demand for his papers was high. Here are a few links:

https://www.playbill.com/article/august-wilsons-archives-to-be-housed-in-pittsburgh-playwrights-hometown

https://triblive.com/aande/museums/pitt-library-system-acquires-august-wilson-archive/

https://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/2020/10/29/August-Wilson-University-of-Pittsburgh-buys-literary-archive-Pittsburgh-Cycle-Pulitzer/stories/202010280135

More later.

Notes on Session #4 of Radio Golf

As we turn the bend and complete the ten-play cycle with Radio Golf, I find my normal sense of humanism about all things evolving to a slight skepticism that I hope I can resolve or at least work through by writing about what I have read this week.

I want to start with Harmon’s keen eye for detail in interior design that sets him off from his two contemporaries in the play, his wife Mame and his business partner, Roosevelt. Harmon takes note of the hand-tooled embossing on the tin in his office. Mame’s response, “Then take it down and sell it.” God bless her soul, she is just cut from a different cloth. Unrelated (or perhaps not), when in the same scene Roosevelt asks Mame about her new job as the Governor’s press rep, she says, “If they find out I’m too excited about that job they’ll determine I must not be qualified.” To which I wonder, well, is she qualified or isn’t she? A truly qualified person should not have to add that step into the system of equations, racial considerations aside.

In Act2 Scene2, Roosevelt decides to leave his job as VP at Mellon Bank. He barges into his boss’s office, ignoring all protocol, and says “Kiss my ass, I quit.” That might have gotten some laughs from the audience, but what kind of professional does that? I mean really? And hasn’t he considered that his attractiveness to his new financier, Bernie Smith, is tied to the big picture, which includes his employment at Mellon Bank? I wrote in the margin, “bad move.”

Getting back to interior design, in the same scene, Harmon and Roosevelt are discussing the house at 1839 Wylie and Harmon asked Roosevelt if he has even been inside the house. Of course Roosevelt hasn’t, because he pays no attention to detail. Harmon goes on and on about the architectural style of the house and the solid foundation, the beveled glass trim on every floor, the large stain-glassed windows and the hand-carved balustrade on the staircase. All this is reminiscent, as Elam points out, of The Piano Lesson and the piano, which is both an archive and a Holy Grail for the Charles family. And what is Roosevelt’s response? “. . . people don’t like that kind of shit anymore.” When Harmon says the house smells like a new day (a very symbolic reflection), Roosevelt blames it on the mothballs. Roosevelt has a bit of cash and a Cornell degree, but he totally lacks class.

Further, the way Roosevelt flaunts Old Joe’s criminal record, as if it makes a condemnation of Joe’s character, and the way he dresses down Sterling late in Act2 Scene 4, or tries to dress him down, demonstrates not only his lack of compassion, but his total hatred for those less fortunate than he. On the other hand, towards the end of the play, we see an alignment between Harmon and both Old Joe and Sterling that shows Harmon’s sense of community and his social awareness, the fortunate circumstances of his birth notwithstanding.

So there is a basic incompatibility, between Harmon and Roosevelt, and perhaps even between Harmon and Mame. Harmon and Roosevelt are united by their time at Cornell and their love of golf, though upon close inspection, even those two things reflect greater differences than similarities between the two. Harmon and Mame are united by marriage and a dream of mutual accomplishment and achievement. But when Harmon backs away from “the plan” and decides to try to do the “right thing” about Aunt Ester’s house, we see Mame backing away ever so slightly.

Harry Lennix and the Elam article, Radio Golf in the Age of Obama

Harry Elam gives us much food for thought in his article, “Radio Golf in the Age of Obama.” He asks us to examine the incongruity of “radio” with “golf,” a combination in the play’s title that does not quite fit. He calls our attention to a vision of black pragmatism that Wilson crafts in the play and that vision’s lineage throughout the plays in the series. He mentions the creation of “Barack Obama as a political juggernaut dependent on manipulations of reality and the play of incongruity.” But here he leaves out an interesting detail. The actor who played Harmon Wilks as the play toured and made it to Broadway, Harry Lennix, is the same actor who claims in real life to have “taught” Barack Obama in the 90’s the articulations and gesticulations of an educated black Chicagoan before his first foray into state level politics. Lennix said in a press account, “He mimicked me, he followed me for years, and they wanted me to train him and teach him how to act….like a an educated south side African-American.” Life follows art.

In a very interesting repetition highlighted in the Elam article, Harmon’s grandfather, Caesar, says to the then Aunt Ester, “Now you know Miss Tyler, you got to have rule of law other wise there’d be chaos. Nobody wants to live in chaos.” And Harmon “mansplains “ to Mame and Roosevelt, “You got to have rule of law. Otherwise it would be chaos. Nobody wants to live in chaos.” I say “mansplains” partly in jest, but partly to illustrate that Harmon speaks from an implied sense of authority when he needs to make a point, much as he “mansplains” to Mame in the beginning of the play, “ Politics is about symbolism. Black people don’t vote but they have symbolic weight,” a statement that Mame is correct to question, in my opinion.

Elam introduces us to Pierre Nora’s Lieux de Memoire, sites of memory, as a way of analyzing the importance and significance of Aunt Ester’s house, the intersection of history and memory in “moments of history torn away from moments of history.” Finally, Elam connects Harmon’s warrior spirit to that of Solly and Citizen in Gem, Loomis in Joe Turner, Levee in Ma Rainey, Boy Willie in The Piano Lesson, Floyd Barton in Seven Guitars, Troy in Fences, Sterling (same Sterling) in Two Trains Running, Booster in Jitney, and King in King Hedley II.

Here’s a sonnet to celebrate completion of the cycle:

confined to quarters – a sonnet and a farewell to Wilson’s ten-play cycle

What must we conclude when the cycle ends?
Is there cause for hope, for optimism,
A balm we can surely find in Gilead?
Or isn’t all just a wink and a nod,
Yet another slave narrative that shows
the futility of our pleas for peace?

As a teen I thought Robert Redford might
Someday be President. I mean, Bobby Seale
Didn’t really stand a chance and Redford
Was at least a man of action. But there
was no great art in his films, well, except
in that spy flick he did with Dunaway –
Who had been my secret crush forever –
Where, under duress, she said, “This is . . . unfair!”

 

Consolidated notes from Sessions #1, #2, and #3

Youtube playlist