Monday Morning Musings:
“The pianokeys are black and white
but they sound like a million colors in your mind”
–Maria Cristina Mena, The Collected Stories of Maria Cristina Mena
“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”
“The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one sixth of the population of democratic America is denied it’s privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of it’s humanity, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?”
–Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom
The dogwood blossomed white across the city street,
green pots filled with brighter green plants adorned
the tables of an outside café
the earth is throwing off its winter grey,
awakening in shades of
pink, white, yellow, and green.
In the theater row in front of me,
sat a woman with chestnut brown curls
highlighted with a few strands of silver
flowing past her shoulders,
to her right was a woman with tight, black corkscrew curls
patches of nut brown skin visible between them,
to her left, a woman with straight, wheat blond hair
conversed with her auburn-hair friend
on stage were actors with various shades of brown skin
August Wilson’s Two Trains Running,
recreating life in a luncheonette, Pittsburgh 1969–
but it is an eerie echo of today
“Blacks Lives Matter,”
“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,”
black men in prison
and women objectified—
well, some things never change, do they?
The set looks like a real luncheonette,
a pot of coffee, a glass diner carafe,
constantly on behind the counter,
a broken, homeless man
who can utter only one phrase,
the characters dream of a better life,
don’t we all?
The next day,
in another theater
in the same city,
the day cloudy and grey,
by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins,
a black playwright
or a playwright?
It’s a head-spinning tour-de-force,
a play within a play
the nineteenth-century play,
The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault
male and female,
there were chickens, too,
real chickens in a pen,
and Br’er Rabbit
(who, if it matters, had a white head and ears).
Colors and race,
we race to catch a bus,
we win a race,
we are members of the human race,
race, a silly word to describe–
What? What does it describe?
An octoroon was one eighth black,
(whatever that means)
unable to marry a white person
(whatever that means)
in Louisiana in 1859.
We get caught up in the 19th century
Will Zoe be sold?
Will George marry Dora?
An actor literally fights himself.
Two playwrights, different centuries
discuss the power of theater,
Boucicault was known for his
we are meant to feel
to be overwhelmed,
and we are.
If we go back far enough
we are all descended from the same pair,
some relative of Lucy’s in East Africa,
and some of us have Neanderthal genes, too.
Farther back still,
we are all made from star dust.
So what does that make us?
I am not naïve–OK. Perhaps I am, but
if your laws or religion tell you
to limit the rights of others
who have skin of a different color,
whose eyes are brown, when yours are blue,
whose genitalia differs from your own
who loves a person who has similar genitalia
who worships with his or head covered–
or does not believe in any god at all—
well, then, your laws and your religion
are simply wrong.
Colors should describe flowers, the sea
the eyes of your beloved
not exclude and divide human beings.
The playwright says the point of theater is to
overload our senses
to make us feel–
And so we did
And so we do.
We saw Two Trains Running at the Arden Theatre.
We saw An Octoroon at the Wilma Theater.