Noises Off: A Farce of Monumental Proportions

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Jeremy Herrin’s Noises Off, a Roundabout Theater performance at American Airlines Theater on Broadway, is a farce, a work of buffoonery and horseplay, involving absurd actions and improbable situations. It is the “Theater of the Absurd” with accomplished actors performing great work delivered with both synchronicity and precision. According to Playbill, citing JG Stillwater: Eros UntrouseredStudies in the Semantics of Bedroom Farce “In a typical bedroom farce, a man and a woman come to some secret or mysterious place to perform certain acts which are supposed to remain concealed from the eyes of the world.” Additionally, “Some partial disrobing may occur, to suggest perhaps a preliminary stripping away of world allusions, but total nudity (perfect truth) and complete ‘carnal knowledge’ (i.e. spiritual understanding) are perpetually forestalled by the intervention of coincidental encounters…” Noises Off has all of these characteristics to a great degree. Characters try to engage in illicit actions, but to no avail. This play stars Andrea Martin, Campbell Scott, Tracee Chimo and Megan Hilty.  Andrea Martin walked on stage to great applause. The creative team includes Derek McLane for set design, Michael Krass for costume design, Jane Cox for lighting design, and Christopher Cronin for sound design. Through both a great creative team and awesome actors, this play achieves the unfathomable and keeps the audience in stitches.

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Noises Off is a play within a play in which the actors are engaged in a tech rehearsal of their play, “Nothing On.” The fictitious theater company repeats farcical scenes in which characters cannot remember their lines or accompanying actions. While rehearsing for “Nothing On,” Herrin allows us backstage through a set reversal. The entire set is reversed and the actors are upstage, but we cannot see them clearly because we are “backstage.” We see the director of “Nothing On,” giving stage directions to his actors. Some actors become renegade actors, while others try to get their performance acted according to the director’s specifications. It’s a play of sardines and doors, of bags and clothing. One has to see the play to understand how these items are used to elicit guffaws from the audience. Although I less frequently bellowed boisterous laughter, most of the audience could not contain itself and laughed throughout the performance. At times, I said this is just dumb, but other times I just laughed at the comedy, forgetting my proclivity toward serious classical drama.

Herrin’s direction is impeccable. We hear doors slamming, glass shattering, and actions in tandem. Pulling this off is a feat itself. With one wrong move, this play fails; however, it never does. Everything falls and shatters at precise moments and the actors move about peripateticly engaging in repetitive acts. The cadence of the actor’s voices rises and falls in step with the action. No one is ever out of synch. The amount of work needed to achieve success is extraordinary.

The split level and set reversal make the show both great and zany. The actors  cannot see what each one is doing on either the bottom or top level of the set, but each actor delivers action with synchronization that one cannot help but applaud the perfection of the actors and the director. Yes, the subject matter is ludicrous. It’s too ludicrous to even discuss in this post. It’s laughable, uproariously laughable.

The characters also make this show laughable. Andrea Martin is funny beyond belief. Her voice is engaging and she delivers her lines repetitively without a break in character. From beginning to end, she is dynamic, never static. She makes this play compelling in all of its ridiculousness. She deserves a Tony nomination for her uncanny performance. Megan Hilty is also noteworthy. In her costume, she makes this play a sexual farce and a burlesque. She plays the part of a woman trying to engage in a sexual liaison with an assignation that never becomes realized. The other actors fall, shake, and all but rattle and roll on the stage. This great ensemble cast makes this show stupendously “stupid.” After all, it is a comedy!

I give this play a positive vote, with one caveat. Check all serious attitudes at the door. It may not be one’s preferred genre, but it is entertaining. Also, sit in the front mezzanine so that a great view can be achieved. It’s playing until March 13, 2016.

 

Pericles: Tempest Tossed and Love Regained

 

Pericles, one of Shakespeare’s most underperformed play, was highly favored during his lifetime. Arguably written in concert with George Wilkins, Pericles does not fit neatly into any of the categories traditionally reserved for Shakespeare’s work. Having elements of romantic comedy, it seemingly also has elements of tragedy that do not end in any character’s demise (other than Antiochus and his daughter). Currently, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, at the Folger Theater, is performing Pericles. Wayne T. Carr plays Pericles, Armando Duran plays Gower, Jennie Greenberry plays both Marina and Antiochus’s daughter, and Brooke Parks plays both Thaisa and Dionyza. Directed by Joseph Haj with a strong creative team, Pericles is brilliantly staged using video projections, lyrically composed Shakespearean sonnets, instrumental music, and great acting performances.

Gower, whose name comes from a fourteenth century poet, (John Gower was both a contemporary and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. Gower’s original writing provides the concept for this story) narrates using iambic tetrameter, giving us the play’s backstory and other relevant details that otherwise would leave the story unclear. Thematically, Pericles is the story of both love and loss via tempests tossed. Solving Antiochus’s riddle (Antiochus commits incest, Pericles discovers it, and Antiochus fearful of his sin’s exposure, orders Pericles’s death), Pericles fears for his life. Multiple times, while becoming shipwrecked at sea, Pericles experiences what he believes to be both loss of family and loss of love. During one of his shipwrecked voyages, he marries the lovely Thaisa. Alas, Pericles buries Thaisa with jewels and spices, believing she is dead; however, gentlemen find her coffin tossed on shore; Cerimon opens it, realizes that she breathes and restores her to life and to her high position.  Pericles and Thaisa’s daughter, Marina, aptly named, is given to Cleon and Dionyza, the couple whom Pericles helped during his first shipwrecked voyage. Mistreated, pirates rescue Marina as a hit man nearly kills her. Pericles’s despondency overtakes him as he separates himself from society. Marina fights for survival and devastation encompasses Pericles.The loss of both Thaisa’s only love and her only child devastates her as well. Marina, unknowingly meets Pericles, discovers that he is her father and arouses him from years of despair. Thaisa, through the goddess Diana’s (goddess of childbirth and women) mythical powers, meets Pericles.  At the close of the play,  the family unites with an “Odyssey like” ending as Pericles requires proof that Marina is his lost daughter and that Thaisa is his lost, but now found wife. Family, once lost via tempest tossed, is now regained. Despair is lifted and happiness is restored.

Haj, the director, uses video imaging to create scenes on land and on shore. Creating a lifelike tempest is not easy. Through video projections, sound design, and fabric, Haj creates a credible tempest. We see Pericles tossed to and fro at sea as the storm’s intensity increases. Brilliantly staged storms rage as the sea billows toss Pericles from sea to shore. Pericles fights for survival through intense fabric waving mimicking a storm, swimming his way toward shore. We hear the sea roar and the sky crackle in the night. The multimedia sets the stage for acting intensity. Celestial imaging canvasses the walls and colorful imagery at the resolution of the play projects elation at the family’s reunion.

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Goddess Diana works her mystical power on Pericles              (used with courtesy)

Interpretive songs and Shakespeare’s sonnets melodiously sung usher the audience into the story. Lyrically written, the music allows us to empathize with the characters. The play’s  first two lines, “To sing a song that old was sung, /From ashes ancient Gower is come,” orients us toward the play’s musical elements. Before the acting of the first line, musicians play with flutes and accordions as the actors sing. At the onset of the play, the audience may believe that this play has become a musical because the music takes center stage.

Giving depth of emotion, Wayne T. Carr, Jennie Greenberry, and Brooke Parks all deliver note worthy performances. Greenberry and Parks both play multiple roles throughout the play. Carr has a range of displayed emotions from happiness to total despair. We see him fight for survival physically and dismay at the loss of both family and love. Thaisa, via Parks, with great chemistry shows her love for Pericles. She moves with grace as she gestures to show her enamour toward him. Her performance, superbly acted, left me wanting more. Her range of acting is demonstrated as she plays, Dionyza, the woman who orders Marina’s death. Greenberry, playing both Marina and Antiochus’s daughter, saunters sexually across the stage as she plays Antiochus’s daughter with the riddle’s words tattooed on her back as she seductively in quietness allows us to see how she seduced Antiochus. As Marina, Greenberry allows us to see that childlike woman who desires both her parents’care and attention.

Greek costumes orient us to time and place. In the first scene of the play, Raquel Barreto, the costume designer, dresses Antiochus’s daughter in a long dress with the entire back exposed down to the small of her back. The only thing covering her back is a tattoo adding a contemporary nuance to the text. Next, we see the male characters wearing togas and jewels that highlight their social status. The pirates dress for the sea and the women wear sleek dresses and gowns that also accentuate their social hierarchy. Marina’s clothing, aquamarine colored, matches her name , giving further intensity to her character development. Pericles’s appearance changes through the graying of his hair and through the lack of stylish clothing as he despairs. Thaisa, through her flowing white gown, shows her purity, even when her relationship with her husband is severed for years, but ultimately restored.

I highly recommend this play. Because of its Odyssey and Tempest thematic strains, it is enjoyable. It has elements of romance, comedy, and tragedy that untimately end with reconciliation. It’s a great introductory Shakespearean play for students to read and perform that will whet their appetites. Perhaps in years to come, it may fall back into favor.

 

 

 

 

 

Eclipsed: The Untold Story of the Impact on Women in Liberia’s civil war

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Two recent works explaining the impact of war, one cinematic and the other theatrical, brilliantly depict the ravages of war.  Beasts of No Nation, a film, and Eclipsed, a play, show the impact of war on society’s most vulnerable women and children. Both are riveting. They both thematically are similar, but for purposes of this review, Eclipsed takes center stage and eclipses Beasts of No Nation (yes, pun intended). At New York City’s Public Theater, Eclipsed has been playing to sold out crowds for over two months. According to Webster’s Dictionary, eclipsed is to obscure the light from another, to deprive someone or something of significance, power, or prominence.

Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed, directed by Liesl Tommy, is the story of the Liberian (Former enslaved African-Americans, some of whom returned to Africa, established the country of Liberia) Civil War, its sexual impact on women and young girls and its impact on girls as youth soldiers. Women were often denied their power and prominence, as captors obscured the women’s light; however, women, often captured by men at whim, held as sexual slaves, and denied significance, prevailed at the end of the war. This play has a compelling African female only ensemble cast that stars Pascale Armand as Bessie, Stacey Sargeant as Helena, Lupita Nyong’o as “the girl”, Zainab Jah as Maima, and Akosua Busia as Rita. In spite of Nyong’o’s star power, each cast member brings life to her own character. This drama is not a feel good play. Yet, there is plenty of comic relief through Helena’s character, but the seriousness of the story allows one to never forget that women are often denied prominence, respect, and honor, and are often denigrated and disparaged during some of history’s most turbulent times.

Used with Courtesy Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong'o
Used with Courtesy
Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o

In spite of their denigration during the Liberian Civil War, women ended the conflict, and later rose to prominence, electing its first female president, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf. The women portrayed in this drama at some point take control of their own lives as instruments of peace, truth, and reconciliation.  All of the women of varying ages make decisions to make their capture bearable.

The back story of the play is of an insurgency led by Charles Taylor against Master Sargeant Samuel K. Doe. Through a coup d’etat, Taylor usurps Doe’s presidency and establishes pugnacious tyrannical rule over the country. Taylor is later elected president; however, a rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rally against him. Women become captives, some rally for peace as LURD kidnap women and girls, and some become youth soldiers. Fighting escalates as war ravages the country as groups try to negotiate peace. Women lead the peace accords by refusing to settle for less than peaceful reconciliation and by demanding a voice in their government. This agreement, known as the Accra Accord, was instrumental in Liberia’s election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’as the first female president of an African nation.image

All of the women powerfully portray the devastating effects on women during the Liberian Civil War. Fighting for dominance, the women want to have some semblance of control over their lives. They make difficult choices, allowing themselves to live within their controlled lives. Having often forgotten their prior identity, four of them are known by number and not by name. Nyong’o is only known as the girl, although she is number four in the rotation, but since she is the youngest, her captor expects sex at his request. The others are no longer valuable to him for he has moved on to fresher meat. The intensity of this play increases as two of the characters (Maima and the girl) become soldiers and fight fiercely with the hope of reclaiming their lives. Nothing, however, is as easy as one expects. In the end, the establishment of truth and reconciliation ends the war. The play ends with quiet reflection as “the girl” walks back on stage, surveys the land, and quite possibly wonders about the manifestation of her new life as we envision the juxtaposition of a former life with a new one.

The writing makes this play memorable, but the props, set design and sound design all give the audience a feeling of verisimilitude. We see munitions and hear gun shots, and see nonverbal communications of fear. We feel disdain for the captor and horror for the women through the props as they often wipe themselves after forced sexual intercourse. Moreover, the “home” in which they live conveys a felling of sorrow as the women sleep on the floor surrounded by walls riddled with bullets.

At the curtain call, Stacey Sargeant is visibly emotional, although her role as Helena was the most comical. Her role nevertheless, has great impact. In spite of having a baby with her captor, Helena makes the decision to stay; thus, the play shows, through Helena, the varied decisions that women make that are often difficult to fathom.

Heading to Broadway in January, Eclipsed is a moving tribute to women’s resolve to survive contemptuous circumstances. While moved toward sorrow, one will nevertheless laugh (comic relief) at the comparison of the women’s lives at playing “second fiddle” to that of Hillary Clinton’s life playing second fiddle to Monica Lewinsky. It’s not the typical light-hearted Broadway play, but one will empathize with the women, and feel their strength and determination that a change is going to come.

Also check out Beasts of No Nation. It is difficult to watch, but it paints a picture also of the harsh realities of war. There are no winners.

Magic in Imagination: A Review of Finding Neverland

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Directed by Diane Paulus, Finding Neverland performed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is about igniting one’s imagination. It’s about wanting to be forever a “Toys R Us Kid”.  Neverland is a place for which many of us search. Matthew Morrison plays J.M. Barrie, Teal Wicks plays Marrie Barris, Laura Michelle Kelly plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, Amy Yskima plays Peter Pan, and Eli Tokash plays Peter Llewelyn Davies.  This musical is not about Peter Pan, but it is the story of how Peter became Pan. Similar to the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, which tells us the backstory of Mary Poppins, Finding Neverland, delves into the life of J.M. Barrie and into his inspiration for creating Peter Pan. Capturing our attention at the outset of the musical, the musical catapults the audience to new heights of imagination through Peter Pan and Tinkerbell as Peter Pan is suspended in the air on stage with the light of Tinkerbell glowing. Finding Neverland, initially and intermittently, transports us to the world of Peter Pan through its two most famous characters in the story. One of the lines of the musical, “If a man does not fight for what he wants, he deserves what he gets,” captures the essence of the story. Barrie fights with tenacity to create a good work, in spite of his creative team and his wife doubting his creative genius. Although the writing lacks depth initially, the creative team makes up for what the show lacks. Through great sound design (heightened by the clock ticking), stupendous set design with awesome video projections of London, and lighting that either highlights or darkens the story’s arc, Paulus directs a performance that leaves one’s imagination ignited and one glad for taking a risk at seeing a musical that was not Tony nominated.

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Used with courtesy

As the musical progressed, I became more enraptured with the story. This story was written for two audiences- children and adults. Young audiences will laugh and smile throughout the show. The dinner scene will leave them hungering and salivating for more scenes in which many of the adults are allowed to behave as children. The unfolding of the plot, and the sensitivity in which the story is told, allows the adults to empathize with the struggles of some of the main characters; however, the first half does not lend itself to connecting with Barrie’s difficulties. Everyone experiences difficulty that impedes his ability to create, but the devastation that Barrie must have felt at his lack of success in developing a new story, was not conveyed easily during the first half. There was no initial sense of devastation, or despair. Despite this shortcoming in the writing, the rest of the performace provides welcomed creative excitement that allows the audience to be overwhelmed with joy for Barrie, yet sorrowful for the Llwelyn Davies family. One of the more magnificent lines delivered in the musical is that without shadows there is no light. The lighting conveys the shadows of sorrow as well as the joys of tomorrow as Barrie’s life takes different turns with the Llwelyn Davies family. One knows no joy without having experienced sorrow.

The scene design was totally brilliant. Having recently traveled to London, the scene transported me back to London through video projections of London’s famous landmarks. The scenes in the park and in the Davies’s home were realistic. The juxtaposition of Davie’s home life, through the scenic design, with that of Barrie’s provides a great contrast to underscore how Barrie’s heart became tethered to Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her children.

Used with courtesy
Used with courtesy

The musical, through its sound design, gives the audience the impression that time is of the essence. Clocks ticking throughout the performance possibly let us know that time is fleeting, and that Barrie is running out of time for his next great creation. Like the old TV show, we wonder whether Barrie will “beat the clock.” Time runs out for Llewelyn Davies, but the clock keeps ticking for Barrie and the children. Imagine hearing tick tock, tick tock increasing in intensity throughout the performance as video projections of a clock illuminate the stage.

The acting performances were solid; however, the writing does not foster stellar moving performances. Many of the acting scenes, except for the dinner scene, the scene with Captain Hook, and the scene before the intermission were not emotionally charged. The special effects, the set design with all its glitz and glamour pull one into the story and into the emotional sequence of events. We understand Barrie’s heartbreak when Sylvia discloses her illness. Although beautifully acted, it lacks emotional intensity in the dialogue.

As a total performance Finding Neverland is worth seeing. The music is beautifully sung and some of the songs are powerfully delivered. It is enjoyable, but not at the level of some of the best musicals that grace Broadway’s stage. Adolescents and precocious young children will delight in seeing this musical. Many adults will like it for its creativity. It’s not Hamilton, The Lion King, or the original Les Mis, but for half price at TKTS, it’s definitely a great afternoon or evening night out. The audience leaves knowing that there is always hope for tomorrow and that brighter days are ahead in spite of life’s challenges and disappointments.

 

Conformity Versus Individuality in Bridge of Spies and in The Experimenter

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Used with Courtesy

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore it if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”  Within the last week, two movies that opened based on true events that embody Emerson’s belief are Michael Almereyda’s The Experimenter, and Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, (written by Ethan and Joel Coen and Matt Charman). The main character of each film operated within the integrity of his own mind. Each refused, based on his own morality, to do what others told him to do; each searched his own conscience and made determinations based on his exploration of goodness. Years later, each won the “suffrage” of the world having never felt culpability about his own actions.

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from left to right: Billy Magnussen, Mark Rylance as Rudolph Abel and Tom Hanks. Used with courtesy.

The Experimenter depicts the story of the famed, although originally maligned, psychologist Stanley Milgram, (played by Peter Sarsgaard) who conducted experiments in 1961 on human behavior, specifically on obedience. His goal was to determine what made people commit atrocities during the Holocaust. He conducted an experiment, later deemed unethical because of failure to disclose with veracity how he was going to conduct the experiment and the reasons behind the experiment. The people who participated in the experiment believed that they were applying electric shock to Individuals who gave incorrect answers to questions posed during the experiment. With each subsequent incorrect answer, “the teachers” increased electrical voltage to the “learners”. “The teachers”, told to continue, applied the shock. Although most of “the teachers” believed that the shock application harmed “the learner, they continued applying the shock because they believed  that it was for the good of mankind. In the experiment, sixty-five percent of “the teachers” continued applying the shock in spite of the assumed protests and screams of “the learners.”  Only thirty-five percent of “The Learners” ended the experiment because hurting someone was contrary to their ethics, despite the psychologist’s exhortation to continue for the greater good.  Milgram did other experiments testing for conformity and he came to the conclusion that most people follow orders without questioning the authority from which they came. Most people want to conform because of their need to belong and to have popularity. Nonconformists question authority, and determine the greater good, be it following orders or holding to their own belief about what is best. Milgram was originally disdained for his “unethical” experiment, but later became a world-renowned psychologist for his behavioral experiments. He was not looking for the approval of man, but he received it nonetheless because of his nonconformity.

Similarly, in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), an attorney, represents a notorious “Russian” spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance), that the United States government arrests for espionage. Almost no one wants Donovan to vociferously represent Abel. Contemptuously viewed, others question Donovan’s allegiance to both his family and to his country. In the end, although he did not win the case, despite his vehement representation, he became an expert negotiator, exchanging Abel for two Americans (Frances Powers, a U.S. pilot, and Frederic Pryor, a Yale student) held by the Soviets and East Germans,respectively, during the Cold War. Furthermore, the United States, under President Kennedy, engaged him as an expert negotiator who ultimately gained the release of nearly ten thousand Americans imprisoned in Cuba as a result of the Bay Of Pigs. In Bridge of Spies, one of the last statements that Donovan makes to Pryor is that “It doesn’t matter what people think. You know what you did.” Ultimately, one must follow his conscience and do what he feels is right. Pryor later became a professor at Swarthmore College.

The Experimenter explores man’s need to belong. He wants group association and acceptance rather than outlier status. Even when he knows he is right about something, and everyone around him has an opposing view, he will often abandon his own morality to become part of the group. He feels both external and internal pressure to conform. Most people do not ask questions; they assume honesty and not mendacity or chicanery. They go along to get along.

In both of the aforementioned films, both Milgram and Donovan took audacious stands in the face of overwhelming criticism; they remained steadfast. Donovan, in the movie, repeatedly tries winning the release of both American prisoners, although admonished to try to win only the release of Powers. He, however, did not want to leave either one behind. Most people would have buckled under the pressure to follow orders and gained the release of just one prisoner. Because of the temerity of both Milgram and Donovan, political negotiations and knowledge of human behavior has increased and shaped political and psychological disciplines. Both individuals went on to achieve greatness in their respective fields, receiving top accolades for their work. The citizens in the communities where they both lived later held them in high esteem.

These two entertaining and educational films are both great, but in different ways. Artistically, Bridge of Spies, is more thrilling, but The Experimenter is more ponderous. I doubt that either one will be an Oscar contender, but each is worth watching for its historical context.  Using the ideas of Emerson, both Donovan and Milgram, through their individuality and their nonconformity, and after absolution, won the suffrage of the world.

Personal note: I saw peter Sarsgaard in an off-Broadway production of Hamlet. He was similarly reflective in such a ponderous role as Hamlet, as he was as Milgram. Playing such heavy roles is his strength.  During the production, I sat behind Jake Gyllenhaal, his brother-in-law.

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Race Matters

Last weekend I had dinner with a friend of mine, Joe, who was in town from LA.  He brought a friend of his, Mercedes, along to have dinner with us. During our dinner conversation, Mercedes mentioned that she is a professor, currently on sabbatical, from Pomona College. I immediately referenced the writer, Claudia Rankine, a former professor from Pomona. Rankine wrote the cover article for the August 30, 2015 edition of the New York Times Magazine ,as well as Citizen, and many other works. Recently, however, Rankine, became a professor at the University of Southern California. Mercedes and I talked briefly about Rankine and her work.  As a result of our conversation, I decided to revisit Rankine’s books. Citizen: An American Lyric, the first one I reread, is a lyrical reflection on the status of race in America. As I revisited the book, I met another woman, who heard Rankine speak last year at NYU; she offered details about Rankine’s process in writing the book. The book includes individual accounts, that may appear to be isolated events in an African-American’s life, but each story has a common thread about racial perceptions in America, and the reactions of Americans, white or otherwise to these events. She references every day events that people of color experience while most white Americans do not consider race as a factor in these events.

As I read the individual racial accounts, I knew that I had a story of my own to tell. Race is always a complicated and daunting topic to talk about because of the offense that is often taken and because the communicator does not want to offend.  Often, as Rankine opines, African-Americans remain silent without an utter of thought or without a feeling of freedom of expression. Rankine divides her book into seven sections. In the first section she individually writes about individual citizens of the United States who encounter racism in subtle forms. She simply states the events, leaving the reader with the ability to ruminate on each event. In another section of the book, she talks about Serena Williams, and the perception of her as “the angry black woman.” She discusses the overt and the covert racism Williams experiences either because of her persona or because of her physical size. Additionally, in other sections of her book and in her writings in general, she looks at racial situations in the media, like Trayvon Martin, whose death gained national attention, and she looks at the racial perception of the African-Americans in these situations. A pervasive thought echoes through America, “If only he had not had worn a hoodie.” ” If only he had not worn a hoodie.” If only, if only, if only,……..

Rankine emphatically states in the aforementioned New York Times article that “The daily grind of being rendered invisible, or being attacked, whether physically or verbally, for being visible, wears a body down.” According to Rankine, and I personally know this to be true, that ” There is a belief among some African-Americans that to defeat racism, they have to work harder, be smarter, be better. Only after they give 150 percent will white Americans recognize black excellence for what it is.  But of course, once recognized, black excellence is then supposed to perform with good manners and forgiveness in the face of any racist slights or attacks.” I often wonder if I am worn down by desiring to be recognized for black excellence. I ask, “Does my race really matter when it comes to performance?”  Of course it does! We do not live in a color blind society. I wish we did. I am still challenging myself to see people individually, not according to racial perceptions or stereotypes.

Throughout my fifty years, I have experienced many “subtle racial attacks or racial slights” that most people may not see as offensive. For example, I have eclectic interests and hobbies that I engage in avidly. Recently an acquaintance told me that “I am the whitest black person” she knows. I did not take it offensively, but I remained silent. I should have said that “African-Americans come in many shades and colors, and that we should not be stereotyped.” Similar to the ideas suggested in Citizen, I remained silent for fear of negative comments about my character, about the negative connotations of  the embodiment of yet another angry black woman. Another example of overt racism was when I was at the Whitney Museum with my friend Joe (I never disclosed this situation to him) having breakfast. Only members of the community were invited to the complimentary breakfast. I attended the event with Joe. When my friend stepped away, a white woman approached me and asked, ” Do you live in the community?” I replied “No.” At that moment, my friend approached and I said, “He does.” She quickly scattered like a roach when exposed to the light. If I were white, she would have never approached me. Using the words of Zora Neale Hurston, ” I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

Even as I write this post, I am conscious of how my white colleagues (not my white friends because they know my character and I have shared my thoughts often) will perceive my thoughts.  I hope they, and others, will receive them with the spirit in which I intend. Lastly, when people say that racism no longer exists, I often think, “Where do they live? Oh, I don’t mean the house that they live in…….”

Pick up your copy of Citizen today! We can achieve racial healing through conversation. Let’s talk…