Monday, October 26, 2009

Dutchman - by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Imamu Baraka)

First performed in 1964, Dutchman has two characters: a white woman in her 30s, Lula and a black man in his 20s, Clay. It takes place on a subway train.

There's a wordless prologue where Clay, riding the train, sees a woman looking at him through the window (she's revealed later to be Lula). Caught unawares he smiles, then tries to shake off the encounter. The first scene has Lula deliberately sitting next to Clay and starting up a seductive conversation with him. He plays along, tries to keep everything 'okay' and goes along with her flirting. She runs her hand up his thigh, and pretends to know everything about him - but is cagey when he asserts himself into the conversation, expressing interest or opinion.

In the second scene, she describes how they'll be at the party, how they'll be when he comes home with her. She goads him - wants to dance with him on the train, calls him names, calls his parents names - he finally snaps. Grabs her, hits her and speaks his mind to her and to all - lets her know he could kill her right there, but then no poems get written. When he is done, she stabs him, throws him off the train and the train and its passengers carry on. Another young black man gets on and a old black man does a soft shoe down the aisle.

The play barrels through - like a train - and is hot with its anger. The conflict is on the train and its in the space between the audience and the action, and the world and the theater, the forces colliding in the play are echoed out from the stage (or the imagined stage). And structurally it is simple. A conversation. One dominating, the other trying to maintain their autonomy in a one-sided conversation - then bursting - then being killed by the dominant conversationalist. It's wickedly simple.

A play that feels like an object. No explanation comes from it. It is itself.

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