Bourbon at the Border dramaturgical research

III. On Pearl’s Works

Commentary
Cleage is zealous with regard to issues of black life – she feels the need for a forum for discussion and promotes practical education whenever possible.  In particular Cleage focuses on the issues of sex, drugs, and pregnancy, aiming to keep her message centered on black youth while presenting mature perspectives on coming to grips with good and bad life choices. 

Pearl Cleage is one of America’s finest young writers. We fall in love with her characters, but maybe ‘friends’ is a better description, all over again. We laugh and cry and get frustrated with and hope for and all the things you do when you realize that these may be characters on a page or… they could be you. Another triumph for the true black Pearl.

Pearl Cleage probes issues of race, sex, and love in a growing body of literary work while she reveals poignant truths about brave black women.

From Articles on Pearl

Home Time and Island Time….
“Two regular-size windows in Cleage’s office that are anything but regular when it comes to influencing her writing. ‘Through those windows in I can watch my neighborhood go by,” Cleage says. “I watch girls getting pregnant too soon, guys hard eyed and looking mean whom I knew as cute four year olds. By choice, I don’t leave my Southwest neighborhood much, and these windows are my windows to all of it.’”
“The contradictions that I write about in my novels are here every day,” Cleage explains. “Some writers write about blacks, but they never see blacks.”

Pearl Cleage’s Idlewild Idylls – Interview
BIBR: Are novels in some way more accessible than plays or even essays?
PC: I really do think they are. I hate to say that because I’m a playwright. I love theater. I love the process. I love rehearsal. I love being in the theater. But there’s such a small percentage of black people who go to the theater, and we don’t have as many theaters in black communities.
Also, a lot of white theaters that do our work don’t do it in an environment that encourages us to come. White theaters might do one play a year, and it’s always A Raisin in the Sun or an August Wilson play, and it’s usually during Black History Month.
The magic that makes theater what theater is such an ancient thing. Reading a book is a different experience because it’s not communal. It’s a solitary communion between you and the writer or the character. You have total focus when reading. You don’t have to worry about someone stepping over you to get to the bathroom. But what you miss is the pleasure in the theater when everybody gets the joke at the same time.
One of the things I like is a theater full of black folks! We all laugh at the same stuff. We all cry at the same stuff. We are a community that shares a history and there’s a real sweetness when we come together like that. I love theater but I was pleased once I wrote a novel and realized how much more specific you can be in terms of the audience you’re reaching.

From Playwright’s Choice
That’s the power of good theater. It brings us together in one space to share a ritual as ancient as storytelling around the campfire and rewards us, if we surrender to its spell, with a perfect moment where audience, actors and playwright, however briefly, are dreaming the same dream. Unlike any other kind of writing, plays are written to be experienced in a group. Reading a novel or a poem or a collection of essays requires only that you bring home the book, curl up in your favorite chair and begin. It is a solitary process which relies solely on the writer’s skill and the reader’s imagination to transport us to the story’s location and give physical form to the characters.
For first time play readers, I offer the following suggestions for getting the most out of the experience:
1. Cheat a little. Even if you can’t go to the theater, you can get that “live theater” feeling by reading a play aloud with friends. Since stage language is written to be spoken, hearing the play is part of the pleasure. Book clubs are great places to read plays.
2. Start with a play you can see live or on video first. “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry and “The Piano Lesson” by August Wilson are widely available at video rental outlets. Seeing the play before you read it will help you to visualize the setting and the characters more easily.
3. One-person shows are great for reading. Usually a collection of monologues in which the actor/author portrays a series of characters, they offer passionate, autobiographical stories and lots of familiar moments when all you can do is shake your head and mutter, “I know that’s right.”
4. If you’re reading aloud, designate a person to read stage directions right along with the dialogue. Many publishers include a preface that gives the plays artistic and production history. Read that, too, and you’ll be amazed at how many familiar names did lots of theater before moving into film and television.
5. Finally, read the play in one sitting. Part of the structure of a play reflects the playwright’s assumption that people are going to experience the whole work at the same time. By reading it through from start to finish, you honor the demands of the form and get closer to the dramatic arc of the Playwright’s ideas.

Now all you have to do is pick a play. Here are ten to get you started.
1. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. This groundbreaking work holds up beautifully after twenty-five years. Once you’ve read it, you’ll never forget it.
2. A Raisin In the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry’s hit drama premiered in 1959 and was the first play by a black female playwright produced on Broadway. It’s vivid and realistic portrait of the Younger family is as moving as ever.
3. A Soldier’s Story by Charles Fuller won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1982. It opened at The Negro Ensemble Company the year before with a cast that included Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Adolph Caesar. With an ending that will surprise you, the play is a riveting portrait of black men in the armed services.
4. Pretty Fire by Charlayne Woodard was published in 1995 after successful productions in Los Angeles and New York. On an almost bare stage, Woodward weaves her stories in language that is as familiar and as sweet as the scent of Dixie Peach.
5. Flyin’ West by Pearl Cleage. My own 1994 play imagines the lives of four black women homesteaders in Kansas after the Civil War as they make new lives for themselves and their families. Inspired by seeing one too many movies where all the pioneers looked like John Wayne instead of my grandmomma.
6. Beauty’s Daughter, Monster, The Gimmick: Three Plays by Dael Orlandersmith is a powerful new one-woman show divided into three extended monologues. The often painful stories are told without flinching and leave you, finally, with a true appreciation of the strength of the human spirit.
7. Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith is another one-woman show with Smith inhabiting a wide range of characters as part of her continuing examination of race and class in America. Based on interviews with residents of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, after the 1991 civil unrest in the area, the play is unique in its approach and forgiving in its world view.
8. A Black Woman Speaks by Beah Richards. This one may be hard to find, but it’s well worth the effort. First performed by Richards herself in 1950 for a white woman’s peace organization in Chicago, its stinging and lucid criticism of the minefields that divide white and black women is as revolutionary today as it was then.
9. Trouble In Mind, a “comedy-drama in two acts” by Alice Childress, appeared in 1955 and examined the problems of a group of black actors trying not to get caught up in other peoples views of who and what they are. Accurate and funny, it is as timely as a film by Spike Lee.
10. Fences may be August Wilson’s best known play. I’ll never forget seeing James Earl Jones in the Broadway production. He made me understand that good actors are really magicians. Failing a repeat performance by Brother Jones, this play reads beautifully and is the perfect introduction to Wilson’s work.

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