At the beginning of the social revolution of the mid-1960’s Dutchman (1964) opened up the subject of racial identity onstage as a direct enticement to thought, action, and social change. Since that time Baraka’s voice has risen in poetry, live recitation, and prose – and he has continued to write plays.articulated an identity for black people in America that expressed a pride, strength, and aesthetic of independence, rather than assimilation and acceptance of the prevailing and oppressive status quo. Baraka’s play
Speaking to an audience following a performance at the Off-Broadway revival of Dutchman this spring, Baraka responded to a question about a national theater in America with doubt that such a thing could ever be, considering the leftist politics of many of America’s greatest playwrights:. Baraka mentioned Williams’ plays in particular as a critique of society, and their acceptance into the mainstream a sabotage of conventional thinking.
One of the glories ofis that the depth of his writing can be revealed by the range of people itinspires. The relationship is reciprocal: the plays Williams wrote later in life – especially those plays with an outspoken political agenda -- were made possible by more openly activist writers -- black, gay, and feminist – who articulated possibilities for thinking in all Americans. These extreme positions had their effects (as did gay activist Larry Kramer’s later on) in establishing the social understanding that led, not only to eye-opening realizations of privilege and responsibility among America’s intellectual elite, but more pragmatically in Williams’ case to the establishment of laws allowing the public expression onstage of homosexuality– and the decriminalization of homosexuality offstage.
On a larger scale, such radicalism, in the sense of uprooting oppression, propels the still-evolving positions of women and minorities in society and the workforce. An essay by novelist John Rechy, a seminal fi gure among openly gay authors, now a professor of literature at the University of Southern California, puts forth this thesis: “Arguments abound about whether or not there is a unique “Sensibility” manifested in the arts by certain minority groups and women. A feminine sensibility? A gay sensibility? A black sensibility? A Hispanic sensibility? I suggest that such sensibilities do exist, and that they are linked by one main factor: the awareness of separation -- call it exile -- from the authoritarian “mainstream.” That awareness shapes what I call an “Outlaw Sensibility.”
Rechy goes on to discuss the outlaw’s use of sabotage, infiltration, camouflage – and the corollaries of collaboration and counter-attack. Baraka is a veteran of just such an outlaw’s struggle. As with any long-term activist his thoughts have grown since the 1960’s when he and such pioneers as Kate Millet and Andrea Dworkin needed to articulate seemingly intolerant positions in order to re-imagine (and re-assemble) the possibilities of the norm. His appearance in Provincetown is an opportunity to carry on his conversation with America. By the way, the last time Baraka was here was to catch a performance of Dutchman in July of 1966 at Act IV Café Theater at the Gifford House. Beverly Bentley,who played the central role of Lulu at the time. is starring in this year’s Tennessee Williams premiere, Sunburst.
At the UU