He was little known outside the studied bohemian precincts of the Greenwich Village poetry scene; but this short, brutal play about the fatal confrontation between a black man and a white woman on a subway made him famous, respected and despised. Edward Albee was among the three producers. It won an Obie. The actress Cicely Tyson was in the audience on opening night.
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I wanted some kind of action literature. You look like you been trying to grow a beard. You look like you live in New Jersey with your parents and are trying to grow a beard. Laughs, uncrossing and recrossing her legs You look like death eating a soda cracker.
We are also meant to understand that Baraka was indicting his own bohemianism here. The play is still a sensation. Projected across two panels blocking the stage are images from the New York subway system. The houselights flash and then darken like the lights of a subway car. A tall elderly black conductor Paul Benjamin enters the theatre and walks down the aisle with a Bojangles-like strut and shuffle.
The appropriately skeletal and realistic set is by Troy Hourie. On the platform just outside, a thirtyish white woman the phenomenal Jennifer Mudge walks by, spies Clay, and smiles knowingly. She enters the car slowly, casually, her hips and breasts moving to and fro in her light summer dress. Her long gold-streaked brown hair is a tangle of Medusa curls. Clay pretends not to notice Lula as she bends over, rummages through her satchel, and pulls out an apple.
But pretty soon there is no way for him to avoid looking at this urban Eve. Nor can Lula resist the desire that she assumes she inspires. Sitting a little too close to Clay, she exchanges a few pleasantries before the dance of death begins. C LAY : I saw you through the window. Seems to me you were staring through the window at me. Men die for freedom but black men die for white women, who are the symbol of freedom.
Until the day I can have a white woman in my bed. I will still be a slave. Lula has whiteness—which is to say, power—on her side. One gets the sense that all he wants is to get by. Her performance is so profound an evocation of worldly disgust and self-disgust that one feels as if Hill were there merely to feed her the lines.
And, in some sense, it is. For Baraka uses Lula as a foil to call himself out: as one of the only black writers of the time who crossed over into the world of white hipness; as a black man who refused to apologize for his attraction to white women and homosexual culture. For a time, Baraka had been a kind of blessed child. The world of the Greenwich Village avant-garde was his oyster.
But, after a trip to Cuba in , he began to question his relationship to the white world that had helped foster his career. In , he put out an inflammatory poem about the origins of the September 11th attacks. Baraka has set out to remake the world each time he has remade himself. One simply wants to enter into the taut narrative of the play, to be an observer on that train to nowhere.
C LAY : Staring at you? What do you mean?
In Black and White
I wanted some kind of action literature. You look like you been trying to grow a beard. You look like you live in New Jersey with your parents and are trying to grow a beard. Laughs, uncrossing and recrossing her legs You look like death eating a soda cracker. We are also meant to understand that Baraka was indicting his own bohemianism here. The play is still a sensation. Projected across two panels blocking the stage are images from the New York subway system.
A Return to Rage, Played Out in Black and White
The play, which won an Obie Award. Dutchman was the last play produced by Baraka under his birth name, LeRoi Jones. At the time, he was in the process of divorcing his Jewish wife, Hettie Jones , and embracing Black Nationalism. Dutchman may be described as a political allegory depicting black and white relations during the time Baraka wrote it.