NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 38

PHOTOGRAPHY BY EVGENIA ELISEEVA COURTESTY OF WWW.AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG 36 What purpose does a critical review serve if it does not elevate the conversation around a play for the edification of the public? Or is a review merely an opportunity to display the elevated language of the critic? It is unforgiving when the critical faculties of seasoned critics like Isherwood are dulled by their pre-inclination to view black history in the most reductive terms, valorizing superficial manipulations of black experience consonant with the expectations familiar to dominant cultural biases without probing for deeper significance of thoughts and actions. Seduced by the “cockeyed” lens on the existential debate about Freedom, Mr. Isherwood cavalierly arrives at the myopic conclusion that while Ms. Parks may have a whimsical vision of history, “the serious, the humorous, the melodramatic, and grittily realistic” are blended with a voice “that can transform blunt, vernacular language into fluid free verse.” While Father Comes Home from the Wars does have, in a few instances, extended monologues redolent of August Wilson when the language has a soaring, “incantatory” quality, Isherwood’s response typifies the kind of uniformed, and thus charitable, inspection of the text’s intentionality that arrests the maturity of the otherwise talented writer that is Ms. Parks. Much attention has been given to “poetic” rhythms and repetitions in the language of Ms. Parks. This is a very common syntactical strategy in black oratory and letters, albeit constructed in Father Comes Home from the Wars as cadences of prosy self-consciously embroidered with snippets of the vernacular speech which amounts to word-play, rather than word-smithing. In word-play, a crafty juxtaposition of words result in an affective altering of meaning that is beguiling and fun. But the result owns none of the depth soundings of word-smithing, a near alchemical transformation of language which provides amplitude in text that resonates in the collective hearts and minds of an audience, much like Gertrude Stein’s reflections on her home town, “there is no there there.” Ms. Parks has not yet honed language that would place her in the rarified company of masterful word-smith divas such as Adrienne Kennedy, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Sonia Sanchez, Aishah Rahman, and yes, we cannot help but invoke Gwendolyn Brooks, all capable of transforming vernacular language — unselfconsciously — into poetry. I am reminded of a selection from Brenda Marie Osbey’s History collection of poems where she observes: what then is history? hardly even fable hardly even myth nothing but the lies repeated by masters and their henchmen nothing but lines repeated ad nauseam in order to memorize them well enough in order to entertain themselves well enough…5 It is not uncommon, however unacceptable, for those alien to a history to witness it with a callous, casual indifference, if not otherwise a detached empathy. It is interesting that white audiences have little tolerance for black experience that makes them feel uncomfortable, while black audiences, though given to finding levity in most incongruously painful events of life, respond with unrelieved agony to even the most nuanced episodes of cruelty to black humanity. Many whites found