Expressing my view!

Sharing with whoever would read my thoughts

Sexuality among African-Americans

Against a backdrop of acceptance, ambivalence and denial, a social commentary of same-sex relationships in Oprah Winfrey’s production of Alice Walker’s Color Purple and implied in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, needs examination.
The Color Purple , with its run on Broadway ended, attracted not only notable stars to many of its leading roles, but hordes of African-Americans who came to see the performance, which to some reflected the suffering and redemption running like a strong river through their lives and to others, to see their favorite stars up close and personal or as close as they could get to the stage to biblically touch the hem of their idols. In its final week, I was privileged to share this theatrical experience with a full house of African-Americans from all walks of life. Notwithstanding, there were a few non-African-Americans in the audience and in the row I shared with about twenty other patrons, there sat the president of ABC-TV.
Interesting though the play was, I was struck by the seeming acceptance, if that is what it was, of deliberate actions acted out on the stage. At the end of the play, Channel 7, ABC News Anchor Sade Baderinwa hosted a question and answer session with the cast and audience. Without boring you with a re-hashing of the play, I asked a question about the significance to African-American women of the kiss shared between Celie and Shug Avery, when Shug first came to visit. The response from Zonya Love (appropriate surname?) the leading lady and from Angela Robinson, the actress who played Suug was anything but satisfactory. At best they skirted around the issue and dissembled, referring to the reaction of Robinson’s mother coming to see the play and after seeing it made a dismissive comment about Celie and Shug kissing and the continued development of their relationship.
The fact that it seemed perfectly acceptable to everyone in the theater to see the depth of the relationship between two women shared so openly, with ease and without question, much less a raised eyebrow is cause for question. While art imitates life, if in real life women are having close sexual relations with each other in private and in secret, and with all the denials and vitriol against same-sex relations, the long passionate kiss between Celie and Shug should have stirred catcalls and jeers, to say the least. Does this not suggest an accurate reflection of what is happening between women, but is denied, unaccepted, and covered in pretense?
While many women would scoff at a sexual relationship between two women, the lack or absence of any type of reaction, averse or accepting, pointed to a development in social awareness: that two women should kiss on stage without boos, catcalls, hisses or jeers.
Understandably, the suffering, the pain, and the loneliness Celie experienced when Nettie, her sister, was sent away no doubt left a hole in each other’s world. She and her sister were companions in suffering whose deep love for each other was forged in the fires of pain and hardship and was the means to a flight of fantasy of their creation to help them escape from the realities of their lives. When Shug came to visit, Celie so desperate for companionship and to identify with another woman, gravitated to her. Shug, on the other hand, insecure and with her own low-self esteem issues, was drawn to the appearance of strength and stability, forged out of pain in Celie, like a moth to a flame. While on the many different levels, whether sociologically or psychologically, it was the expression of a longing and finding satisfaction for that longing that proved to be the bond between Celie and Shug. And, even when Shug eventually left Celie and returned, then left again, Celie seemed to have become filled with strength and purpose where she didn’t need Shug anymore.
However, while the Color Purple began with abuse, poverty, pain, it was resolved with forgiveness, care, concern, prosperity and a renewed sense of a family unit that had been tested, battered, stripped, survived, and reconstituted stronger than before.
On the opposite side of this tale, of the intricate machinations of people caught up in hardship who were able to resolve their differences and heal, is the raw exposure of a dysfunctional family in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Indeed, all the actors’ selfish agendas only served to heighten their individual sense of expectation, like cats on a hot tin roof, ready to spring into the air and jump off for the heat on soft exposed skin of their paws. Like the Color Purple, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof in its limited run, attracted some famous actors, James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Phylicia Rashas as Big Momma, Anika Noni Rose as Maggie, and Terrance Howard as Brick. As the play unfolded, the characters were all motivated by greed or some form of selfishness: hoping Big Daddy would die and leave the estate to them, driven to wresting control of another through pregnancy, and yet, others were anxious their secrets be preserved.
As the layers peel away, we are left wondering: why did Maggie have sex with Skipper, if she actually did, or was she saying she did just to get a rise[pun] out of Brick?
Let us then take a closer look at the secret Brick harbors. Brick is pursued by Maggie, his recent wife, to become a father. In Maggie’s mind, a child would cement not only her relationship with Brick but solidify her position in the family and so inherit the estate on Big Daddy’s demise. Why, with Big Daddy’s death from cancer looming, who else would inherit and take over management of the estate? As the story unfolds, Brick’s alcoholism is already a problem, but one which is known, tolerated as befitting men who drink, and passed off as normal. But when Big Daddy gets involved and begins to interrogate Brick about his drinking, because it seems that the alcoholism is not related to having been cheated on by a woman, feeling aggrieved over some slight or insult to his manhood by a woman; for after all, Maggie is literally throwing herself at him. As Big Daddy with his crude methods was able to deduce, that Brick’s drinking was to hide, escape and deny the relationship that existed between him and Skipper. But with the persistence of a dog digging for a bone, Big Daddy would not let up in his questioning and eventually, in as much as he didn’t get a direct answer from Brick as to whether or not Brick’s drinking was tied to the closeness with Skipper and Skipper’s death, Big Daddy was expressing his concerned for Brick’s health. What was Brick’s relationship with Skipper? We were told they were young men who grew up together and were close friends. How close were they? It is obvious that Brick’s drinking, intending to hide his feeling rather drew attention to them. Brick was undoubtedly caught in his own Catch-22: drinking to hide his feelings over Skipper and Skipper’s death and drawing attention to his feelings by his drinking. What should he do? Come clean and admit to Big Daddy and Momma and to Maggie, that he loved Skipper much closer than two close friends? Is he to admit that, if not in so many words as to offend the Southern sensibilities, to a particular special friendship? It is clear, his drinking is a pathetic attempt to hide his grief, longing and desire, not for Maggie, but for his friend, and like a Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he is filled with anxiety: he can’t stay on the roof – he misses Skipper so much, it hurts so he drinks, but that is drawing attention to his problem; he wants to, but is afraid to say how deeply he is hurting, because if he does, he runs the risk of losing everything, Maggie (whom he really doesn’t care for but who is necessary for appearances sake) and the love, respect and acceptance of his family. What is he to do?


March 20, 2008 - Posted by | Theater | , ,

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